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Join us for Our 2014-2015 Workshop Series: Oral History, Medicine, and Health

Fall 2014 Oral History Workshop Series: Oral History, Medicine, and Health

This academic year in our public workshop series, in partnership with the Program in Narrative Medicine, the Oral History MA Program at Columbia University will be exploring the intersections of oral history, health and medicine. As public health professionals experiment with using oral history to access new realms of knowledge about health and social life, practitioners of narrative medicine deploy oral history to engage with patients, and oral historians partner with people with disabilities, dementia, and mental illness to record and amplify their stories, the time is right for an in-depth multidisciplinary engagement of the productive areas where these fields meet.

Full schedule and descriptions

All Events are Free and Open to the Public
Campus Map.


Sam Robson. “Oral History Meets Dementia: A Staged Reading of the Play Timothy and Mary.”

Thursday, September 11, 6-8pm, The Faculty House at Columbia University, Seminar Room One.

Luke Gerwe. “Seeking Witness: Voice of Witness and Building an Oral History Network.”

Thursday, September 18, 6-8pm, Room 509, Knox Hall, 606 West 122nd Street, 5th floor.


Teiji Okamoto. “A Radical Archive of Be(long)ing.”

Thursday, October 2, 6-8pm, Room 509, Knox Hall, 606 West 122nd Street, 5th floor.

Sayantani DasGupta. “Narrative Humility: Medical Listening and Oral History.”

Thursday, October 16, 6-8pm, Room 509, Knox Hall, 606 West 122nd Street, 5th floor.


Brian Purnell. ” Can the Oral Historian Speak?

Thursday, November 6, 6-8pm, Room 509, Knox Hall, 606 West 122nd Street, 5th floor.

Nicki Berger. “Oral History and Intellectual Disability: Navigating Authority, Authorship, and Advocacy.

Thursday, November 13, 6-8pm, Room 509, Knox Hall, 606 West 122nd Street, 5th floor.

Stay posted for upcoming events in the Spring!

Feb. 5: Ann Cvetkovich. “After Depression: Reflections on Oral and Written Personal Narrative as Archive of Feelings.”

Feb. 12: Joanne Ahola. “Finding the Contours of Torture.”

Feb. 26: Christopher Sellers. “Stories of Environmental Danger: A Collective

Mar. 5: Kathy Davis. “Bodies, Embodiment, and the Experience of Passion: What Tango Dancers Can Teach Us.”

Mar. 12: Lynda Crane and Tracy McDonough. “Oral History with Vulnerable Populations: The Schizophrenia Oral History Project.

Mar. 26: Ron Doel. “Oral History and the History of Science and Medicine.”

Apr. 2: Alessandro Portelli. “Stories I Skipped: Narratives of Care, Narratives of War.

Apr. 16: Ynestra King. “Listening with the Whole Body in Mind Feminist Oral History Project.”

Apr. 30: Aline Gubrium and Elizabeth L. Krause.”Digital Storytelling as Narrative Shock: New Views on Young Parenting Latinas, Migration, and Family.

Please refer to oralhistory.columbia.edu for updated information, or email Amy Starecheski, Associate Director of OHMA, at aas39(at)columbia.edu.

Surfacing Solutions: A Reflection on Oral History and Domestic Violence

The following post was written by OHMA students Sara Wolcott and Ellen Brooks:

In Alisa Del Tufo’s talk on Thursday, January 31st the oral historian and activist sought to inspire her large audience with the story of her life’s work.

Del Tufo credits inflection points, or life changing moments, with the direction of her career and her inspiration to use oral history to surface new solutions to domestic violence. The first major such inflection point was in 1987. The case of Hedda Nussbaum and Joel Steinberg, in which a young girl, Lisa Steinberg, was killed at the hands of Joel Steinberg, stirred significant public controversy and prompted Del Tufo to explore the link between adult domestic violence and child maltreatment; which up until this point had been ignored and unexplored.


