Lili Hamlyn examines rituals of public mourning in Columbia’s oral history archives

This fall, Lili Hamlyn visited the RBML to use the 9/11 oral history project. Hamlyn’s work examines public mourning: how is grief conducted in public? How do communities process grief together? What role does grief play on a public stage? Lili Hamlyn is a writer, whose work has appeared in The White Review, The Oxonian Review, and the TLS. Recently, in The Yale Review, she wrote about photography and the process of mourning. We chatted with Hamlyn about her work and what advice she has for researchers visiting the archives…


What brings you to Columbia’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library? 

I’m working on a project about public mourning and grief. Part of the project involves looking at the aftereffects of 9/11. I’m researching how individuals coped with the fallout of grief, and the communities of grief which formed in the aftermath of September 11. I came to RBML to look at interviews from the September 11, 2001 oral history narrative and memory project.

How long have you been using RBML materials (for this and/or previous research)?

This was my first trip to the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library! However, as I found an awful lot of useful material, it certainly won’t be my last. I’m looking forward to further visits!

What have you found? Did you come here knowing this material was here?

I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface, but already I’ve found an abundance of useful material. I knew a little about the background of the subjects whose interviews I was reading (thanks to the very helpful summaries in the catalog) but not the exact contents or tone of the interviews. The interviews themselves are extensive and far-reaching. I was particularly interested in the interview with Randall D. Marshall, an expert in traumatic stress.

What have you found that’s surprised or perplexed you?

I was really moved and surprised by how openly people were able to discuss their trauma, especially considering that some of the interviews I looked at were conducted just a few months after 9/11.

What advice do you have for other researchers or students interested in using RBML’s special collections?

I think it’s important to prepare ahead of time. Go in with specific research aims and questions as it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information to get through in a limited time. Having said that, I think it’s also important to remain open to new material and allow the archive to surprise you. On a very practical note­­­––make sure your phone is charged to take lots of reference photographs!