In Her Words: A Celebration and Reflection on the Completion of the IRWGS Oral History Project

Images found in the Columbia University Archives’ Historical Subject Files: Left to right, Box 260, Folder 6; Box 261, Folder 13; Box 261, Folder 13; Box 260, Folder 8; Box 261, Folder 13.

Images found in the Columbia University Archives’ Historical Subject Files: Left to right, Box 260, Folder 6; Box 261, Folder 13; Box 261, Folder 13; Box 260, Folder 8; Box 261, Folder 13.

In 2012, Columbia University’s Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality (IRWGS) celebrated its 25th anniversary. As part of that celebration, the Institute decided to record its history by collaborating with the Columbia Center for Oral History Research (CCOHR) to collect interviews with 36 individuals—scholars, administrators, and students—who have been involved with the organization since its founding in 1987. Using oral history methodology, the project allows its narrators to reflect on their lives and experiences in their own voices—symbolically significant to the women who struggled to build careers in fields that habitually denied them that right, even within the walls of their own academic institutions. The Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality Oral History Collection is available for research at the Columbia Center for Oral History Archives, and a finding aid is now available to help researchers explore the interviews.

In this collection, you’ll come across the voice of Patricia Williams, who was one of only ten black women in her Harvard Law School graduating class. You’ll listen to Gayatri Spivak, who earned her bachelor’s degree at 17, was tenured at 28, and became the first woman of color to achieve the title of University Professor, the highest faculty rank at Columbia. You’ll find Robert Hanning, who allied himself with his female colleagues and boldly chose to publicize his salary to illustrate the gender inequity of faculty pay. You’ll find Lila Abu-Lughod, who strove to internationalize feminist conversations with her renowned post-9/11 essay, “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?” You’ll find Greg Pflugfelder, whose pioneering focus on sexuality studies and queer history helped broaden the intersectionality of IRWGS with the addition of an ‘S’ for ‘sexuality’ to its name. And you’ll find the incredible narratives of so many others, each uniquely distinguishable in tone, experience, and position, but which overlap in time, place, and circumstance; these individual narratives become intertwined in networks of intellectual collaboration, activism, and female mentorship to give form to the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality.

Because oral history relies on the enlightening nature of hindsight, it serves as an exceptional tool for remembering time past. Yet it can also provide opportunities for a renewed examination of the present, provoking valuable conversation between generations. Thus, while all narrators reflect on previous years—their childhoods, their early years in academia, the struggles of their careers, and those who hurt and helped them along the way—many also addressed the present through the lens of their past, and vice versa. Farah Griffin, who teaches in the Department of English and Comparative Literature and specializes in African American literature, speaks about the generation she currently teaches—my own. My generation, she points out, who came of age in a world where a black man could be elected president and then, as a given, re-elected. My generation, who grew up with Beyoncé and mainstream conversations about feminism. My generation, who could be shocked by the injustice of the Trayvon Martin murder and verdict in a way that Griffin was not. My generation, who can ponder not just questions about the necessity of women’s colleges in 2016, but can confidently continue the conversation, with more participants and a bigger audience than ever, about the definition of womanhood itself. Griffin reflects on this:

There has been a resurgence in the level of activism, not just around racial justice and criminal justice, but also the young people who are organizing around sexual violence. They’re upset and they’re hurt, deeply hurt and deeply angry, and rightly so, but to me it is so beautiful. You know? They bring tears to my eyes, because it’s a level of activism and a willingness to put their bodies on the line that I have not seen. It’s not about nostalgia for a moment that they didn’t live in. They are living in this moment, and that’s something…they decided to step up and organize. Those of us who are feminists feel sometimes like, oh God, what happened? All these young women who think feminism is a dirty word… And then, boom! Here they are, creating their own and standing on their own and insisting on their own. Their institutions are not going to tolerate sexual violence. They are not going to just take mass incarceration for granted. They can change their institution. The fact that they have to do it is disheartening. The fact that they are doing it, to me, is just extraordinary. I’m just so grateful that I got to witness them.
As Griffin acknowledges, there is still work to be done, but by listening to these voices, we can engage in our history and learn about yesterday while applying it to our conversations today. Perhaps the most significant contribution of oral histories is not its preservation of the past but the dialogue it creates for our future. This project records and gives power to often marginalized voices by allowing them to craft and take control over their own narratives. The power and wisdom in their words can inspire action—all we have to do is listen.

The full collection can be explored by visiting the Rare Book & Manuscript Library on the 6th floor of Columbia University’s Butler Library. Please contact the Columbia Center for Oral History Archives for more information. Certain interviews can also be seen on the website of the archives’ partner center, Columbia Center for Oral History Research at INCITE.

– Rebecca Breslaw and Kelsey Decker

About the authors: Rebecca Breslaw is a senior at Barnard College majoring in Anthropology and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Kelsey Decker is a junior at Barnard College majoring in Sociology. Both Kelsey and Becca are student employees at the Columbia Center for Oral History Archives and wrote interview summaries for the IRWGS finding aid.

Pulitzer Prize Centennial Exhibition

pulitzer-prize-2

In honor of the centennial of the Pulitzer Prizes, Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML) presents “The Pulitzer Prizes: From Julia Ward Howe to Hamilton, A Selective Look at 100 Years of Excellence,” on display in the Kempner Gallery, RBML, Butler Library, 6th Floor, East from September 12 through December 23, 2016.