In 1991 Del Tufo left Sanctuary for Families, which she had founded in 1984, and began the oral history project that ultimately opened up New York City’s eyes to intimate violence. To hear Alyssa explain the project, the ah-ha moment that led her to try oral history as a method and what she learned, listen to the following clip:

Conducting these interviews was a second inflection point for Del Tufo and whatsurfaced in these conversations with battered women inspired her to begin meeting with influential feminists, politicians, and community activists to begin to make a change. The primary result was a domestic violence handbook, “Behind Closed Doors: The City’s Response to Domestic Violence,” which brought the issue to the front and center of the city’s politics.


In oral history, we look at “a-ha moments” as moments when the narrator is able to create a new thought or response though the process of the oral history interview, “I didn’t know I felt that way” or “I’d never thought about it that way before.” This is not entirely different from what Del Tufo deems an inflection point. Both are self-imposed structural shifts in the narrative. When using oral history as a tool of activism, it is the a-ha moment or inflection point that recognizes the problem and can lead to the corresponding action.

As aspiring oral historians themselves, the authors of this blog post experienced a few inflection points/a-ha moments during the discussion. Sara was challenged and motivated by Del Tufo’s assertion that in order to make change, one must choose the right moment. As oral historians looking to make an impact on the world, what is our moment? Is it possible to not only choose the moment, but to create the moment? Can one document the present to change the future? Ellen’s inflection point came when Del Tufo discussed altruism as a motivation for battered women to tell their stories. Many of the women Del Tufo interviewed agreed to these intimate conversations not for their own well-being, but because they believed their stories might help others in the same situation. Should we assume (or hope) that these altruistic motives can be found in other at-risk communities? Towards the end of the discussion several people discussed other issues to which Alisa’s methods might apply – such as elder abuse and sex trafficking. How can we tap into and encourage this community service model elsewhere?

For more information on oral history projects inspiring social change, check out the following sites:

Groundswell http://www.oralhistoryforsocialchange.org/

Tibet Oral History Project http://tibetoralhistory.org/index.html

Voices of Rwanda http://voicesofrwanda.org/

Khmer Legacies http://khmerlegacies.org/

It Gets Better http://www.youtube.com/itgetsbetterproject

Cleveland Homeless Oral History Project  http://youtu.be/NHRkPuJfasg

Other organizations founded by Alisa Del Tufo:

Connect http://www.connectnyc.org

Threshold Collaborative http://www.thresholdcollaborative.org

Workshop: Amy Starecheski, Oral History in NYC’s Squatting Communities, 10/18 at 6PM

The Oral History Master of Arts (OHMA) Program and Anthropology Department Presents:

Learning From the Old School:
Oral History and Historical Production in New York City’s Squatting Communities

WHO: Amy Starecheski is the Associate Director of the Oral History MA (OHMA) program at Columbia University. She is also a former squatter, and is completing a PhD in cultural anthropology at the CUNY Graduate Center, working with squatters to study the roles of history and property in their lives. She consults and lectures widely on oral history education and methods, and is co-author of the Telling Lives Oral History Curriculum Guide. Amy was a lead interviewer on the Oral History Research Office’s September 11, 2001 Narrative and Memory Project, for which she interviewed Afghans, Muslims, Sikhs, activists, low-income people, and the unemployed.

WHEN: Thursday, October 18, 2012, 6:00-8:00pm.

WHERE: Columbia University, Northwest Corner Building, Room 602, 550 West 120th Street, 6th floor. Enter campus at 116th Street, at either Broadway or Amsterdam. Campus Map.

