The Obama Foundation and Columbia University Announce the Obama Presidency Oral History Project

Hundreds of people to participate in comprehensive record of the decisions, actions, and effects of the Obama presidency. Partners, University of Chicago and University of Hawaiʻi, Will Collect Oral Histories from President and Mrs. Obama’s Early Lives 

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NEW YORK — Columbia University and the Obama Foundation are pleased to announce that the Columbia Center for Oral History Research, housed at INCITE, has been selected to conduct the official oral history of the Obama Presidency. This project will provide a comprehensive, enduring record of the decisions, actions, and effects of this historic presidency. The University of Hawaiʻi and the University of Chicago will partner with Columbia in this project. The University of Hawaiʻi will focus on President Obama’s early life, and the University of Chicago will concentrate on the Obamas’ lives in Chicago. 

“The pride we feel in counting President Obama as an alumnus involves much more than the recognition of his time as a student here many years ago. This is a relationship built on shared values and interests that is producing public spirited projects of enormous, even transformative, potential at Columbia,” said University President Lee C. Bollinger. “The latest venture will capitalize on Columbia's unsurpassed talent for assembling oral history and will, I am sure, create an invaluable resource for understanding an historic presidency.”

This project builds on a longstanding tradition of presidential oral histories. For more than 60 years, oral history has been used to record the stories of people inside and outside of the White House that shed light on a president’s time in office. This will be the second presidential oral history project to be conducted by Columbia, home to the country’s largest and oldest oral history archive, which houses the Eisenhower Administration Oral History project. 

“Columbia’s experience executing complicated and detailed oral histories set them apart, and we believe the university’s thoughtful approach will result in an exciting oral history archive for historians, academics, and storytellers as well as the public to learn about and investigate the Obama presidency,” said David Simas, Chief Executive Officer of the Obama Foundation. “We are grateful to the University of Hawaiʻi and the University of Chicago for participating and ensuring that the important work that preceded President and Mrs. Obama’s time in the White House is integrated into this project.”    

“Michelle Obama famously observed that ʻYou canʻt really understand Barack until you understand Hawaiʻi. The University of Hawaiʻi’s extraordinary Center for Oral History is looking forwarding to exploring those early days with those who were part of President Obama’s story," said University of Hawaiʻi President David Lassner.

And in a joint statement from the University of Chicago, Adam Green, Associate Professor of American History, and Jacqueline Stewart, Professor in the Department of Cinema and American Studies, announced, “We are pleased to collaborate with Columbia on this exciting project. The stories of Michelle and Barack Obama are intertwined with the story of Chicago and the South Side in particular. We look forward to contributing to that historic narrative, with a focus on how their city helped to shape them as civic leaders.”

During the next five years, starting this summer, the Obama Presidency Oral History Project will conduct interviews with about 400 people, including senior leaders and policy makers within the administration, as well as elected officials, campaign staff, journalists, and other key figures -- Republican and Democrat -- outside of the White House.

The Obama Presidency Oral History Project also will incorporate interviews with individuals who represent different dimensions of daily American life, whose perspectives enable the archive to weave recollections of administration officials with the stories and experiences of people who were affected by the administration’s decisions. This project will also examine Mrs. Obama’s work and legacy as First Lady.

“We are honored to document the legacy of President Obama. Our goal is to set a new benchmark for presidential oral histories in terms of the diversity and breadth of narratives assembled and depth of understanding achieved,” said Mary Marshall Clark, Director of the Columbia Center for Oral History Research and a Project Co-Investigator. “Central to our project is a commitment to candidly document the stories of key administration alumni and bring them into conversation with the varied experiences of ordinary Americans.”

Clark will work with Peter Bearman, Jonathan R. Cole Professor of the Social Sciences and Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics, and Kimberly Springer, Curator of Columbia’s Oral History Archives.

“We conduct interdisciplinary research, and a trademark of this project is bringing together experts from across fields of knowledge and expertise to ensure our interviewers are asking the right questions, whether they are in the offices of policymakers who enacted the Affordable Care Act, or at the kitchen table of citizens whose lives were affected by it,” said Bearman, who will serve as the principal investigator for the project.

Columbia University also announced the formation of the Obama Presidency Oral History Advisory Board, composed of leading presidential historians, including Robert Dallek and Douglas Brinkley; acclaimed journalists such as Michele Norris and Jelani Cobb; and top scholars in history, political science, sociology, and public health, who can speak to how this period affected the lives of those inside and outside of Washington. A full list of advisory board members is below.

