Guidelines for Researchers


Mason & Starr & Horwitz 1972 Elizabeth B. Mason and Louis Starr celebrate the publishing of oral histories on microfiche with Karl Horwitz, 1972.

Oral histories are the result of intimate interviews between two people, both of whom have generously agreed to share the interviews with the Columbia Center for Oral History Archives in order that they become part of the historical record of our times.

The Columbia Center for Oral History Archives is known for taking great care in providing researchers with equitable access to the collections while respecting narrators' privacy needs. Oral history interviews can contain sensitive information and researchers are advised to handle this material with care and respect.

Read more about the founding of the Columbia Center for Oral History.

Read more about the Columbia Center for Oral History's Philosophy, Procedures, and Evaluation.

For more information on the values and ethics guiding oral history research please see the Oral History Association’s Principles and Best Practices.  

For more information on the values and ethics guiding archiving, please see the Society of American Archivists’ Core Values Statement and Code of Ethics.

 

Transcript vs. Voice

We encourage researchers to listen to the audio/video when available, because meaning can be lost when the orality of an interview is translated into text. Tone, volume, inflections, pauses, and subtleties of timing and emotion; as well as accents, dialects, and vernacular speech, may not be represented in the transcript.  

Most transcripts at the Columbia Center for Oral History Archives have been edited for readability and do not contain interjections (ums, ahs, ers), false starts, verbal stumbles, verbal filler (“like,” “you know”), grammatical errors, or misspeaks that are common in conversation. Prior to the 1980s, transcripts were edited even more thoroughly to create “oral autobiographies” and these transcripts may vary greatly from the original recordings.

Unless verbal patterns are germane to your scholarly work, when quoting from an oral history, please quote from the transcript or in cases when the transcript does not exist, please edit the quotation for the standards of print while remaining faithful to the narrator’s meaning and speech patterns.

 

Access & Use

To protect narrators' privacy while also ensuring that their oral history be preserved for the historical record, some oral history interviews in our collections may be Restricted i.e. Closed for an agreed-upon number of years, or for their lifetime, or they may require written permission from the narrator of interviewer before allowing a researcher to see or hear an interview.

The vast majority of the interviews in the Columbia Center for Oral History Archives are Open for research. If you would like to view a closed interview, please contact oralhist@columbia.edu, as the restrictions may have expired.

 

Permission to Cite and Quote

The Columbia Center for Oral History Archives welcomes personal, educational, and noncommercial use that qualifies as fair use (see CUL Fair Use Checklist) to all unrestricted interview materials in the collection. The researcher must cite and give proper credit to The Columbia Center for Oral History Archives.

The catalog record for many oral histories says “Permission required to cite and quote.” However, permission is not required for non-commercial use and access that qualifies as fair use.

For commercial use of any sort, including reproduction, quotation, publication, and broadcast in any medium, distribution, derivative works, public performance, and public display that goes beyond fair use, the researcher must obtain written permission from the Columbia Center for Oral History Archives. Permission will comply with any agreements made with the interviewee, interviewer, or donor of materials. Please contact oralhist@library.columbia.edu

 

CITATION FORMAT

The suggested form of citation is:

Oral History interview with _______________ (year of the interview), Collection or Project Title (when applicable), pages ________, Columbia Center for Oral History Archives, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.

OR

Reminiscences of _______________ (year of the interview), Collection or Project Title (when applicable), pages ________, Columbia Center for Oral History Archives, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Examples:

Oral History interview with David Norman Dinkins (2014), Columbia Center for Oral History Archives, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Reminiscences of Frances Perkins (1955), pages 44 - 64, Columbia Center for Oral History Archives, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Reminiscences of Rex G. White (1951), pages 17 - 19, Radio Pioneers project, Columbia Center for Oral History Archives, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.