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May 5: One-Day Oral History Training Workshops with OHMA

  • Knox Hall Columbia University New York, New York 10027 (map)
Photo credit: Emma Courtland

Photo credit: Emma Courtland

So many people ended up on the waitlists for our January workshops that we decided to offer another round this May. Register now - these always sell out!

Join us for an intensive day of workshops with OHMA faculty and alumni!

Our second round of ONE-DAY ORAL HISTORY TRAINING WORKSHOPS are on Saturday, May 5, 2018, from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Location: Columbia University (Knox Hall) 

Registration: $25 - 100 per workshop, sliding scale. Please find registration info here.

For our oral history workshops, please pay what you can. We suggest $25 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 2018 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.

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 Jamie Beckenstein, Administrative Coordinator for OHMA & INCITE, 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 and co-director 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 property and history in cities. She co-directs 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. Amy has a PhD in cultural anthropology from the CUNY Graduate Center. Her book, Ours to Lose: When Squatters Became Homeowners in New York City, came out in 2016 with the University of Chicago Press. In 2016 she won the SAPIENS-Allegra “Will the Next Margaret Mead Please Stand Up?” prize for public anthropology writing.


The Art of the Interview, Gerry Albarelli

This is a workshop for those interested in exploring some of the potential literary uses and inherent literary qualities of oral history.  Situated on the border between fiction and nonfiction, the oral history interview asks to be held to a high literary standard. Participants will be introduced to interviewing techniques that tend to lead to rich, anecdotal testimony. We will focus on how certain dynamic elements of fiction-- the use of language that appeals to the senses, the use of dialogue,  the development of characters, the rendering of scenes– can be successfully incorporated into the oral history interview.   Participants will complete in-class writing assignments and will have an opportunity to conduct in-class interviews.  

Gerry Albarelli is author of Teacha! Stories from a Yeshiva (Glad Day Books, 2001), chronicling his experience as a non-Jew teaching English as a second language to Yiddish-speaking Hasidic boys at a yeshiva in Brooklyn. He has published essays, poems and stories in numerous anthologies and reviews, including Acoma, The Penguin Book of Gay Short Stories, Global City Review, The Breast, and Fairleigh Dickinson Review. Albarelli has worked on numerous oral history projects for the Columbia Center for Oral History and has taught courses that explore literary uses of oral history in the Columbia Oral History Masters Program.   

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Introduction to Community-Based Oral History Projects, Benji de la Piedra

This workshop will introduce participants to the outlook and strategies necessary for building and maintaining a successful community-based oral history project. Participants will be asked to articulate their goals and vision (however preliminary!) for a community-based oral history project. They will learn how to refine that vision, design their project’s infrastructure and workflow, and implement that design with flexibility over time, within the constraints of available resources. The workshop will include an introductory training in oral history interviewing technique that emphasizes the interviewee’s relationship to a community. Participants will be introduced to ethical and legal considerations of oral history interviews, and will receive a primer on best practices for archiving and processing interviews in a community-based context. Students will be encouraged to apply lessons imparted not only by the instructor, but also those learned from their own experience.

Benji de la Piedra (OHMA 2014) is an oral historian and writer living in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he is documenting the childhood and African American community life of Washington Post journalist Herbert H. Denton Jr. In 2016, Benji was a Historical Dialogue and Accountability Fellow at Columbia’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. After graduating from OHMA, Benji received the program’s Jeffrey H. Brodsky Oral History Thesis Prize for his elaboration of democratic pluralism and the dialogical encounter in oral history and the writings of Ralph Ellison. Benji recently worked as Oral History Trainer and Volunteer Coordinator for the DC Oral History Collaborative in his hometown of Washington, D.C., and has consulted for community-based oral history projects in New York City and Hot Springs, North Carolina. Along with Mario Alvarez (OHMA 2015), Benji is Co-Founder, Co-Director, and Co-Lead Interviewer of the Columbia Life Histories Project.

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Introduction to Oral History for Social Change, Fanny García

In a recent interview Groundswell member Alisa del Tufo described oral history as a process that is “reflective, fluid, and improvisational” and transforms both the interviewee and the interviewer. In today’s political climate, this dialogic exchange can be a powerful tool to combat negative rhetoric about marginalized communities. It can also help further the social movements that actively work towards justice and equity. In this introductory oral history workshop, individuals will engage in participatory exercises and case study reflections to conduct a critical examination of the practical, theoretical, and ethical implications of applied oral history work. Furthermore, we’ll discuss projects that have successfully engaged oral history as a method for contributing to social change, and equip participants with a basic framework and set of tools to support their own efforts to advance social justice through their oral history work.

 Fanny Julissa García is an oral historian contributing work to Central American Studies. She is currently writing a literary oral history manuscript using the interviews of Central American refugee women jailed in 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 has written plays about the impact of HIV on Latinas and their families, plus short stories and essays about the Central American diaspora. 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 is also 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. Recently, she joined the administrative support staff at the New-York Historical Society. Fanny 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.

