An A-to-Z of Oral History at Columbia | D is for the legendary Carol Doda


An A-to-Z of Oral History at Columbia is a monthly posting featuring the people, events, and organizations in the Oral History Archive at Columbia’s collections, as well as behind-the-scenes info about oral history methodology.


Interview title: Oral history interview with Carol Doda, 1971

Collection title (and book by the same name): Good Times: an oral history of America in the nineteen sixties

Interview contents: In a very brief conversation (does almost six minutes count as an interview?), Carol Doda is both interviewed and resists being interviewed about her experiences as a burlesque dancer at San Francisco’s Condor Club. Legendary for her topless dancing and performances, Doda claims the position of being a humanitarian and includes entertaining people as part of her humanitarianism.


Of Note:

  • Favorite quote, “Okay, so what else do you wanna know?” For reasons lost to time, Doda is clearly, perhaps rightly impatient with the interviewer’s questions. It’s not unusual for a narrator to pick up on an interviewer’s degree of preparedness or perceptions of judgment in a line of questioning.
  • Second favorite quote, “Have you seen the show? [No.] Well, maybe you better stick around and see it and add your own footnotes.” Note to all oral historians: do your homework and background research! See the show!
Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Carol Doda Condor sign.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, (accessed December 15, 2023).

Provenance: As the catalog record for the Good Times Collection notes, Doda’s interview was one of several collected for Peter T. Joseph‘s Princeton senior thesis. Influenced by Studs Terkel’s methodology for Hard Times, Joseph traveled across the U.S. to interview prominent people and everyday folks about “cultural and political trends that Joseph felt defined the decade.” Joseph traveled some 15,000 miles as he collected interviews from individuals around the United States. He was inspired by Studs Terkel’s book “Hard Times,” and “Good Times” shares the form of using short vignettes to illuminate broader social trends.

Behind the archival scenes: The Good Times collection, though donated in 1974, was only recently reformatted from fragile analog material (cassette) to digital and made available in our online Digital Library Collection.

Use cases: Yes, the Doda “interview” is only five minutes and twenty-six seconds long. The recording raises methodological questions regarding what length of a recording constitutes an interview. As oral history using the “life history” model, this recording would earn low marks, as we learn very little about Doda’s background or life; her 2015 obituary in the New York Times and her hometown newspaper The San Fransisco Examiner offer greater detail. Still, in the five+ minutes, one can glean quite a few interdisciplinary insights about dancing as labor, perceptions of propriety in the late 1960s, gender, and how intersubjectivity between narrator and interviewer takes shape or flounders.

Access: Columbia University affiliates can listen to these interviews online in the Digital Library Collection by logging in with their UNI. Non-Columbia affiliates can make an appointment in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library reading room to hear the interviews and review available transcripts. Information for ordering a limited number of interview transcripts and audio can be found by reviewing the The Oral History Archives at Columbia FAQ.

Additional resources: