Mary Marshall Clark to Lead Columbia's Oral History Program


by Caroline Ladhani

Mary Marshall Clark has been named director of Columbia's Oral History Research Office. Clark has worked in the oral history program since 1990.

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Over the past decade, Clark has interviewed notable individuals such as Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and the late Congresswoman Bella Abzug among many others. Currently, she is working on the Malcolm X – Dr. Betty Shabazz Oral History Project, which will record interviews with their surviving siblings and close relatives, prominent civil rights, labor, business and community leaders from Harlem and throughout black America.

Clark will work to enhance the collection's efforts to facilitate interdisciplinary and cross-cultural research and to set new standards for oral history using visual and digital media.

"I look forward to building an international program where scholars, students, journalists, and filmmakers will work together to explore new ways of documenting human achievement and human struggle in all its aspects," said Clark. "We will also be a resource for scholars in the humanities and social sciences who are using oral history methodology to conduct research across the disciplines."

Clark's predecessor, Ronald J. Grele, who retired in September after 18 years, said the growth of digital format and new technology for video formatting is transforming the field, formerly dependent on tape recorders.

"The new face of oral history is the new media," said Grele. "It's a remarkable revolution that's going on, and [Clark] is poised to move the program in that direction. She is a major figure in the field of oral history. With her experience documenting human rights struggles and her film background, she is just the right person to bring the Office into the age of new media and new issues."

"Prior to her work at Columbia, Clark was involved with the "New York Times History Project," an effort to compile oral histories of Times employees, and has served as a consultant for internationally award-winning documentary films. She has developed other oral history projects in New York, including programs for public and private schools and museums. She is vice-president and president-elect of the United States Oral History Association and has served on the Executive Council of the International Oral History Association. She teaches a graduate oral history course at Columbia and directs the Columbia University Summer Institute on Oral History. Clark has lectured and delivered seminars at Columbia University's Teachers College, Barnard College, Sarah Lawrence College, the City University of New York and many other institutions. In addition, she has lectured in Brazil and the Netherlands on topics related to oral history and memory.

Each year, more than 2,000 scholars consult Columbia's Oral History Research Office, which boasts interviews with such notables as former President Jimmy Carter, former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Dorothy Parker, and Fred Astaire. Founded in 1948, the collection is second only to the Library of Congress in scope, with 15,000 hours of tape and 8,000 interviews.

Published: Sep 12, 2001
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002