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Underwriting an Urgent Need

Carnegie Corporation has been very supportive of the Oral History Research Office (OHRO) over the years, giving its first general-purpose grant to the OHRO in the 1950s. The two organizations continue to share a great synergy based on their similar missions to advance and disseminate knowledge for the purpose of increasing human understanding.

When Carnegie Corporation staff decided it was time to record the Corporation's past, they knew that it would have difficulties in fully representing its long and complex history in a single book. They determined that this history needed to incorporate a wide variety of voices—including those who made decisions for the Corporation, those who conducted research projects, and those whose projects thrived thanks to the Corporation's support. To embrace many points of view, yet ground the history in the sort of in-depth research that academic oral historians provide, the Corporation decided to develop a large-scale oral history project with OHRO. So in the 1960s, the OHRO completed the first iteration of Carnegie Corporation's history, producing 479 hours of audiotapes and transcribed testimony.

At that time, oral history was often seen as a substitute for a book. But Allan Nevins, the founder of Columbia's Oral History Research Office, believed that oral history could do more than any single volume; that it could provide a melding of diary, autobiography, and biography. With telephone conversations increasingly replacing written communication as a form of autobiographical narration, there was a new sense of urgency to transform the detail captured in oral history into writing. Transcribing interviews and making them available in libraries interested Carnegie Corporation because it allowed people to understand its evolution as a multifaceted institution.