REGISTER NOW | Oral History One-Day Workshops

Amy Starecheski's picture
January 25, 2020
New York, United States
Subject Fields: 
Graduate Studies, Humanities, Human Rights, Oral History, Public History

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

Registration: $30 - 100 per workshop, sliding scale.

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.

Location: Knox Hall, room TBA

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 23, 2020! 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.

Morning Sessions

Editing Oral History

The stories that emerge from oral history have the power to foster empathy and to help us better understand history, cultures and ideas. But often, to maximize the impact of the stories that are shared with us, we need to do the additional work of editing them into the shapes that best fulfill that potential. Editing oral history is the work that makes narratives more accessible to a diverse group of readers. In this workshop we will discuss the ethics of what the Kitchen Sisters’ call “writing with other people’s words.” We will also consider the technical work of adhering to accuracy while crafting a readable and compelling narrative. These questions will be explored through in class readings and exercises to shape good stories into multiple forms.


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, published by Columbia University Press. Sara has worked as an oral history consultant and educator with the Museum of the City of New York, the International Labour Organization, 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.


Participatory Oral History Research

This workshop will explore how to structure a participatory oral history research project (POHR) with a social justice purpose by identifying practices that invite participation in all stages of an oral history research project. Conducting Oral History research with a social justice purpose requires interrogating concepts such as shared authority, collaboration, co-creation, participation and even dialogue in our practice. It also requires us to be intentional about how power, privilege, legitimacy and authority exist within the oral history process and offers us opportunities to structure in practices that result in relationships that challenges existing power dynamics. Inspired by other disciplines that rely upon collective analysis and collective action, POHR is an evolving concept. 

This workshop will examine how elements of community organizing and participatory action research resonate with some of oral histories fundamental values, including respect for the narrator’s capacity to analyze the meaning of historic events and the conditions of their own lives. This workshop will explore how these elements combine and enhance the oral history research process through concrete examples. Borrowing from these disciplines allows us to reconsider the oral history process, increasing our capacity to co-create multiple spaces for participation. Participants are encouraged to bring ideas or experience with participatory oral history research to workshop ideas, and to share your insights.

Lynn Lewis: I am a life-long community organizer and social justice worker who believes in the power of collective analysis and direct action to win justice. In order to win justice, it is essential that folks in social movements learn to document our own histories of struggle, to learn the lessons contained within those histories and to create ways to make those lessons accessible. Oral history is a crucial tool to transmit these lessons of struggle. As a former civil rights organizer and founding Executive Director of Picture the Homeless and an OHMA graduate I am working with a group of homeless leaders to develop The Picture the Homeless Oral History Project using participatory oral history methodology. My other areas of work include other freelance oral history projects, consulting as a community organizing trainer and coach and grant-writer and working as an adjunct faculty member.


Introduction to Oral History Interviewing

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 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.

Oral History 101

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. 

Considering Identity in Oral History: Interviewing Across Difference

In this workshop we will explore useful concepts in oral history that help to bring us closer to our narrators, and to determine, where appropriate the differences that exist between us and how to work with those differences in the interview.  We will attempt to define the relationship between the core concepts in oral history: intersectionality and intersubjectivity (the dialogue between the interviewer and the narrator). We will demonstrate models of intersectional interviewing where identities either create intersectional distance or open dialogues of shared experience.  We encourage participants to send us examples of how these issues come up in their own work.

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.

Alissa Rae Funderburk graduated from Columbia in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology as a John W. Kluge Scholar. Her interests included the studies of race, culture and religion, particularly those of the diaspora. In 2013, Alissa Rae began working with Hope Church NYC as the director of kids programming and as an assistant at York Prep School. Last year Alissa Rae worked as the Deputy Director of the Columbia Life Histories Project alongside its co-founder Benji de la Piedra while completing her last semester of coursework in OHMA. After submitting her thesis on the religious and spiritual experiences of black men in New York City, Alissa Rae now conducts freelance oral history work.

Afternoon Sessions

Session Title: Politics & Trauma in Oral History

As oral history projects increasingly focus on oppression, conflict and crisis, sticky questions of contending with politics, power, and trauma often emerge. This workshop is for oral historians, activists, and journalists who are interested in effectively and ethically using oral history methods for documenting difficult stories.