The oral histories are expected to be publicly available online at Columbia University no later than 2026. Following the project’s completion, the Foundation will look for opportunities to connect the oral history archive with related collections and content, including the National Archives-administered digital records of the Obama presidency.

“Columbia is committed to preserving our past for use in the future,” Springer said. “Columbia’s collection is distinguished for the inclusion of perspectives, not just ‘Great Men,’ but the many others who shape our world. Our archive includes a vast array of histories so that current and future generations of historians and citizens can learn lessons from our times.

Obama Presidency Oral History Advisory Board

  • Lee C. Bollinger, Chair, President and Seth Low Professor of the University, Columbia University

  • Peter Bearman, Vice-Chair, Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics (INCITE) and Jonathan R. Cole Professor of Sociology, Columbia University

  • Danielle Allen, James Bryant Conant University Professor and Director, Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Harvard University

  • Douglas Brinkley, Katherine Tsanoff Brown Professor of Humanities, Rice University

  • Karida Brown, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles

  • Jelani Cobb, Ira A. Lipman Professor of Journalism and Director of the Ira A. Lipman Center for Journalism and Civil and Human Rights, Columbia Journalism School

  • Robert Dallek, presidential historian and author

  • Farah Jasmine Griffin, William B Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and Chair of the African American and African Diaspora Studies Department, Columbia University

  • David Hollinger,  Preston Hotchkis Professor Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley

  • Ira Katznelson, Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History, Columbia University

  • Jennifer Lee, Professor of Sociology, Columbia University

  • Kenneth Mack, Lawrence D. Biele Professor of Law and Affiliate Professor of History, Harvard University

  • Helen Milner, B.C. Forbes Professor of Politics and International Affairs and Director of the Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance at the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University

  • Alondra Nelson, President of the Social Science Research Council and Harold F. Linder Chair in the School of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study

  • Michele Norris, radio journalist and former host of the National Public Radio (NPR) evening news program “All Things Considered”

  • Vicki L. Ruiz, Distinguished Professor of History and Chicano/Latino Studies, History School of Humanities, University of California, Irvine

  • Theda Skocpol, Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology, Harvard University

  • Keith Wailoo, Chair of the Department of History and Henry Putnam University Professor of History and Public Affairs, Princeton University

Background on Columbia Center for Oral History

The Columbia Center for Oral History, founded in 1948, is the country’s largest and oldest oral history archive, with more than 11,000 recorded interviews and over 25,000 hours of transcript. The collection is renowned for its diversity, including memories from the 1870s to present, from the experiences of labor organizers to recollections of Supreme Court justices. Columbia is also home to the nation’s only graduate level training program in the field of oral history.

Housed at INCITE, Columbia University’s leading interdisciplinary social science research center, Columbia Oral History’s recent major works include projects to document how New Yorkers experienced September 11, the “Rule of Law” project to examine Guantanamo and civil rights law in the 21st Century, and a history of the Council of Foreign Relations.

INCITE establishes publishing imprint; first series, "Dispatches from the Field," launches next month

 
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We at INCITE are pleased to announce that we have established an independent publishing imprint, under the moniker INCITE Press. The press will promote work by graduate students and other budding scholars, while also serving as an outlet for innovative and unconventional expressions of scholarship that may not fit the parameters of traditional academic publishers. By publishing manuscripts and compositions that blend disciplines, genres, and styles in creative and revealing ways, the press supports INCITE’s mission to holistically engage, investigate, and address social issues.

The first work to come under the imprint is Issue 1 of Dispatches from the Field, an annual publication series dedicated to bringing ethnographic data to a broader public. The book is the result of collaborative research, writing, and editing by current and former MA students of the Department of Sociology at Columbia University. As a hard copy publication, Dispatches from the Field challenges traditional book formats, opening the way for non-linear approaches to reading and interpretations that will vary according to each reader’s path through the documents.

This year’s edition includes a series of reflections that refer to the American Dream, or rather, a set of differing American Dreams and their elusive promises. A collection of interview transcripts, field notes, poems, and drawings describe a multitude of ideals based on individual experiences with labor, immigration, incarceration, and participation in the informal economy. Dispatches from the Field: The American Dream will be released on May 7th.

