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Jan 26 | One-Day Oral History Training Workshops with OHMA

  • Knox Hall Columbia University New York, New York 10027 (map)

Join us for an intensive day of workshops with OHMA faculty and alumni! Register now - these always sell out!

Location: Columbia University, Knox Hall

Registration: $30 - 100 per workshop, sliding scale. Please find registration info here.

For our oral history workshops, please pay what you can. We suggest $30 for students, recent graduates, or others who are financially constrained, while we suggest that professionals and those with more resources should pay more.

All profits from these events go towards our annual merit scholarship for an incoming OHMA student.

Prospective Students: OHMA offers an application fee waiver for all attendees of our 2019 One-Day Oral History Training Workshops! Please email us at once you've submitted your application so that we can send the waiver to Columbia's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

We will also be hosting our annual Spring Open House that very same week on the evening of Thursday, January 24, 2019! If you are interested in applying to OHMA and would like to meet with our directors or sit in on a class while you're in town for either event, please write us to schedule your visit.

Sponsors: OHMA's One-Day Oral History Training Workshops are part of the Paul F. Lazarsfeld Lecture Series, co-sponsored by the Columbia Center for Oral History Research (CCOHR) and the Oral History Master of Arts Program (OHMA).

Support from the Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics (INCITE) is provided for programming that embodies late Professor Paul Lazarsfeld’s commitment to improving methodological approaches that address concerns of vital cultural and social significance.

For more information, please email Anne Cardenas at


Morning Workshops, 9:30AM-12:30PM

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Oral History Research Design through Project Execution: Principles of Good Practice, Mary Marshall Clark

This workshop will focus on how to lead a research-based oral history project from the design phase, through stages of implementation and review, and final interpretation and curation.

We will look at diverse examples of projects that we have completed at Columbia University including: The September 11, 2001 Oral History Narrative and Memory Project (producing 667 sessions of interview), as well as a smaller more focused community based project: Ground One: Voices from Chinatown, conducted on the aftermath of 9/11 in Chinatown neighborhoods and schools. Additionally, we will examine the challenge of doing oral history on law and torture: through our Rule of Law: Guantánamo Oral History Project, conducted from 2008-2012; and lastly we will look at the most recent project we have conducted, an oral history of the Harriman Institute at Columbia, a smaller more focused project on the history of Russian and Eurasian affairs before, during and after the Cold War.  Please bring your project ideas to the table!  Among other things, we will discuss how research design affects fieldwork practices, and how fieldwork content in turn reshapes project design.

Mary Marshall Clark is the director of the Columbia Center for Oral History Research (CCOHR). Mary Marshall is also the co-founder of Columbia’s Oral History Master of Arts degree program. Mary Marshall has been involved in the oral history movement since 1991, and was president of the Oral History Association in 2001-2002. She was a founding member of the International Oral History Association. Mary Marshall teaches and writes on issues of memory, the mass media, trauma, and ethics in oral history. She was the co-principal investigator, with Peter Bearman, of the September 11, 2001 Oral History Narrative and Memory Project, and directed related projects on the aftermath of September 11th in New York City.  Mary Marshall’s current work focuses on the global impact of U.S. torture and detention policies, focusing on Guantánamo.  Mary Marshall is an editor of After the Fall: New Yorkers Remember September 11, 2001 and the Years that Followed, published by The New Press in September 2011

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Oral History 101, Amy Starecheski 

What is oral history, and what is it good for? In a storytelling-obsessed era, what does oral history offer to researchers, artists, students, organizers, journalists, and teachers? In this Oral History 101 workshop, participants will be introduced to the basics of oral history practice -- planning a project and conducting an interview – and will explore how tools from the oral historian’s toolkit can be useful to their practice.

