Category Archives: Oral History

New Al Jaffee Oral History Open to Research

In new interview, Al Jaffee discusses his work for MAD, including the “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions” feature. (Artwork from Al Jaffee papers, soon to be available for research at RBML)

The Columbia Center for Oral History Archives at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library is pleased to announce that an oral history interview with Mad magazine cartoonist Al Jaffee is now available for research. This interview was taken for the CCOH Archives by Suzanne Snider in 2016 to complement archival materials from Al Jaffee already available at the RBML and those to become available in the future.

In this interview, Jaffee describes his youth, his experiences at MAD, his work methods, and his theories on humor, among other topics.

The transcript can be viewed in the RBML reading room. The audio of the interview is also available in the RBML reading room by emailing the CCOH Archives at oralhist@library.columbia.edu two days in advance of your visit. For more information about comics collections at the RBML, please contact Karen Green, Curator for Comics and Cartoons (klg19@columbia.edu). For more information about the Al Jaffee oral history interview, planning a visit to the RBML, or the oral history collections more generally, please contact oralhist@library.columbia.edu.

-David A. Olson, Archivist for the Columbia Center for Oral History Archives

Phoenix House Oral History Collection Ready for Research

The Phoenix House Oral History Collection joins other resources at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library regarding addiction and controlled substances. The images above are from pamphlets found in the Carnegie Corporation Of New York Records (CCNY III.B, Box 48, Folder 48.4)

 

The Columbia Center for Oral History Archives at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library is pleased to announce that a finding aid is now available for the Phoenix House Foundation Oral History Collection. These interviews were taken between 2014 and 2015 by the archives’ partner, the Columbia Center for Oral History Research.

Since 1967, Phoenix House has been a prominent institution in the treatment of addiction. The collection’s narrators include Phoenix House founders, former residents, employees (resident directors, regional directors, clinical directors, public relations professionals, directors of human services, and more), and collaborators such as journalists, politicians, philanthropists, legal counsel, and public servants. They discuss the origins and growth of the organization, the therapeutic community model of addiction treatment, and changes at the organization over the years.

Please contact oralhist@library.columbia.edu for more information about accessing the materials at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Digital transcripts and audio for the collection can also be accessed through the website of Columbia Center for Oral History Research.

-David A. Olson, Archivist for the Columbia Center for Oral History Archives

Animal Advocates Oral History Collection Finding Aid Now Available

All images from attachments to interviews in the Animal Advocates Oral History Collection. Sources, from left to right: Box 7 (Margaret "Peggy" Moreland Stathos Attachments); Box 1 (Theodora Capaldo Attachments); Box 1 (Theodora Capaldo Attachments); Box 6 (Jim Mason Attachments).

All images from attachments to interviews in the Animal Advocates Oral History Collection. Sources, from left to right: Box 7 (Margaret “Peggy” Moreland Stathos Attachments); Box 1 (Theodora Capaldo Attachments); Box 1 (Theodora Capaldo Attachments); Box 6 (Jim Mason Attachments).

 

The Columbia Center for Oral History Archives at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library is pleased to announce that a finding aid is now available for the Animal Advocates Oral History Collection.

The collection’s fourteen interviews were conducted between 1999 and 2004 to document the activities of individuals and organizations that had fought for the protection of animals in the preceding decades. The 1970s and 1980s saw the publication of groundbreaking books, new articulations of ethical frameworks, and increased national publicity for animal rights and protection. The project was undertaken by the non-profit organization Recording Animal Advocacy as the movement entered a more introspective phase in the 1990s, and members began asking questions about their past that traditional archival sources did not readily address. The interviews are a unique resource on activists’ views on animal shelters, opposition to vivisection and scientific testing on animals, vegetarianism and veganism, the treatment of agricultural animals, and environmentalism.

Please contact oralhist@library.columbia.edu for more information about the collection and accessing the materials.

-David A. Olson, Archivist for the Columbia Center for Oral History Archives

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.

10/1 @ 6PM: Doing Recent History: History that Talks (and Tweets!) Back

DoingRecentHistory book cover

Thursday, October 1, 2015 at 6:00 PM
Columbia University’s Butler Library, Room 523
535 West 114th Street, NYC
(Directions)

  • Why is writing living history challenging?
  • What are the ethics of doing research on social media?
  • How can archivists balance the ethics of open access and ethics of privacy?
  • Do historians watch enough TV?!

Join Tenured Radical Claire Bond Potter, editor of Doing Recent History, as she engages with these questions and more with contributors to the book, including historian David Greenberg, and archivists Laura Hart and Nancy Kaiser.

This event is free and open to the public.

This event is co-sponsored by the Columbia Center for Oral History Archives.

BIOS:

David Greenberg is a professor of history and of journalism & media studies at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, and the author of several books, most recently Republic of Spin: An Inside History of the American Presidency  (W.W. Norton, 2016). Formerly managing editor and acting editor of The New Republic, he has also written for The Atlantic, Foreign Affairs, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Slate, The Washington Post, and many other scholarly and popular publications. He now writes a column for Politico.

Laura Hart is the coordinator of the Digital Southern Historical Collection at the Louis Round Wilson Special Collection Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has worked with Southern Historical Collection materials since 2001.

Nancy Kaiser is an archivist at the Louis Round Wilson Special Collection Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has worked with Southern Historical Collection materials since 2000.

Claire Bond Potter received her B.A. in English from Yale University and her Ph.D. in History from New York University. She is currently Professor of History and Director of the Digital Humanities Initiative at the New School. Formerly the sole author of the education blog Tenured Radical at the Chronicle of Higher Education, Potter has also written War on Crime: Bandits, G-Men and the Politics of Mass Culture (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1998), and with Renee Romano, she is co-editor of Doing Recent History: On Privacy, Copyright, Video Games, Institutional Review Boards, Activist Scholarship, and History That Talks Back (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2012.) She is currently writing a book about radical feminism and the war on violence against women in the 1970s and 1980s. Her published work includes articles on feminism, digital humanities, political and queer history; a new collection of essays on digital humanities, which will open for crowd-sourced refereeing in January 2016, is under contract to the University of North Carolina Press.

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News from the Oral History Archives

early oral history interview

James P. Warburg being interviewed by Dean Albertson, 1952.

In the 1930s, journalist, biographer, and Columbia professor of history, Allan Nevins began to worry that future historians would find a dearth of evidence documenting the personal side of historic events because ephemeral telephone conversations were replacing letter writing.

Nevins began experimenting with what he called oral autobiography: interviews with “living Americans who have led significant lives,” (Gateway to History, 1938).

Nevins conducted his first interview on May 18, 1948 and the field of oral history was born. This exciting new historical research methodology attracted the support of historians Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr. and Richard Hofstadter, cultural critic Lionel Trilling, and other preeminent intellectuals of the time. The Columbia Center for Oral History Archives is now one of the largest oral history collections in the country, containing over 10,000 interviews. Continue reading