About the Columbia Center for Oral History Archives

About

The Columbia University Center for Oral History (CCOH) is one of the world’s leading centers for the practice and teaching of oral history. CCOH achieves its mission from the union of the Columbia Center for Oral History Research (CCOHR) and Columbia Center for Oral History Archives (CCOHA).

In a pathbreaking move that has strengthened CCOH, the Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics (INCITE) recently partnered with the Columbia University Libraries in managing and administering the activities and programs of the CCOH. INCITE and its founder Peter Bearman (Sociology) have worked closely with the staff of CCOH over the years, particularly in the development of the September 11, 2001 Oral History Projects and the Oral History Master of Arts program.

Under the terms of the new partnership, INCITE will have responsibility for the research, education, and outreach activities of CCOH. These include new oral history projects, the Oral History Master of Arts program (which was already jointly administered by CCOH and INCITE), the Summer Institute, and public programming. All of these activities will take shape under the CCOHR. The R stands for Research.

The Libraries, in turn, will focus its energies on the curatorial and archiving aspects of CCOH’s mission. The Libraries will devote more staff and attention to acquiring, processing, and making more generally available the rich set of resources that comprise the CCOH archive. All of these activities will take shape under the CCOHA, the A stands for Archives.

This new relationship thus anchors CCOH firmly in faculty research and teaching, while bolstering Columbia University Libraries commitments to professional archival management through the Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML).

In summary, CCOHR is housed at the Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics (INCITE) where it administers an ambitious research agenda with the goal to record unique life histories, document the central historical events and memories of our times, provide public programming, and to teach and do research across the disciplines.

CCOHR's companion center, CCOHA is housed in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library within Columbia University Libraries. It is open to the public, holds more than 8,000 interviews, in audio, video and text formats, on a wide variety of subjects. CCOHA oversees the curatorial and archival functions associated with the research initiatives undertaken at CCOHR. 

 

History

Allan Nevins founded the Oral History Research Office (now CCOH) to establish biographical interviewing as a key method of historical research. Early interviews focused on distinguished leaders in politics and government. Over time, the collection grew to include interviews in philanthropy, media, business, medicine, public health, the law, the arts, community history, and human rights, and has a continued commitment to documenting political events and their impacts. Our archive has been unique in the nation in that it has never been confined in its scope to one region or area of historical experience.


The Center has been instrumental in supporting both the national and international associations for oral history. For many years the Center was the headquarters for the Oral History Association, and each of its directors has served as president of that association. In 2008, the Center and the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy at Columbia collaborated to create the nation’s first master’s program in oral history, the Oral History Master of Arts (OHMA), an interdisciplinary degree linking the humanities and the social sciences. Through our Annual Summer Institute, we consistently work with fellows from around the world.

Today, CCOH continues to be a laboratory for oral history practice and a center for education and outreach. Scholars, students, writers, documentary makers, advocates, and others come to CCOH from around the world to study, access the archives, and participate in educational programs.