DEGREE REQUIREMENTS AND ADVISING
All incoming students are advised by the OHMA co-directors. By the end of their first semester, all students will choose and work closely with a member of the OHMA faculty to guide their thesis or capstone work. Students may also include invite another scholar and/or artist working in a relevant field to serve as an external thesis or capstone advisor.
To complete the Master of Arts degree in Oral History at Columbia University, students take a minimum of 30 credits of graduate course credit, which includes an M.A. thesis or capstone. Specific course requirements are listed below.
1. Completion of Core Courses
Three courses (14 credits) - in addition to the Master’s Thesis course or capstone equivalency - are required (note that two of these are year-long):
Oral History Workshop - OHMA G5010 & G5011 (2 credits - P/F), Yearlong
This course is organized as a year-long series of public seminars on the wide range of issues raised by a consideration of how oral history methodologies impact disciplines in the social sciences as well as the humanities. Scholars who have used oral history and narrative analysis in their research will be drawn from the New York area. Students will participate by responding to speakers, and drawing upon their presentations in their own thesis work.
Oral History Method, Theory, and Interpretation - OHMA G5015 (4 credits), Fall
This interdisciplinary course, taken in the fall semester, is an in-depth introduction to the theoretical writings in oral history on historical research, memory, interviewing methodologies, life history and the application of theoretical paradigms to specific fieldwork problems. Students will identify a field research project in the first three weeks of the semester and address the dynamics of the interview and fieldwork situation through theoretical analysis of the historic context in which the interview takes place. Students will also analyze the strengths and weaknesses of interviewing methods as they apply to existing disciplinary paradigms. The broader focus of the course is to introduce students to the wide array of theoretical issues raised by the intersection of history, memory and life story narratives in the effort to understand the recent past in relation to critical issues of interpretation in today's world.
Oral History: Fieldwork, Production and Archiving - OHMA G5020 & G5021 (8 credits), Yearlong
This seminar is a year-long practicum in which students will learn and practice the skills required to conceptualize, conduct, analyze and disseminate oral history interviews. In the Fall semester, students learn project design, various genres of interviewing, audio recording, transcribing, indexing, and digital archiving. Students have the option of working on oral history projects conducted in partnership with New York City groups or working on their own projects. We weave together several strands of inquiry through the fall semester, some of which we follow into the spring:
nuts and bolts (audio recording, project design, transcribing, indexing)
interview strategies (peer interviews, balancing life history and a research focus, using research in an interview, working with embodiment in the interview, doing interviews in public)
power (legal and ethical issues, the interview relationship, oral history from an anti-oppression standpoint)
archiving (digital archiving, and this strand will carry over into the spring)
oral history and anthropology (comparative approaches to fieldwork, anthropological studies of oral history, and this strand will carry over into the spring)
By the Spring semester, students are expected to be primarily working on their own projects. In the Spring we will focus most of our attention on the analysis and dissemination of oral histories, including audio editing, online presentation, museum exhibits, and other public oral history genres. The spring course culminates in a public, multi-media, interactive pop-up exhibit created and curated by students.
2. Completion of Elective Courses
In addition to the core courses, OHMA students take at least 16 credits of additional graduate-level courses. Some elective courses are designed specifically for OHMA students.
Oral History Internship - OHMA G5075 & 5076 (2-4 credits - P/F), Fall or Spring
This course provides an opportunity for Oral History MA Program students to engage in supervised internships for course credit. Students can plan an internship of approximately 100 hours of work for 2 credits, 150 hours of work for 3 credits, or 200 hours of work for 4 credits. The instructor will arrange some possible internship placements, but students are also free to make their own arrangements. Internships can relate to any element of oral history practice and research, including but not limited to project and program development, interviewing, interview processing, analysis and archiving, and creation of exhibits, documentaries, writing, walking tours, or websites using oral history. Internships must be substantive and have clear learning and professional development goals. More information is in the Internship Guide.
Toward a Multimedia Practice: Oral History and Storytelling Workshop - OHMA G5080 (4 credits), Fall
This class is an exploration of form, and the ways that we can use different mediums in our storytelling practice. We will look at how artists have used different narrative forms to communicate their intention, and how each medium was able to do that differently. Throughout the semester we will explore points of departure for inventing form, things that form can be responsive to, and how we can make choices. This ‘process’ class is a space where students can workshop their project ideas/material — imagining and reimagining them in different forms/genres/mediums/intentions. We will examine the ethical questions around the creation of narrative, especially when using oral histories as a starting point. Students will learn: foundations of storytelling, basic video production, introduction to editing software(Premiere), and narrative voice through creative assignments and discussion of readings. Students will be asked to conceptualize a final short multimedia narrative based on oral histories, using at least two forms of media— audio| still images | moving images | archival footage | prose.
Human Rights & Oral History: Testimony, Memory, and Trauma - HROH 5555 (4 credits), Fall or Spring
Oral history can be a powerful tool to document human rights abuses, just as it can contribute to conflict transformation processes and even the prevention of future violence. With its commitment to long-form, biographical interviewing and archival preservation, oral history is distinctive from, for example, the collection of testimony in a court of law or through a truth and reconciliation process. This course will consider topics that focus on oral history methodologies and how they might be used in conflict and post-conflict societies as a tool of conflict transformation, democracy promotion, or ‘dealing with the past.’ It is co-taught by the Institute for the Study of Human Rights.