Amy Starecheski is a cultural anthropologist and oral historian whose research focuses on the use of oral history in social movements and the politics of history and property in cities. She is the Director of the Oral History MA Program at Columbia University. She consults and lectures widely on oral history education and methods, and is co-author of the Telling Lives Oral History Curriculum Guide. She was a lead interviewer on Columbia’s September 11, 2001 Narrative and Memory Project, for which she interviewed Afghans, Muslims, Sikhs, activists, low-income people, and people who lost work.  Starecheski was a member of the Core Working Group for Groundswell: Oral History for Social Change from 2011-2018, where she facilitated the Practitioner Support Network. In 2015 she won the Oral History Association’s article award for “Squatting History: The Power of Oral History as a History-Making Practice” and in 2016 she was awarded the Sapiens-Allegra “Will the Next Margaret Mead Please Stand Up?” prize for public anthropological writing. She received a PhD in cultural anthropology from the CUNY Graduate Center, where she was a Public Humanities Fellow. Her book, Ours to Lose: When Squatters Became Homeowners in New York City, was published in 2016 by the University of Chicago Press. She is the founder of the Mott Haven Oral History Project, which collaboratively documents, activates, and amplifies the stories of her longtime neighborhood, as told by the people who live there.

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Introduction to Oral History Interviewing, Fanny Julissa García 

What makes an oral history interview? What’s the difference between a journalistic interview and an oral history interview? What questions to ask and how? In this workshop, participants will learn the basic principles of oral history interviewing and how to create a space in which a person will feel comfortable enough to engage with interview questions. We’ll also learn about question trees – crucial tools for a dialogic exchange that is reflective, fluid and improvisational. Most importantly, participants will have the opportunity to conduct in-class interviews that will be used as case-studies to explore the importance of open-ended questions and how and when to ask follow-up questions. At the end of this workshop, participants will have a new-found knowledge of the intentionality in oral history interviewing and how to craft questions that will elicit fruitful responses.  

Fanny Julissa García is an oral historian contributing work to Central American Studies. In her most recent work, Reminiscences on Migration: A Central American Lyric, she intertwines her own migration story using lyric poetry and vignettes with oral history interviews conducted with Central American refugee women who had been released from detention centers at the U.S./Mexico border. She has worked for more than 15 years as a social justice advocate to combat the public health and socioeconomic impact of HIV/AIDS on low income communities, worked closely with organizations fighting for the end of family detention, and supported survivors of sexual violence. She serves as the Communications Coordinator for Groundswell: Oral History for Social Change, a network of oral historians, activists, cultural workers, community organizers and documentary artists that use oral history to further movement building and transformative social change. She also works at the New-York Historical Society, and is co-founder of Social Exchange Institute, a media and education company that uses multi-media tools to produce work that promotes social justice and equity. She’s also on the editorial board for the Oral History Association’s Oral History Review. In 2017, she graduated from the Oral History Master of Arts program from Columbia University where she received the Judge Jack B. Weinstein Scholarship Award for Oral History and the OHMA Oral History Teaching and Social Justice Award.


Difficult Stories: Oral History of Oppression & Conflict, Zoë West

In a political moment flooded with narratives of injustice — from #MeToo testimonies to documentation of racist violence — it’s worth exploring the question, How can difficult stories effect change? This workshop is for oral historians, activists/advocates, and journalists who are interested in effectively and ethically using oral history methods in the context of conflict, oppression, and human rights issues.

During this workshop, we’ll start by examining how different goals — such as documentation, justice, healing, or reconciliation — may shape the use of oral history methods, presenting both possibilities and challenges. We’ll then cover interviewing skills and project planning specifically for oral history projects about oppression and conflict, and explore various dimensions of how power, politics, and ethics come into play. Some of the critical questions and considerations we’ll delve into include issues of security, trauma, and contending with power dynamics. We will approach all of these themes and questions through participatory activities and exploring case studies.

You’re encouraged to bring to this workshop your own ideas for a future project, or if you’re working on one now, your thoughts on the process. You will leave this training with guidelines for planning an oral history project about oppression or conflict, and advice for navigating the politics and ethics of using oral history methods to challenge injustice.

