The Columbia University Center for Oral History Research, the country’s oldest and and largest oral history archive, will be one of three schools responsible for generating the official oral history of the presidency of Barack Obama, CC ‘83, the Obama Foundation and Columbia University announced Thursday morning.
Columbia will focus on the history of the former president’s two terms, as well as on the work of First Lady Michelle Obama. In partnership with Columbia, the University of Chicago and the University of Hawai’i will contribute to the project as well, focusing on Obamas’ time in Chicago and the president’s early life, respectively. This is the second time Columbia has been chosen to compile a presidential oral history; the first was for University president and President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Oral histories have been produced for every president since Herbert Hoover by various organizations. Through the use of first-hand accounts and interviews, the histories aim to document and reconstruct events from the Oval Office.
Starting on July 1, the CUCOHR will be interviewing over 400 people including politicians, journalists, former cabinet members, and citizens regarding key events in an attempt to narrate the legacy of both the presidency and the legacy of Michelle Obama’s time as First Lady. Columbia also announced the formation of the Obama Presidency Oral History Advisory Board, composed of leading historians, scholars, and journalists such as Journalism School professor Jelani Cobb.
“This is a relationship built on shared values and interests that is producing public spirited projects of enormous, even transformative, potential at Columbia,” said Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger in a joint press statement. “The latest venture will capitalize on the University’s unsurpassed talent for assembling oral history and will, I am sure, create an invaluable resource for understanding an historic presidency.”
The project is slated for completion and public access by 2026.