RBML is the repository of the successful Pulitzer Prize submissions, and material from a wide variety of prize categories are on display, beginning with the first winners in 1917 and running through 2016. These include Julia Ward Howe, the first award for biography, given to Laura Richards and Maude Howe Elliot; the first award for reporting, given to Herbert Bayard Swope of The New York World for his series of articles entitled “Inside the German Empire;” and the most recent award for drama, given to Lin-Manuel Miranda for Hamilton: The Revolution in 2016.

Rare Book and Manuscript Library’s First Visiting Scholars Consult Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program Records

Rajendran T. Govender of the Kwazulu-Natal Department of Arts and Culture, South Africa, and Nagah Sayed-Ahmed, an independent social science researcher and activist from Egypt, consult the paper records of the Ford IFP Archive in the reading room at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Rajendran T. Govender of the Kwazulu-Natal Department of Arts and Culture, South Africa, and Nagah Sayed-Ahmed, an independent social science researcher and activist from Egypt, consult the paper records of the Ford IFP Archive in the reading room at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

 

The Rare Book and Manuscript Library achieved a milestone this summer, sponsoring its first group of international visiting scholars in connection with the opening of the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program Records.  The six scholars, visiting from institutions around the world, have spent the summer conducting intensive research using the paper and digital components of the Ford IFP Archive. They are an interdisciplinary group, with interests including development studies, international education, arts and culture, and the history of philanthropy.  The visiting scholars’ findings will contribute to the growing body of scholarship on the impact of educational fellowship programs such as Ford IFP on sustainable international development.

The scholars’ names and project titles are as follows:

  • Tran Nu Mai Thy (Endicott College), “IFP Vision through the Lens of Vietnamese Alumni: An Analysis of Theses”
  • Budi Waluyo (Lehigh University), “Measuring National Community Development Returns from International Scholarship Programs”
  • Wim de Jong (Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands), “Philanthropy, Community and Democracy. The Ford Foundation’s Domestic and Foreign Education Programs, 1949-2016”
  • Oluwafunmilayo Para-Mallam (National Institute for Policy & Strategic Studies, Nigeria), “Tackling Gender-Based Violence in Select African Countries”
  • Rajendran Thangavelu Govender (Kwazulu-Natal Department of Arts and Culture, South Africa) “From Dark to Enlightened Continent—An Analytical Study of the Research of the Ford Foundation IFP Africa Alumni from 2001 to 2013”
  • Nagah Sayed-Ahmed, independent social science researcher and activist, “Promoting Social Justice in Egypt: the Impact of the Ford IFP”
Wim de Jong of Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands, pauses to review his notes after examining a box of paper records from the Ford IFP Archive.

Wim de Jong of Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands, pauses to review his notes after examining a box of paper records from the Ford IFP Archive.

 

The Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program, supported by the largest single grant in the history of the Ford Foundation, took place between 2001 and 2012.  During this time, it sponsored graduate education for over 4,300 Fellows from developing countries who lacked systematic access to higher education, but were committed to furthering social justice and sustainable development in their communities.  The Ford IFP Archive was transferred to the Rare Book and Manuscript Library in 2012.  It contains approximately 500 linear feet of paper records and 3.6 terabytes of digital files documenting the planning and administration of the Ford IFP, as well as the selection, placement, and monitoring of Fellows studying at universities on five continents.  The archive is currently open to researchers, with processing anticipated to be completed by the end of the year.  The digital archive’s components are also available online at the Ford IFP Archive’s website.

The visiting scholars will present their findings at a symposium, “Education, Development, and Social Justice:  the Legacy of the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program,” at Columbia’s Faculty House on September 8.  Registration for interested attendees is available online via the Columbia University Libraries Events Calendar.

Submitted by Celeste Brewer, Ford IFP Project Archivist

2/2 @ 6PM “Blooks”: The Arts of Books that Aren’t

A panel discussion with Mindell Dubansky (Metropolitan Museum of Art), Lynn Festa (Rutgers University), and Bruce and Lynn Heckman (collectors).  Part of the Book History Colloquium at Columbia.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

6:00 PM8:30 PM

12/3 @ 6:00 PM, Butler 523 – The Book History Colloquium: How Radical was Joseph Johnson and Why Does Radicalism Matter? with John Bugg, Associate Prof. of English, Fordham University

JohnsonJoseph Johnson

Romantic-era publisher Joseph Johnson (1738-1809) was the dynamic center of the London dissenting community and is best known today for his work with politically progressive writers such as Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, William Blake, Charlotte Smith, and Erasmus Darwin. But Johnson also published “conservative” writers such as Thomas Malthus. In this talk, John Bugg analyzes the larger contours of Johnson’s extensive publication catalog (over 4,000 titles) and asks what it means for us to think about a publisher (rather than a writer) as “radical.”

John Bugg is an Associate Professor of English at Fordham University where he teaches British Romanticism, legal and political history, and Romantic-era print culture. He is the author of Five Long Winters: The Trials of British Romanticism (Stanford University Press, 2014), which examines the relations between literary culture and political repression at the end of the eighteenth century. His critical edition of the correspondence of Joseph Johnson will be published by Oxford University Press in 2016.

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The Book History Colloquium at Columbia University, open to any discipline, aims to provide a broad outlet for the scholarly discussion of book history, print culture, the book arts, and bibliographical research, and (ideally) the promotion of research and publication in these fields. Our presenters include Columbia faculty members and advanced graduate students, and scholars of national prominence from a range of institutions.

All sessions take place at 6:00 PM in 523 Butler Library, Columbia Morningside Campus, unless otherwise noted.

Questions? Email Karla Nielsen.