Columbia’s Oral History Research Office Hosts 2006 Summer Institute

NEW YORK, June 28, 2006 The Columbia University Oral History Research Office (OHRO) held its annual two-week international Summer Institute in Oral History from June 4 to June 16, 2006. The theme of this year’s Institute was “Women’s Narratives, Women’s Lives: Intersections of Gender and Memory” and featured faculty and fellows from around the world.


“Carolyn Heilbrun suggested in Writing a Woman’s Life (1989) that women must first ‘tell’ their stories before they write them, in order to free themselves from the narrative structures of male heroic myths that dominate literature,” said Mary Marshall Clark, director of the Oral History Research Office. “As we found in this year’s institute, oral history, understood in this sense, has the capacity to remake the way we understand the world.”

Presentation topics by Institute faculty included “Gender and Migration: Women from the East to the West of Europe,” by Italian cultural historian Luisa Passerini; “Curating Life Stories of the Body: Gender and Memory in Illness Narratives,” by Rita Charon, director of the program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons; and “Trauma, Memory and Transition: Narratives of Activists in Post-Liberation South Africa,” by South African scholar and psychologist Ruksana Patel.

Recent projects by fellows in this year’s Institute include Amy Hill’s advocacy and digital video production work with survivors and witnesses of violence (see; Monica Ong’s interactive artwork exploring the intersections of culture and public health in visual and sonic media (; and Joanne Goodwin’s social and labor oral history of women working in the Las Vegas gaming and entertainment industries.

The Institute provided instruction in interviewing, designing community history projects, integrating oral history sources into academic research and writing, and managing video oral history programs. Fellows had opportunities to learn digital recording techniques in audio recording, and to explore the uses of oral testimony in audio documentaries.

Faculty for the 2006 Summer Institute included: Peter Bearman, director of the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy (ISERP) and the Lazarsfeld Center for the Social Sciences, professor of Sociology, and co-director of the Health & Society Scholars Program at Columbia University; Rita Charon, professor of Clinical Medicine and director of the program in Narrative Medicine at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons; Mary Marshall Clark, director of the Oral History Research Office at Columbia; Ann Cvetkovich, professor of English at the University of Texas, Austin; Anne Foner, retired professor of Sociology, most recently at Rutgers University; Ronald J. Grele, director emeritus of Columbia’s Oral History Research Office; Marianne Hirsch, editor of PMLA and professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia; Ynestra King, writer and scholar of feminist theory; Rosemary Newnham, assistant director of the Oral History Research Office; Luisa Passerini, professor of Cultural History at the University of Turin and external professor of History in the Twentieth Century at Florence’s European University Institute; Ruksana Patel, South African scholar and activist with a background in Clinical, Child and Family Psychology; Alessandro Portelli, pioneering oral historian and professor of American Literature at the University of Rome; Steve Rowland, president and founder of CultureWorks, Ltd., a non-profit documentary production company; Linda Shopes, historian with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission; and Leo Spitzer, Kathe Tappe Vernon Professor of History at Dartmouth College and visiting professor of History at Columbia University.

Columbia University Libraries is one of the top ten academic library systems in the nation, with 9.2 million volumes, over 65,650 serials, as well as extensive collections of electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms, and other nonprint formats. The collections and services are organized into 25 libraries, supporting specific academic or professional disciplines. Columbia Libraries employs more than 400 professional and support staff to assist faculty, students, and researchers in their academic endeavors. The Libraries’ website at is a gateway to its print and electronic collections and to its services.

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 17,000 hours of taped memoirs, and 1,000,000 pages of transcript. The program is also a center for teaching and research, offering opportunities for students, visiting scholars and fellows. For additional information about the 2006 Summer Institute or for general information about the Oral History Research Office, please see:

06/28/06 ICL