Zoë West is an anthropologist and oral historian whose work centers on labor, migration, and human rights. She teaches a course on Oral History and Human Rights for OHMA. Her current research explores the promises and challenges of alternative labor organizing models for marginalized workers. Zoë positions herself at the intersection of grassroots and academic work, rooted in the commitment to helping social movements use research and documentation to fuel and strengthen their work. In this vein, she also works actively in teaching and training, and supporting groups in building power through creative strategy, deeper internal processes, and organizing across movements and identities. As a founding member of Rhiza Collective, Zoë develops frameworks for implementing collaborative research, transformative leadership development, narrative and healing work, and political education. She edited and compiled the oral history collection Nowhere to Be Home: Narratives from Survivors of Burma’s Military Regime (McSweeney’s/Voice of Witness, 2011), which was then published in Burmese (NDSP Books, 2016). Zoë received her PhD in social anthropology from the University of Oxford. 

Afternoon Workshops: 2PM-5PM


Interviewing Visually: New approaches to the Oral History Interview, Svetlana Kitto

Within the oral history interview is a shapeshifting archive of memory, where many types of narrative, material, and images can be found. For those interested in visual cultures and conducting interviews with artists, or more generally in visual thinking, language and strategies, this workshop will instruct students on how to approach the interview with their eyes first, while maintaining the integrity of the form. Students will read and listen to artist oral histories as well as practice interviewing using traditional and experimental oral history methods. 

Svetlana Kitto is a writer and oral historian in NYC, and an OHMA alum. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, CULTURED, Guernica, BOMB, VICE, the New York Observer, ART21, and the Journal – Danspace Project, where she was a 2017 Writer-in-Residence. Most recently, she has worked as an oral historian for the Smithsonian Archives of American Art Visual Art and AIDS Epidemic oral history project and the Muslims in Brooklyn public history project at the Brooklyn Historical Society. Additionally she has contributed interviews to projects and exhibitions at the Museum of Arts and Design, the New York Public Library of Performing Arts, the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, and the gallery Know More Games. She co-curates the art and performance series Adult Contemporary, which published its first book of art and literature with grants from Wesleyan University and the New York Performing Arts in 2017, and which will present its 2018–2019 event season with Hauser & Wirth. Currently, she works as an editor and writer for the gallery, Gordon Robichaux, where she interviews gallery artists for use in exhibitions, press releases and catalogs. The exhibition catalog she wrote for the gallery's first show, Ken Tisa: Time, Objects, Offerings, was published by Matt Connors and hailed by Holland Cotter in the New York Times as a "genius catalog by writer and oral historian Svetlana Kitto” [who] “channels Mr. Tisa’s archiving memory and expressive and expansive voice."


Thinking Like An Oral Historian, Sara Sinclair

To develop our projects oral historians travel through several “thinking intersections”  to plot the course of our work. In this workshop we will consider some of the key questions we ask of ourselves, to prepare for the questioning of our narrators.

We will break down the big moments of thinking towards designing a project: from determining your project goals and desired outcomes, researching & writing your project blueprint, establishing narrator lists, and prepping for your interviews. Although participants do not need to be in the midst of conducting a project, they should come prepared to workshop their ideas through the steps outlined above.

Sara Sinclair is an oral historian of Cree-Ojibwa, German-Jewish and British descent. A graduate of Columbia University’s Oral History Master of Arts program, Sara was the project manager and lead interviewer for Columbia Center for Oral History Research’s Robert Rauschenberg Oral History Project. With Peter Bearman and Mary Marshall Clark, Sinclair edited a book from these narratives, which will be published by Columbia University Press in spring 2019. Prior to attending OHMA, Sara lived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where she conducted an oral history project for the International Labour Organization’s Regional Office for Africa. Sara’s work as an oral history consultant includes work for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and the Exit Art Closure Study, a research project on the closure of New York gallery/artist’s space Exit Art (1982-2012). For Sara’s thesis at Columbia she conducted a series of interviews exploring the narratives of university-educated, reservation-raised Native North Americans on returning to their Nations after school. Sara expanded this project, How We Go Home, through Voice of Witness’ Story Lab and is currently editing a forthcoming book with the organization.


Oral History and Social Justice: Towards a Participatory Oral History Research Approach, Lynn Lewis

Research practice has often been driven by people who are “experts” while the subjects of research are sometimes seen as interesting, but not necessarily legitimate authorities even about the conditions of their own lives.  Oral History and Participatory Action Research are important interventions that have resulted in a paradigm shift regarding who is an expert and a legitimate source of knowledge.