Principles of Narrative: Creative Nonfiction and Oral History - OHMA G8040 (4 credits), Spring
This course looks at the process of writing creative nonfiction, and the possibilities of genre. What is the best form for the story you want to tell? Where should the writer’s voice live in the narrative? How do we use the life history as the material of narrative? Through the close study of forms of nonfiction narratives, workshopped writing assignments, and close-listening sessions, students will take on the challenge of creating affecting written work. We will also examine the ethical questions around the creation of narrative, especially when using oral histories as a starting point. Students will be asked to create a final, creative nonfiction work based on life history interviews.
Social Science and Other Approaches to Studying Life History & Narrative Information - OHMA G8025 (4 credits), Spring
This course considers the ways in which social scientists can utilize narrative and life history data. The focus throughout is on developing tools for the analysis of narrative and life history and using the analysis of life histories to inform basic problems in social science and historical research. The methodologies that social scientists use to work with sequential data in order to review temporal processes will be considered in some detail. The contexts that will be explored in depth are varied and critically important for the modern time; case histories for medical professionals, stories for human rights workers, historical accounts of complex event sequences, and the processes of becoming—an activist, a revolutionary, a drug-addict, and so on.
Students may also choose to take electives within a discipline related to the student’s research interest that is not a part of the OHMA program. It must be approved by the program. While we encourage students to take some electives designed for OHMA students, they may also take electives in related disciplines at Columbia.
We also have a consortium agreement with New York University's Archives and Public History MA Program (APH) that allows OHMA students to take courses at APH for credit towards their degree at no extra charge.
In some circumstances, an OHMA student may petition to be exempted from a required course in order to enroll in an elective that meets their scholarly goals. Students can contact program staff to inquire about this possibility.
OHMA-required courses must be taken for a letter grade. In addition to the elective internship course, which is always offered Pass/Fail, students may take one or (rarely) two other electives either P/F or for R credit with the prior permission of both the instructor and the OHMA program.
Columbia University students interested in cross-registering for OHMA coursework are welcome to reach out to the individual faculty members listed below to receive permission. Our courses are listed under "O" for "Oral History" in the Columbia University Directory of Classes.
3. Completion of Capstone Project or Master’s Thesis Course (4 credits) - OHMA G5012, Spring
OHMA offers two options for culminating M.A. projects. To complete the M.A. degree, each student must produce either a thesis or a capstone project. Thesis students enroll in a spring seminar (G4012) to workshop their projects, while capstone students create a public exhibition of their work in the spring Fieldwork course (G4021). Students writing theses have the option to option to submit their work for either May or October graduation. Capstone students conclude their degree at the end of the spring semester.
As a program, OHMA seeks to develop effective and innovative ways of communicating academic work to the public and encourage interdisciplinary scholarly work that is both creative and intellectually rigorous. In their culminating projects, students have the opportunity to produce a substantial piece of work that synthesizes their learning at OHMA and paves the way towards the next steps in their career. We support projects that use newly created and/or archived oral histories. Culminating projects may use oral histories as a raw material and/or take the oral history process itself as an object of study.
Most students complete a thesis, but some students may elect to complete a capstone project instead.
The thesis may incorporate a blend of publicly engaged and academic work, and may range from traditional scholarly writing to experimental creative production, but it must make a substantial and original contribution to the field and discipline of oral history. A thesis, which can be academic or creative in genre, is characterized by a sustained critical engagement with a body of scholarly literature in order to answer a defined research question. While many thesis projects are also publicly engaged, capstone projects are characterized by their use of oral histories primarily to contribute to public life. Students producing capstone projects write a short reflective essay explaining their goals and process.
2018-2019 COURSE OFFERINGS BY SEMESTER
OHMA G5010: Oral History Workshop (1 credit), Amy Starecheski
OHMA G5015: Oral History Method and Theory (4 credits), Mary Marshall Clark
OHMA G5020: Oral History Fieldwork (4 credits), Amy Starecheski
OHMA G5075: Oral History Internship (2-4 credits), Amy Starecheski
OHMA G5080: Multimedia Practice (4 credits), Nyssa Chow
HROH 5555 : Human Rights & Oral History: Testimony, Memory, and Trauma (4 credits), Zoe West
OHMA G5010: Oral History Workshop (1 credit), Amy Starecheski
OHMA G5012: Oral History Master’s Thesis (4 credits), Mary Marshall Clark
OHMA G5020: Oral History Fieldwork (4 credits), Amy Starecheski
OHMA G5076: Oral History Internship (2-4 credits), Amy Starecheski
OHMA TBD: Principles of Narrative: Creative Nonfiction and Oral History (4 credits), Nyssa Chow
OHMA G8025: Social Science and Other Approaches to Studying Life History & Narrative Information (4 credits), William McAllister
In order to complete the degree, each student must complete two Residence Units. Information about RUs can be found here, and information about tuition and fees can be found here. If enrolled in one RU (full-time status), students may take up to 20 credits per semester.
See here for information on maintaining good academic standing.