To say that the events of September 11, 2001 had a lasting impact on New York City, the nation and the world would be an understatement.
In the days after the attack, the Columbia Oral History Research Office, as the combined research and archives arms were known then, had the foresight, skill and tact to design and execute a large-scale oral history project to hear from New Yorkers about how 9/11 had already changed their lives.
Under the leadership of oral historian Mary Marshall Clark,
The September 11, 2001 Oral History Project consists of five projects and programs focusing on different areas of inquiry related to the aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center. As of the tenth anniversary, the project as a whole amounts to over 900 recorded hours (23 hours on video) with over 600 individuals.
You can hear excerpts from some of the oral histories from this New York Times article and read more about the project.
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