CCOHR and INCITE partner with Human Rights Campaign for new oral history project

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The Columbia Center for Oral History (CCOHR) and INCITE are pleased to announce a new oral history project in partnership with the Human Rights Campaign, which will focus on the HRC’s mission, achievements, growth, and role in the LGBTQ movement. The project will collect and archive approximately 150 hours of audio and video, recorded over the course of 80 sessions with 40 narrators consisting primarily of HRC founders, staff, and board members.

These interviews will center on the organization’s most transformative moments, like the early AIDS crisis, marriage equality, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and the expanding focus around diversity and state work, with the recognition that these developments are crucial not only to the organization’s history, but to that of the LGBTQ movement more broadly. The project asks, just as the HRC has asked: what can a single organization tell us about a social movement and social change? How do historic moments shape organizations and vice versa? How do institutions with diverse constituencies reconcile competing needs and agendas for a forward-thinking movement, all while effectively responding to consistent external attacks?

As the field of oral history has shifted from a focus on the past to helping organizations evolve in the present, part of CCOHR’s central mission has been to address human rights challenges that dynamically link the past to the present and future. This project aims to continue that work, by promoting public knowledge about the unique history of the HRC in a way that can inform and contextualize the pursuit of equality moving forward.

Request for Applications: INCITEment Series, 2019/2010

 
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INCITE is requesting applications for the next installments in our INCITEment Series. Designed to convert knowledge into action, this series provides financial and administrative support to public programs that incite opportunities for change and pathways for mobilization. By gathering together citizens, scholars, activists, and community organizations, the series aims to bring their collective knowledge to bear on the prevalent issues of our time.
 
We welcome proposals from Columbia affiliates (faculty, students, staff, or otherwise) who can speak to and are interested in key social problems and innovative means of addressing them. While open to a diversity of topics, we are especially interested in proposals that reflect the salient themes of INCITE's work, such as migration, low-wage work, social movements, health, race, the present political climate, and education.
 
We encourage creativity and originality, and welcome ideas that experiment with various formats. Past programs include panels, workshops, poetry readings, and documentary screenings. Most important is that the projects produce clear paths for action, and leverage the expertise and capabilities of the scholars, citizens, and institutional resources in the room toward practical work in alignment with INCITE’s mission.

Proposals for the 2019-2020 academic year are due on June 1st. Decisions will be made quickly and announced on June 15th. Click below to access the full RFA and apply.

Third Annual REALM Meeting Takes Place in Abu Dhabi

 
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The leaders of Realm

 

This past weekend brought about the third annual meeting for INCITE’S Research & Empirical Analysis of Labor Migration (REALM) project. The meetings, previously convened in March and November of 2017, involve all Principle Investigators (PIs) who receive funding through REALM, and serve as a vital component of this ambitious research initiative. By uniting researchers from a diversity of disciplines and institutions, these conversations are crucial to enabling collaboration and comparison across REALM’s network of projects.   

Over the course of the two-day gathering on NYU Abu Dhabi’s campus, PIs shared project updates, initial findings and research experiences. Highlights included Bilesha Weeraratne discussing her work with the Sri Lankan Ministry of Labor to shape more transparent recruitment processes; Caroline Oselia sharing fieldnotes from her recent fieldwork in Kerala, India; and Daniel Karell demonstrating the mobile-based app he used to survey respondents in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

“It’s been rewarding to see PIs develop collaborations with each other over the years. A demographer working in Bangladesh can draw on the insights of an anthropologist working in Kerala; the Sudanese government can reshape its data system by working with researchers in the Philippines. REALM structures a truly interdisciplinary, international exchange.“
- Peter Bearman, Principal Investigator

A final REALM meeting is anticipated for June 2020, at which point REALM PIs will be prepared to share the final findings from their project. 

Publication | Patterned Remittances Enhance Women's Health-Related Autonomy

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INCITE has published results from a research study analyzing how the timing of remittances received by women in migrant-sending countries impacts women’s health and autonomy. Focusing on a sample of respondents in the Indian state of Kerala, primary findings reveal that the benefits of remittances for women’s autonomy manifest more through the regularity and frequency with which they are received, than the amount of money remitted.

These conclusions indicate the need to look beyond questions of amount when studying the impact of remittances. They also suggest that very simple changes, which enable migrants to send funds back home more regularly, can make a difference in the lives of women and children left behind. “With regular remittances, even of small amounts of money, women are able to plan, and this planning capacity translates into greater autonomy over their health care decisions,” notes Charlotte Wang, INCITE’s Director of Research, who co-authored the paper. “Right now, though, migrants pay a fixed fee each time they send money home, and this incentivizes them to limit the number of times they remit funds. If fees were associated with amount, rather than frequency, remittances would likely be more frequent.”