ABOUT THE WORKSHOP: How, when, why and to whom do people talk about their pasts? What is the relationship between oral history and other genres of talk about the past? And what can looking at oral history as a particular intersection of history-making and talk tell us about the sources and deployment of the power of history to work in the world? In her research, Starecheski uses ethnographic fieldwork and interviews to explore these questions in one historically-minded intergenerational activist community: squatters in New York City. In this talk Starecheski will compare three very different contexts in which activists talk about the past with the aim of promoting and supporting new activist projects: a walking tour of squatted buildings, a series of political education lectures organized by a direct action group, and an oral history project aimed towards producing a book.

SPONSORS: This talk is part of the “Paul F. Lazarsfeld Lecture Series,” co-sponsored by the Columbia Center for Oral History (CCOH) and the Oral History Master of Arts Program (OHMA). Support from the Paul F. Lazarsfeld Center for the Social Sciences is provided for programming that embodies the late Professor’s commitment to improving methodological approaches that address concerns of vital cultural and social significance.

INFORMATION: For more information, please email Terrell Frazier at terrellfrazier@columbia.edu


[Audio] Throwing Stones at the Moon: A Q&A

On Tuesday, September 18, 2012 the Columbia Center for Oral History and the Oral History Master of Arts (OHMA) program were delighted to co-host Sibylla Brodzinsky and Max Schoening, editors of the latest Voice of Witness title Throwing Stones at the Moon: Narratives from Colombians Displaced by Violence. Students of the Oral History Master of Arts program had the chance to sit down with Max and Sibylla for a Q&A session which covered several fascinating topics, including how they started this project, their interviewing methodologies, the book editing process, and their responsibilities to their narrators.

Listen to the Q&A below:

This session was recorded and edited by OHMA students Kyana Moghadam and Sam Robson:

Kyana is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Oral History at Columbia University. Originally from the East Bay, California, she is excited to be in New York collecting and editing life histories of Iranian Americans.

Sam holds a B.A. from Carleton College in history, focusing on Africa and its Diaspora. A current student in the Oral History Master of Arts program, he is interested in experiences of U.S. hegemony in Central America.



The Oral History Master of Arts (OHMA) Program and the Voice of Witness Presents


WHO: Sibylla Brodzinsky, is a journalist who has written on Latin American Politics, social issues, and human rights for The Economist, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Guardian, and Max Schoening is a researcher for Human Rights Watch and contributing researcher for an upcoming photographic book, Violentology: A Manual of the Colombian Conflict by Stephen Ferry. The two will discuss their latest book, Throwing Stones at the Moon: Narratives from Colombians Displaced by Violence that documents Colombians’ narratives of forced displacement. Staff will also be on hand to talk with prospective students about the Oral History Master of Arts (OHMA) program at Columbia University.

WHEN: Tuesday, September 18, 2012, 6:30-8:00pm.

WHERE: Columbia University Law School, Jerome Greene Annex, Morningside Heights Campus, 410 West 117th Street NY, NY 10027. Enter campus at 116th Street, at either Broadway or Amsterdam. Google Map, Campus Map.

ABOUT THE WORKSHOP: The Oral History Master of Arts program (OHMA) and Voice of Witness, will host editors Sibylla Brodzinsky and Max Schoening as part of the Oral History Seminar Series. Brodzinsky and Schoening will discuss and read from their new book, which is an astonishing account of the forced displacement, which was a consequence of Colombia’s internal armed conflict during the past five decades. In Throwing Stones at the Moon narrators explain the effect of this human rights crisis on their lives as they recount their displacement, the reasons for their flight, and their struggle to rebuild their lives.

There will also be a presentation from faculty and alumni about the Oral History Master of Arts (OHMA), a multi-disciplinary program that utilizes theoretical approaches across the social sciences and humanities.

SPONSORS: This talk is part of the “Oral History Seminar Series,” co-sponsored by the Columbia Center for Oral History (CCOH) and the Oral History Master of Arts Program (OHMA). OHMA is supported by the Paul F. Lazarsfeld Center for the Social Sciences.

INFORMATION: For more information, please email Terrell Frazier at terrellfrazier@columbia.edu