September 11, 2001 Oral History Projects


The September 11, 2001 Oral History Project consists of five projects and programs focusing on different areas of inquiry related to the aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center. As of the tenth anniversary, the project as a whole amounts to over 900 recorded hours (23 hours on video) with over 600 individuals. To date, 687 hours with 351 individuals are now open and available to the public through our archive.

Project Descriptions

The September 11, 2001 Oral History Narrative and Memory Project

Within days of the event, the Oral History Narrative and Memory Project became a longitudinal project with the objective of gathering as many different perspectives on the impact of September 11th as possible, and to allow individuals to speak about their experiences outside the frameworks quickly developed by official media and government accounts. The interviews were conducted over a broad spectrum of ethnic and professional categories, including those who were discriminated against in the aftermath and those who lost work or who were unable to work. The project also documents large clusters of people directly affected or near the site of the towers, as well as Afghan-Americans, Muslims and Sikhs, Latinos, immigrants, and community and performance artists.  Over 440 people were interviewed in the first year of the project, and 202 follow up interviews were done in 2002 and 2003.  Additional people were interviewed in 2005, and the Center recorded twenty hours of interview on video.

The project was generously supported by the National Science Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, The New York Times Foundation and Columbia University, as well as generous friends of CCOH and volunteer interviewers and consultants. The project was developed in partnership with the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy (ISERP) at Columbia University.

The September 11, 2001 Response and Recovery Oral History Project

In 2002, CCOH began a project to document the experiences of professionals who responded to the urban crises generated by the events of September 11th.  Between 2002 and 2005, CCOH conducted 112 hours of interview with 68 people, most of whom were leading governmental and non-governmental responders in the fields of philanthropy, trauma services, unemployment relief, law and civil rights, and education. To better understand the New Yorkers who were being helped by these outreach programs, an additional dozen interviews were conducted with individuals deeply traumatized by September 11th. The project also supported the writing of a fieldwork guide for interviewers, journalists and human rights workers using oral history to document the effects of catastrophe.

The project was generously supported by the New York Times Foundation 9/11 Neediest Fund.

The September 11, 2001 Public Health Oral History Project

The September 11, 2001 Public Health Oral History Project collected 30 hours of interview with 34 individuals from various governmental and not-for-profit organizations who were involved with the public health response to September 11 and the anthrax attacks that occurred soon after.  The majority of the interviewees were employed in various capacities by the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The interviews were conducted between January and November 2002 by Dr. David Rosner and Dr. Nancy Van Devanter of the Columbia School of Public Health, as well as others working under their direction. 

The project was generously supported by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to the Columbia School of Public Health.

The Telling Lives Oral History Programs

The Telling Lives Oral History Program, CCOH’s first public history program since its founding in 1948, began with a grant from the New York Times 9/11 Neediest Fund in 2002 to interview Local 40 Ironworkers about building the World Trade Center and pilot two after-school programs that allowed youth to explore the meaning of September 11th through dialogue. The after-school programs were implemented at the School for International Studies in Brooklyn, where students produced a booklet, Brooklyn Stories, and Dr. Sun Yat Sen Middle School 131 in Manhattan’s Chinatown, where students created a multimedia museum exhibit, Living through History, at the Museum of Chinese in the Americas. The initial Telling Lives pilot programs were generously funded by the New York Times Foundation 9/11 Neediest Fund in a grant made in June, 2002.

The pilot program was expanded into a formal semester-long schools-program through a grant from the ChevronTexaco Foundation in 2003 (partnering with NYU Child Study Center and the Museum of Chinese in the Americas). The Chinatown Telling Lives Project reached 240 youth in 8 middle-school classrooms. Each class worked to create either a full color book or video documentary based on their interviews, culminating in a series of public exhibitions. Based on this work, CCOH developed the Telling Lives through Oral History: A Guide for Educators, written by Gerry Albarelli and Amy Starecheski, which can be customized to fit into existing English and Social Studies curriculums. Telling Lives is now a permanent CCOH initiative that uses oral history for community outreach, education and advocacy, especially in settings that are under-resourced.  Over 50 individuals were interviewed by these youth for these projects.  The Chevron Texaco Foundation generously funded the in-school program.

The Chinatown Documentation Project

The Chinatown Documentation Project aimed, through recorded oral histories and public programming, to share the strengths of the major universities engaged in documenting the events of September 11, 2001 in interpreting the effect of the events on Chinatown. The 25 searchable, videotaped oral history interviews have been made available online so that they might serve as a resource for the community.  The interviews are also archived at the Museum of Chinese in the Americas and the Library of Congress. 

The Rockefeller Foundation supported this collaboration between the CCOH, the Museum of Chinese in the Americas, The City University of New York 9/11 Digital Archives, and New York University’s Asian/Pacific/American Studies Program.