Columbia University’s Oral History Research Office Launches Carnegie Corporation Oral History Website

NEW YORK, January 24, 2007 Columbia University’s Oral History Research Office [OHRO], in partnership with the Libraries Digital Program Division and Digital Knowledge Ventures, announces the launch of a new multi-media oral history website focusing on the oral history of Carnegie Corporation conducted by OHRO. The oral history and website ( were funded by a series of grants from Carnegie Corporation and features interviews with Carnegie staff, trustees, and grant recipients. Visitors to the site can explore the interviews in three forms: streaming video, audio, and written transcripts. Nearly forty hours of interview with twenty-one different people are accessible on the site.

A central focus of the website is the Corporation’s work in South Africa, where it funded legal reform and research into black poverty during the decades of apartheid. Grant recipients who carried out the research and fought apartheid in the courts detail their experiences and the importance of the Corporation’s contributions. In addition to interviews, text and photographs about the Corporation’s century-long presence in South Africa, the site features a documentary, "Voices of South Africa," that includes an interview with former Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Jim Neal, Columbia's Vice President for Information Services and University Librarian, said, "Oral histories represent a unique view of history, in this case, the work of one of the world's most important philanthropic organizations. This multimedia record of Carnegie is now being made available online to scholars and students throughout the world."

The site also records the history of Carnegie’s outreach in education, global welfare and policy reform. Former President Jimmy Carter speaks to the broad context of Carnegie grant-making, and former presidents of the Corporation Alan Pifer and David Hamburg explore the mission of Carnegie as it developed in the last decades of the 20th century. A number of interviews with women executives and program officers illuminate the changing role of women in philanthropy. The site also features an interview with Joan Ganz Cooney on the development and long-term support of "Sesame Street."

Carnegie Corporation's grant to the Oral History Research Office funded two oral history projects to document the organization's history. The first project, which ran from 1966 to 1974, resulted in 479 hours of testimony and covered the Corporation's first 58 years of existence. The second phase of oral history interviews was conducted from 1996 to 2000, focused on Carnegie's history from 1970 until 2000. This phase yielded more than 270 hours of interviews including 63 hours shot on high definition video.

"Foundations, which should stand for the best ideas and impulses of the American people, their idealism, altruism and generosity, can only be successful in this mission if they are transparent about their work, accountable to the public, and deeply committed to honoring the links that connect past generations to those who are here today and will follow us tomorrow. The Carnegie Corporation Oral History web site that has been created under the auspices of Columbia University's Oral History Research Office is an important means of sharing the vision that Andrew Carnegie had nearly a century ago of creating an institution dedicated to the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding and how it has put that mandate into practice through its grantmaking," said Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation of New York.

The Columbia University Oral History Research Office is the oldest and largest organized university-based oral history program open to the public in the world. Founded in 1948 by Pulitzer Prize winning historian Allan Nevins, the oral history collection now contains nearly 8,000 taped memoirs, and nearly 1,000,000 pages of transcript. The program is also a center for teaching and research, offering opportunities for students, visiting scholars and fellows.

Carnegie Corporation of New York was created by Andrew Carnegie in 1911 to promote "the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding." Under Carnegie's will, grants must benefit the people of the United States, although up to 7.4 percent of the funds may be used for the same purpose in countries that are or have been members of the British Commonwealth, with a current emphasis on Commonwealth Africa. As a grantmaking foundation, the Corporation seeks to carry out Carnegie's vision of philanthropy, which he said should aim "to do real and permanent good in this world."

Columbia University's Digital Knowledge Ventures is a multimedia design and development group providing services to clients on campus as well as to organizations outside the University. Founded in 2000 by Columbia's central administration, Digital Knowledge Ventures operates under the auspices of the University librarian, James Neal. Our staff is made up of experts in graphic design; programming; technical and business development; rights, video and picture research; and marketing, licensing, and sales.