The research was conducted as part of INCITE’s Research & Empirical Analysis of Labor Migration Program (REALM), which centers on the social structures and dynamics of labor migration in the Persian Gulf region, with particular attention to processes taking place in migrant-sending countries. 

Read the full paper, published in Social Science and Medicine: Population Health, here.

Columbia University Press to Publish New Oral History Series

 
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INCITE and CCOHR are excited to announce a new oral history series published by the Columbia University Press. The purpose of this series is to publish innovative, creative, rigorous, and analytical oral history books based on narratives that illuminate the critical stories of our times, locally and globally.

We are eager for contributions from authors who practice oral history within disciplines of social science and the humanities in traditional ways, and also welcome scholars and writers who use oral history to work at the intersection of these disciplines in non-traditional ways, incorporating new forms of writing attuned to orality, visuality, embodiment, generative practices and memory. We are particularly interested in books that draw upon large scale interview projects and collections. We anticipate publishing diverse genres of books in this series, from analytic books that rely on oral history as key evidence to edited narratives from archival projects, that creatively communicate the stories that our narrators tell.

We are interested in stories at many scales; in narratives that provide human access to world historical events, to the horrors of war and genocide, to the struggles and hopes of people displaced from their homes, to the visions, experiences and triumphs of those resisting oppression, but also in stories that reveal in their intricacy the meanings of place, of creativity, change.

In that spirit, we issue a wide call to younger generations of oral historians, those who are bringing new analytical and innovative thinking to bear on a field that is rapidly growing in the academy as well as the public world. Additionally, we seek to publish experienced authors seeking a new platform for their most innovative work.

We hope to publish multiple volumes each year.  Authors interested in submitting a proposal to the series should send a detailed description per these guidelines to the series editors: Mary Marshall Clark, Amy Starecheski, Kimberly Springer and Peter Bearman.

Contact email: Mary Marshall Clark, mmc17@columbia.edu.

2019 Summer Institute | Oral History from the Margins to the Center: Narrating the Politics of our Times

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June 17, 2019 to June 28, 2019 — CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE AND APPLY


What do oral historians, journalists and scholars of contemporary history do when the President of the United States, supported by numerous members of congress, tells blatant lies and strives to undermine our access to traditionally reliable sources of information and democratic processes? What do oral historians, journalists and scholars of contemporary history do when scientific knowledge is dismissed as mere opinion? What do oral historians, journalists and scholars of contemporary history do when false information is knowingly transmitted with the precise aim of enhancing distrust?

The 2019 Summer Institute in Oral History will focus on the challenges we face in documenting the political present when secrecy and distortions of truth threaten the most vulnerable in open societies.  What role does public memory and the search for meaning play in rescuing and preserving the stories that we most need to hear? Specifically, we will explore what journalists, oral historians, advocates and scholars of the present can learn from each other, as we sharpen our skills and awareness of how to document the stories that we most need to record and disseminate. 

INCITE Affiliates Receive SPLC Grant to Study Attitudes about Immigration

 
 

INCITE affiliates Maria Abascal, Jennifer Lee and Van Tran have received a grant from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to study whether and how exposure to information about contemporary immigrants and immigration affects Americans’ attitudes toward immigrants, Latinos, and Asians. The project uses an experimental design to test the effect of reading accurate pieces of information on anti-immigration attitudes, thus providing valuable data about the specific sources of such attitudes and potential strategies to change them.

For more information on the project and updates, please visit the Intervening in Attitudes about Immigration project page.

Call for Presenters | Experimental Design Workshop

 
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Cartoon by Steve Smeltzer

 

INCITE is pleased to announce the Experimental Design Workshop for the 2019 Spring Term!

Through it, social scientists have the opportunity to workshop designs of an experiment they have not yet fielded. Presenters will receive specific, actionable feedback on that design from other workshop participants.

We are now setting the schedule for the workshop for this coming spring semester. If you are interested in presenting a design, please email Daniel Tadmon (daniel.tadmon@columbia.edu) or Maria Abascal (mca2113@columbia.edu) with your name, affiliation (and, for grad students, year). Please also include:

1) 2-3 sentences describing the proposed experiment.
2) An estimate of when you will field the experiment.
3) A rough estimate of when you would like to present.

If you are interested in joining the Experimental Design Workshop’s email list, please email Daniel Tadmon (daniel.tadmon@columbia.edu).


