Humanities in Class: Webinar Series

Oral History and the Pandemics of Social Suffering: Listening and Transformation

Lead Scholar: Mary Marshall Clark (Director, Columbia University Center for Oral History Research and co-founding director, Oral History Master of Arts INCITE-Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics, Columbia University)

September 10, 2020

Oral history, a form of social inquiry that connects the humanities and the social sciences in the academy and creates new understandings in the public world, is a portal through which we can enter another’s life story, individually or communally. Never is this kind of embodied meaning-making through listening more important than in times of social and cultural crisis, where historical norms fail to explain extraordinary events and ways of life that are interrupted. In this webinar we will reflect on two oral history projects focused on disruptive events that challenged public meaning and reconstructed public narratives. The September 11, 2001 Oral History Narrative and Memory Project was initiated four days after the events of 9/11, and collecting 900 hours of testimony in diverse communities throughout New York City in three years, using a longitudinal frame. In March 2020, the project team gathered again to develop The Covid-19 Narrative and Memory Archive, interviewing over 200 people in New York City three times each over 18 months, focusing on low-income, immigrant communities, and front-line workers in the current crisis. Conducting this work in the midst of a public pandemic of racism, inflects it with even greater meaning.This webinar will focus on the ways in which oral history has the ability to enable deep reflection on sustaining humanitarian dialogues in the face of tremendous social isolation and despair.

Subjects: History; Oral History; Suffering; Social History; Pandemics; September 11 Attacks