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