One of the essential aspects of “justice making” is community organizing: a practice which works to build collective power.  Oral history and participatory action research offer ways to document and to deepen our understanding about how social justice happens.  Oral history, participatory action research and community organizing share a social justice purpose as well as some common elements.  Combining these three approaches to knowledge production leads us to the practice of Participatory Oral History Research. 

Through concrete examples, a review of the theoretical foundations of Participatory Oral History Research and hands on exercises, participants will leave this session with additional tools by which to envision oral history research projects: from design, through interviews and analysis to representation.  Among the topics covered will be shared authority, structuring your oral history project, meaning, interview techniques, engaging narrators beyond the interview and approval of transcripts, latent and explicit content, and power and privilege from concept to roll out.

Lynn Lewis is a graduate of the OHMA Program (October, 2018) and a long time community organizer and social justice worker. She is interested in the potential for oral history research to support the work of grass roots organizations to win social justice. Her current research is an oral history of Picture the Homeless, a homeless led organization where she worked for 17 years. She is a founding board member of the E Harlem/El Barrio Community Land Trust and sits on the board of the Cooper Square Community Land Trust. Lynn works in NYC as a consultant and trainer to grass roots organizations.


Oral History as Spontaneous Literature: Writing the Life History, Nyssa Chow

This workshop is for those interested in writing narrative nonfiction from Oral Histories. We will look at the oral history as an act of spontaneous literature - one that contains both the individual story, and the larger history. How do we design a narrative frame that will contain a life history? We will explore this question through in-class writing, listening exercises and the close reading of examples from literature.

Nyssa Chow is a writer, new media storyteller, and educator. She is a professor in the Columbia University Oral History Masters Program, and the current Writer-in-Residence at Fordham University. She is the 2018 Recipient of the PEN/Jean Stein for Literary Oral History, won for the book project, Still.Life. The project also won the Columbia University Jeffrey H. Brodsky Oral History Award. She is a graduate of the Columbia University’s MFA program, and the Columbia University Oral History Masters program.


Exploring Transcription, Oral History’s Oxymoron, Carlin Zia

Transcription is one of the greatest paradoxes of our field. Especially for those who’ve experienced the magic of fieldwork, the affective power of orality and the live interview, it can be easy to criticize transcripts as at best insufficient and/or at worst a kind of violation. Grappling with our earnest theoretical attentions to voice and authority and all the non-verbal communications that transpire in an interview, we can find ourselves frozen, asking: How can we possibly put oral history on the page? 

In this workshop we will consider this would-be paralyzing rhetorical question as a real and generative one by first surveying the field’s current transcription landscape, including popular technologies and a range of styles guides/best practices. Then we’ll get our hands on some interviews and experiment with how variously we can animate the same material by transcribing it in different forms and/or with different intentions. We’ll look at (and then play with!) poetry, film, erasure and silence and white space, participatory/non-linear presentations, multi-vocal collections, and other examples, and discuss the challenges and possibilities of each, independently and within the context of larger project designs. 

Let’s banish the idea of transcription as a necessary evil, and instead embrace its creative potential to drive this work. Instead of regretting all that’s lost in transcription, let’s see what can be gained through form.

Carlin Zia is a recent graduate of OHMA and current Teaching Apprentice with the program. Her thesis, an epic poem in an invented form, records the life story of her Chinese-born grandfather while simultaneously charting her own project of self-historicization within that inter-generational and inter-cultural context. Carlin came to OHMA from a literature background, having graduated with distinction in English from Yale College. She brought with her a love of words and narrative and writing, and diversified her languages at Columbia to include more audio/visual mediums. She has since freelanced as a film editor (for Facing Whiteness, a collaboration between Columbia’s Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics (INCITE) and the documentarian Whitney Dow, creator of the “Whiteness Project”) and videographer. Carlin plans to continue her own oral history practice in the pursuit of a PhD in Ethnic and American Studies.