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June M. Besek, executive director of the Kernochan Center for Law, Media and the Arts at Columbia Law School, will chair the new Copyright Law Reform Task Force of the American Bar Association Section of Intellectual Property Law.

Columbia's Center for International Earth Science Information Network has been awarded a five-year contract for more than $20 million from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center to continue operating the Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center, which is part of NASA's Earth Observing System.

Nabila El-Bassel, professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work and director of the Global Health Research Center in Central Asia, has received a $3.5 million, five-year grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse to conduct an innovative couples-based HIV/STI study in Central Asia.

Carol BeckerName: Carol Becker

Position: Dean, School of the Arts · Professor of the Arts

"The [Columbia School of the Arts] faculty was wonderful. They all cared about fellowships for students. That told me right away who I was dealing with. And I said, 'That's where my head is, too.'"  Forward
Alumni News

Read the August 2008 Columbia Alumni
Association Newsletter

This month's edition includes features on the Big Book of Columbia Alumni, the latest job-hunting tips and the results of a survey of Alumni about their experiences at Columbia and afterwards.

Columbia Launches Master's Program in Oral History
Cross-disciplinary program designed for careers in wide range of disciplines

Aug. 14, 2008

This fall, Columbia welcomes the first class of students pursuing a master of arts in oral history—the newest graduate degree at the University and likely the nation's first master's program in this field of study. With a focus on the documentation, preservation and interpretation of historical information based on personal experiences, it will be only the third such program in the world.

Oral histories typically begin as recorded face-to-face interviews. The field traces its existence back to the ancient Greeks and the writings of Herodotus, but it did not gain traction until the advent of the portable tape recorder in the early 20th century. Because of its longitudinal approach to documentation, the practice of oral history plunges deeper into subject matter than standard journalistic procedures.

Oral History Master of Arts Program
Image credit: Columbia University Libraries Oral History Research Office

"We're detectives of change over time; we're not stuck in the present," said the program's director, Mary Marshall Clark, who also directs the University's Oral History Research Office and recently completed a major archival project on 9/11. "We seek to preserve collective memory."

In addition to preparing students for careers in oral history, the Columbia program will provide training for careers in human rights, public health, historic preservation, journalism, museums and literature. It is co-sponsored by the University's Institute of Social and Economic Policy Research and the Oral History Research Office. Professors specializing in library science, political science, public health, the social sciences and the humanities will teach the courses.

The program's multidisciplinary approach "is one that no one in the field has ever seen before," said Clark. "The living world is too complicated to be interpreted through the lens of one discipline."

Students enrolled in the Columbia program will learn interviewing methodologies and interpreting skills. They will develop their own fieldwork projects and "blaze their own research" in both historical and contemporary issues, said Clark.

The University of Sussex and the University of Huddersfield, both in England, currently offer similar degree programs.

Columbia's one-year, multidisciplinary degree program is built on the foundation of the University's oral history archive, believed to be the world's first, according to Alistair Thomson, president of the International Oral History Society. Created in 1948 by historian Allan Nevins—whom experts say coined the term "oral history"—Columbia's archive includes more than 8,000 interviews and nearly one million pages of transcripts. It is one of about a dozen major oral history archives in the country.

"Columbia's Oral History Research Office is legendary as a founding institution in the field, and a leader, still today, in setting standards for scholarly practice," said Margaretta Jolly, director of the Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research at the University of Sussex. Jolly directs Sussex's pioneering Master of Arts Program in Life History Research.

A master's degree in oral history "provides essential training" for anyone interested in becoming an oral historian, said Thomson. He plans to launch another oral history master's program next year at Monash University in Australia.

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