How do power and politics shape the way a narrator speaks (or does not speak)? How do power and politics shape the way an interviewer and the broader public hears (or does not hear)? During this workshop, we’ll explore such questions that emerge in different stages of an oral history project — including power dynamics, accountability, political context, and goals of social change. We will then focus on trauma and difficult stories — preparing for and responding to trauma before, during and after interviews; considering interviewer wellbeing; and thinking through questions of resilience, repair and healing. 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.

Zoë West is an anthropologist and oral historian whose work centers on labor, migration, and human rights. 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. As a founding member of Rhiza Collective, Zoë works with organizations to develop frameworks for implementing collaborative research, leadership development, narrative and healing work, and political education. She co-edited and compiled the oral history collection Nowhere to Be Home: Narratives from Survivors of Burma’s Military Regime (McSweeney’s, 2011; NDSP Books, 2016). Zoë received her PhD in social anthropology from the University of Oxford. She is currently adjunct faculty in the Oral History Master of Arts, Columbia University and the Harry Van Arsdale, Jr. Center for Labor Studies, SUNY Empire State College.

Exploring Transcription, Oral History’s Oxymoron

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 Assistant 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.

Creating a Fundraising Plan for Oral History Research

Spoiler Alert! You will not receive a list of places to get funding for your projects.

This workshop is designed for practitioners who are considering crowdfunding and/or seeking institutional support from foundations for your project or who have already done so and want to share ideas. Participants will workshop their project ideas, create at least an initial budget for their projects and begin to map out an initial strategy to fund their projects, keeping these fundamental elements in mind:

●        Being clear about your project structure

●        Identifying what new ideas and benefits will result from your project

●        Identifying a funder’s interests and any alignment with our proposed project

●        Framing the importance of your project for specific audiences/funders

●        Creating an overall narrative and a budget

●        Breaking projects down into strategic pieces that may align with funders interests

●        Creating mini-narratives and corresponding budgets for your strategic pieces

●        Building funding relationships

This workshop will include a review of sample foundation proposals, and crowdfunding language.

Lynn Lewsi: I am a life-long community organizer and social justice worker who believes in the power of collective analysis and direct action to win justice. In order to win justice, it is essential that folks in social movements learn to document our own histories of struggle, to learn the lessons contained within those histories and to create ways to make those lessons accessible. Oral history is a crucial tool to transmit these lessons of struggle. As a former civil rights organizer and founding Executive Director of Picture the Homeless and an OHMA graduate I am working with a group of homeless leaders to develop The Picture the Homeless Oral History Project using participatory oral history methodology. My other areas of work include other freelance oral history projects, consulting as a community organizing trainer and coach and grant-writer and working as an adjunct faculty member.


Oral History as Spontaneous Literature: Writing the Life History

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 core faculty 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. She is currently a 2019-2021 Princeton Arts Fellow.

Interviewing Artists

This workshop is for cultural workers, curators, educators, art professionals, and creative researchers to learn more about strategies and techniques for creating engaging and fruitful artist interviews. The artist interview has become an integral part of the artist’s documentation and archive; a key component of exhibitions, criticism, and press; and sometimes the raw material for artworks themselves. We will discuss examples of oral history projects centered around artist communities, listen to interviews with individual artists, and develop best practices for the artist interview. Through practice interviews, participants will experiment with interviewing in a way that evokes sensory details, providing rich material that reveals and invites creativity.

Liza Zapol is an artist and an oral historian. She creates sound, multimedia and performance on the themes of creativity, memory and place, using documentary methods. Liza Zapol was the Robert and Arlene Kogod Secretarial Scholar, Oral Historian at the Archives of American ArtSmithsonian Institution. Liza also worked for the Whitney Museum of American Art, creating oral history projects, documentary shorts, and she created the Whitney Education Community Advisory Network. Liza developed the oral history program for the Skowhegan School for Painting and Sculpture, and interviewed artists, including David Driskell, Brice Marden, Alex Katz, and Emma Amos. She has also worked with the National Building Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Historical Society, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic PreservationThe Lower East Side Tenement Museum, and Massachusetts General Hospital.

Zapol started her career in performance, creating documentary and ensemble based theater. Liza has worked with theater director Julie Kline (Seniors and the City), scenic designer Cameron Anderson, and Elevator Repair Service Theater.

Zapol has taught at Columbia University and the New School for Drama, and lectures on the intersection of oral history and art. She was an instructor for the ART CART: Saving the Legacy project, training graduate students to conduct oral histories with older artists in New York. She earned a certificate in Physical Theatre from the London International School of Performing Arts, and a certificate from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. B.A. with Honors from Northwestern University. M.A. in Oral History at Columbia University.

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