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Columbia Launches David N. Dinkins Archives and Oral History Project

By James Devitt

David N. Dinkins

Columbia has launched the David N. Dinkins Archives and Oral History Project, which will include an archive of Dinkins' official and personal papers and correspondence, an oral history of Dinkins' life, political philosophy and policy agenda, and a program initiative documenting the influences of black political leaders on New York City and the national political arena.

The project was announced on April 29 at the 8th Annual David N. Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum, sponsored by the School of International and Public Affairs' (SIPA) Center for Urban Research and Policy (CURP) at Columbia. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg delivered the forum's keynote address.

"Columbia is fortunate to have the opportunity to undertake this project in research, education and community outreach," said President George Rupp. "The historical richness of David Dinkins' legacy and the contributions of New York's African-American political leaders will be a tremendous addition to the University's scholarly resources."

Dinkins, the 106th mayor of New York City, has been a professor in the practice of public affairs at SIPA since 1994.

"David Dinkins' significance in New York City's history is unparalleled," said SIPA Dean Lisa Anderson. "As the first African-American mayor of the largest city in the nation, Mayor Dinkins plays a prominent role in the history of African-American politics as well as the study of New York City and the urban history of America -- indeed, in the history of people of African descent around the world."

CURP will develop the archives and oral history project in cooperation with Columbia's Rare Book and Manuscript Library and its Oral History Research Office. The Dinkins project, directed by Deborah Ward, research scholar and SIPA faculty member, will encourage access to these materials for professional scholars wishing to produce papers, monographs, books and documentary films. Although originals of Dinkins' mayoral papers will remain at the City Archives, Columbia will maintain photocopies of these documents, along with other materials from Dinkins' life and career, in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The Library maintains other collections relating to 20th-century political life. These include the Herbert H. Lehman Papers, the Citizens' Union Papers and the Papers of Whitney Young.

The oral history project will include a lengthy oral history with Dinkins. The second portion of the oral history project will include interviews with black political leaders in New York City, tracing their influence over the last half-century.

"The Dinkins Archives and the Oral History Project will add immeasurably to the resources for studying New York history at Columbia," said Columbia Librarian James Neal. "These will be tremendous additions to the University's oral histories of New York City Mayors Edward Koch, William O'Dwyer, Robert Wagner and Fiorello LaGuardia and of numerous world leaders, including Thurgood Marshall, Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter."

The archive and oral history elements will serve as a foundation for program initiatives on black political life in New York City and the nation. Columbia will seek to partner with several New York City institutions in developing a series of program concepts and productions on the history of black leadership. Currently, the University is anticipating working in this capacity with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, which is headed by Howard Dodson.

The Columbia University Oral History Research Office is the oldest and largest university-based archive and program in the world. The collection holds nearly 8,000 tape-recorded and transcribed interviews. The program is also a center for teaching and research, sponsoring an annual summer institute in oral history, and opportunities for students, visiting scholars and fellows.

Published: Apr 29, 2002
Last modified:Sep 18, 2002

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