Funding support for the Experimental Design Workshop is provided by the Paul F. Lazarsfeld Lecture Series, administered by INCITE, which features events and programming that embody and honor Lazarsfeld’s commitment to the improvement of methodological approaches that address concerns of vital cultural and social significance.

REALM to Host March, 2019 Workshop at NYU Abu Dhabi for Principal Investigators

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The Research and Empirical Analysis of Labor Migration (REALM) workshop in March, 2019 will be for REALM principal investigators to share progress on research projects, discuss initial findings, and conceive opportunities for collaboration. It will be our third such workshop, and will be held in Abu Dhabi as it has been in past years.

We look forward to the discussion and collaboration that the workshop will bring! For more information on these specific studies and others, please see our current projects page.

Watch Anand Gopal's INCITEment Series Talk | The Uncounted: Inside America's War Against ISIS

America’s war against ISIS has been touted as the most precise in military history. But an on-the-ground investigation of civilian deaths tells a different story. On November 15th, 2018, the INCITEment Series was proud to host Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist and sociologist Anand Gopal, who presented on the moral and legal implications of the war on terror. Following his presentation, Gopal spoke about his work with INCITE’s director, Peter Bearman, and took questions from the audience. We thank everyone for braving the snowy weather to join us!

Feminist Lives: Original Participant Interviews Complete

The Feminist Lives project has now completed interviews with all participants from Yasmine Ergas’ original 1978 project. The Feminist Lives project involves re-interviewing a group of Italian Feminists whom Ergas, director of the Specializiation on Gender and Public Policy at SIPA, first interviewed in 1978. By re-interviewing participants, the project seeks to explore the dynamics of narrative and memory, as well as to record the effects of feminism on their lives.

To date, all interviews, including those from 1978, have been transcribed and digitized and will soon be archived. In addition to participants from 1978, supplementary interviews are now underway with the daughters of some of the original interviewees.

Learn more about the Feminist Lives Project here.

Tunisian Transition Oral History Project Complete

Perhaps most compelling to the aims of this project are the narrators’ testimonies of their experiences with the technical government itself as they attempted to answer the outstanding demands that sparked the revolution, such as a lack of political freedoms, food price inflation, corruption, and poor living conditions.

The Columbia Center for Oral History (CCOHR) and INCITE are pleased to announce the completion of the Tunisian Transition Oral History Project. Following the address of the former prime minister of the Republic of Tunisia, Mehdi Jomaa,  at Columbia University's World Leaders Forum in 2015, the Office of University President Lee Bollinger approached INCITE to discuss undertaking an oral history project about Tunisia's technocratic government (2014-15) and its role in the transition to democracy following the 2011 Tunisian Revolution. 

The Tunisian Transition Project includes 58 oral histories with 41 narrators totaling 110 recorded hours. Narrators include politicians, officials and notable figures in the Tunisian transitional period, including Mehdi Jomaa, Moncef Marzouki, and Neila Chaabane. Each interview began with a historically grounded question, “Where were you during the events of December and January 2010?" From there, narrators also discussed their life trajectories, from childhood memories of Tunisia to their coming of age in Tunisian politics and the directions that their diverse careers took them. Perhaps most compelling to the aims of this project are the narrators’ testimonies of their experiences with the technical government itself as they attempted to answer the outstanding demands that sparked the revolution, such as a lack of political freedoms, food price inflation, corruption, and poor living conditions.

Though there is a wealth of information on the events leading up to the Arab Spring and a good deal of information on the immediate aftermath, this project engages with the less treated subject of the technical government itself—how Tunisia's leader's arrived at such a solution, whether or not it produced the intended effects, and what was revealed about Tunisian society in the process.

The archives will be made publicly available through Columbia Libraries in early 2019.
One can learn more about the Tunisian Transition Oral History Project here.  

INCITE Hosts Networks Short Course

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Taught by Mattias Smångs, assistant professor of sociology at Fordham University, the two-day (November 9th and 16th) networks short course introduced eighteen researchers from Columbia University and other nearby universities/organizations to some of the fundamental ideas, concepts, measures, and methods of social network analysis. Participants learned how to use the social network analysis software UCINET to perform basic analyses. Smångs also presented on his own research, “Delinquency, Social Skills and the Structure of Peer Relations: Assessing Criminological Theories by Social Network Theory.” INCITE would like to thank Smångs and all of the participants for making it such a lively class!