The Columbia University Oral History Research Office is the oldest and
largest organized oral history program in the world. Founded in 1948 by Pulitzer
Prize-winning historian Allan Nevins, the oral history collection now contains
nearly 8,000 taped memoirs, and nearly 1,000,000 pages of transcript. These
memoirs include interviews with a wide variety of historical figures, including
Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American justice of the U. S. Supreme
Court, appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967. Some interviews,
conducted in the late 1940s, contain recollections dating back to the second
administration of Grover Cleveland. An interview with Charles C. Burlingham
conducted in 1949 opens with a discussion of the drafts riots during the U. S.
Civil War. This transcript of Thurgood Marshall's oral history interview,
conducted by Ed Edwin in Washington, D.C. in February, 1977, captures something
of his unique presence, even on paper.
The Oral History Research Office has never confined its work to one area of
historical experience or to one region. It is the only oral history program in
the country which conducts interviews over a broad range of fields and areas.
Thus it has attracted scholars from around the world, whose research has
examined almost every aspect of our recent past. The focus of the collection is
United States political and cultural history. However, there are large projects
in the history of China and Argentina, and some scattered interviews on the
histories of other countries. Each year approximately 200 to 300 interviews are
added to the collection through the efforts of the OHRO itself and by donation.
These interviews generally fall into two categories: longer biographical memoirs
and shorter interviews focused on specific topics or experiences.