Columbia Center for Oral History Archives

Oral History Archives at Columbia

The Oral History Archives at Columbia is one of the largest and oldest oral history collections in the United States.

Founded in 1948, early biographical interviews focused on distinguished leaders in politics and government — the “Great Men” of history. Over time, the biographical collection grew to include notable people in philanthropy, business, radio, publishing, filmmaking, medicine, science, public health, law, military, architecture, and the arts.

Beginning in the 1980s, OHRO expanded its collecting approach to include activist histories of the New Left, civil rights, and peace movements, as well as community history. With a new sensitivity to the social construction of memory, our biographical interviews focused on illuminating social, political, and cultural history through the telling of a life story.

In the 21st century, the Oral History Archives at Columbia is creating stronger oral history collections through attention to marginalized people and groups is a priority as a corrective to historically-biased attention to the white, cisgendered, heterosexual, physically abled experience.

The oral history collections are housed in Butler Library's Rare Book & Manuscript Library. The reading rooms are open to the public.

The OHAC companion center, Columbia Center for Oral History Research is housed at 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.


President Barack Obama on the telephone in the Oval Office The Obama Foundation has selected the Columbia Center for Oral History to conduct the official oral history of the Obama presidency. Upon completion, oral history transcripts will be available for researchers here at in the archives.