Columbia to Produce Official Oral History of the Obama Presidency

May 16, 2019

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

I am delighted to announce that the Obama Foundation has selected the Columbia University Center for Oral History Research to produce the Obama Presidency Oral History, a comprehensive account of an historic American presidency that will serve as an invaluable resource for scholars, students, and members of the public. The project will be led by Principal Investigator Peter Bearman, Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics (INCITE), along with Co-Investigators Mary Marshall Clark, Director of the Columbia Center for Oral History Research, and Kimberly Springer, Curator of Columbia’s Oral History Archives, and it will be advised by a board (listed below) of distinguished scholars and public figures, which I will chair.

This archive will include more than 1,000 hours of interviews with Obama administration officials, politicians, journalists, and other key figures outside of the White House. It will also incorporate conversations with citizens to capture how the Obama administration affected the lives of Americans.  Specific attention will be given to the staff and legislative priorities of First Lady Michelle Obama, and, via collaborations with The University of Chicago and the University of Hawai‘i, the project will incorporate interviews with individuals from President Obama’s early life. As part of this effort, Columbia and its academic partners will have full control over all editorial aspects of the project. We expect the final product to be available to the public no later than 2026.  

We all feel immense pride in counting the former president among our alumni, and it has been meaningful for the University to forge a relationship with him and with the Obama Foundation through initiatives such as the Obama Foundation Scholars Program at Columbia University. With this latest venture we continue this partnership, bringing to bear what Columbia does best—scholarship and education—to provide our country, and our world, with a rich and resonant record of a truly remarkable period of American history.  

On behalf of the entire University, I send my gratitude to the Obama Foundation, for entrusting us with this vital task, and to everyone who was involved in making this a reality.  


Lee C. Bollinger

Obama Presidency Oral History Advisory Board:

  • Lee C. Bollinger, Chair, President and Seth Low Professor of the University, Columbia University
  • Peter Bearman, Vice-Chair, Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics (INCITE) and Jonathan R. Cole Professor of Sociology, Columbia University
  • Danielle Allen, James Bryant Conant University Professor and Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Harvard University
  • Douglas Brinkley, historian specializing in presidents and presidential history and Katherine Tsanoff Brown Professor of Humanities, Rice University
  • Karida Brown, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Jelani Cobb, Ira A. Lipman Professor of Journalism and Director of the Ira A. Lipman Center for Journalism and Civil and Human Rights, Columbia Journalism School
  • Robert Dallek, historian specializing in presidents and presidential history and Professor Emeritus, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Farah Jasmine Griffin, William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and Chair of the African American and African Diaspora Studies Department, Columbia University
  • David Hollinger, Preston Hotchkis Professor Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley
  • Ira Katznelson, Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History, Columbia University
  • Jennifer Lee, Professor of Sociology, Columbia University and President-elect of the Eastern Sociological Society
  • Kenneth Mack, Lawrence D. Biele Professor of Law and Affiliate Professor of History, Harvard University
  • Helen Milner, B.C. Forbes Professor of Politics and International Affairs and Director of the Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance at the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University
  • Alondra Nelson, Professor of Sociology, Columbia University and President of the Social Science Research Council
  • Michele Norris, radio journalist and former host of the National Public Radio (NPR) news program “All Things Considered”
  • Vicki L. Ruiz, Distinguished Professor of History and Chicano/Latino Studies, History School of Humanities, University of California, Irvine
  • Theda Skocpol, Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology, Harvard University
  • Keith Wailoo, Chair of the Department of History and Henry Putnam University Professor of History and Public Affairs, Princeton University