Afternoon Workshops: 2PM-5PM


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 at S.U.N.Y. Purchase. As Teaching Fellow at Columbia University OHMA, she worked to help students bring the practice of oral history and narrative storytelling together. She is the 2018 recipient of the PEN/Jean Stein Grant for Literary Oral History. Her most recent project Still.Life. 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.


Turning Problems with Archiving Oral History into Opportunities, Kimberly Springer 

What are some of the practical and ethical issues that can make oral histories "unusable" to archives and patrons? Here at the Columbia Center for Oral History Archives, we have 70 years of interviews across numerous topics, recorded on various formats (DAT, anyone?) and with varying types of releases and agreements related to the access and reproduction of our oral history collections. Very much a work-in-progress, this workshop will present some of the problems we encounter in archiving oral histories. We'll use activities to help you think about your oral history from the perspective of archivists.

 Archivists are duty-bound to provide patrons with access to your oral histories, but are also mindful of the obligations oral historians make to their narrators and to themselves as stewards of others' stories. How do issues of funding, anonymity, preservation, metadata, nd exhibition need to be considered to make your oral history collection appealing to archives? This workshop is meant for laypeople unfamiliar with the purpose and function of archives. You will learn how to "think like an archivist" with the goal of making your oral history projects discoverable and useful for communities and researchers.

Kimberly Springer is Curator for Oral History for the Columbia Center for Oral History Archives at Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library. She holds a master’s of information science, specializing in archives, preservation and social computing from the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor. She obtained her doctorate from the Women’s Studies Program at Emory University in Atlanta. She has worked in public media and the government sector for National Public Radio, Michigan Radio, St. Louis Public Radio, the Smithsonian Institution Archives and the U.S. State Department. Her research and publication areas are born-digital materials, artists’ studio archives, social media, social movements, and television studies as they intersect with race, gender and sexuality. Kimberly’s publications include Living for the Revolution, Black Feminist Organizations, 1968-1980 (Duke University Press, 2005), Still Lifting, Still Climbing: African-American Women’s Contemporary Activism (New York University Press, 1999), Stories of Oprah: the Oprahfication of American Culture (University of Mississippi Press, 2010) and articles in several journals and edited volumes.

Research-Based Interviewing and Interpretation, Mary Marshall Clark

This workshop will focus on how to develop interviewing strategies for historical projects, based on project designs, research questions, and goals.  We will use sample project blueprints, or designs, to look at ways to combine analytical interviewing with life history interviewing, in which personal narrative is balanced with asking our narrators to reflect on and interpret their experiences.  As Ron Grele has written in his article “The Good Interview,” oral history is ideally a balance between a well-told tale, or anecdote, and the explanation and interpretation of that narrative.  We will look at examples of interviews (and projects) that achieve that balance, and are considered valuable historical sources as a result.  Please bring examples of your own interviews and projects, and we will workshop them with you.  The workshop will contain an interviewing component.

Mary Marshall Clark is the director of the Columbia Center for Oral History Research (CCOHR). Mary Marshall is also the co-founder and co-director 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. 


Designing & Managing an Oral History Project, Sara Sinclair

Developing an oral history project requires considerable time and organization. This workshop is designed to assist practitioners as they prepare to jump in to the work! From determining your project goals and desired outcomes, researching & writing your project blueprint, creating a budget, establishing narrator lists, and prepping for your interviews, this workshop will help you plot your project’s course. 

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 is the project manager and lead interviewer for Columbia Center for Oral History Research’s Robert Rauschenberg Oral History Project. 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 for Human Rights: From Conflict & Oppression to Documentation & Advocacy, Zoë West

This workshop is for oral historians and activists/advocates who are interested in effectively and ethically using oral history methods to respond to conflict, oppression, and human rights violations. Oral history can be used toward various ends: to document and understand experiences of conflict and oppression of people whose voices have been marginalized; for advocacy and activism; to work toward reconciliation; and/or potentially for individual and collective healing. During this workshop we will first explore these goals to envision what oral history for human rights means in different contexts. We will examine how these different goals may complement each other and when they might grate against each other. We will then delve into the practical and look at how these different ends can shape the interview and production process. Given the real challenges to achieving these ideals in politically-charged contexts, we will explore the questions and considerations that are critical for effectively implementing a human rights oral history project. For example, how do you choose who to interview when the question of who is a survivor or victim is a political question? How might a project adequately reflect an issue or community? How can you responsibly prepare to do interviews with people who have experienced trauma? What dilemmas might arise in editing and disseminating human rights oral histories? We will approach all of these themes and questions through participatory activities and exploring case studies.

Participants are encouraged to bring into this workshop their own experience conducting a human rights oral history project or one they hope to design. Participants will leave this training with a framework for understanding oral history for human rights; guidelines for planning a human rights oral history project; and guidelines for navigating the politics and ethics of doing oral history as a response to conflict, oppression, and human rights violations.

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 recently published in Burmese (NDSP Books, 2016). Zoë received her PhD in social anthropology from the University of Oxford.