Stories from the Collection: Columbia University Oral History Research Office. (Media Reviews)

By Boyd, Doug | The Oral History Review, Summer-Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

Stories from the Collection: Columbia University Oral History Research Office. (Media Reviews)


Boyd, Doug, The Oral History Review


STORIES FROM THE COLLECTION: COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY ORAL HISTORY RESEARCH OFFICE. Produced by Charles Hardy III. New York: Columbia University, 1998. CD-ROM, 70 minutes. Sale: $10. Oral History Research Office, Columbia University, 801 Butler Library, Box 20, 535 W. 114th St., MC 1129, New York, NY 10027. (212) 854-7083. oralhist@libraries.cul.columbia.edu.

Though the official title of this work is Stories From the Collection, an alternative title could very well have been Columbia's Greatest Hits. Typically, the release of a "greatest hits" compilation marks the end of a long and distinguished, yet usually declining, career. The life of Columbia's oral history program has, indeed, been long and distinguished. However, the release of this CD, as a part of their fiftieth anniversary celebration, clearly indicates Columbia's continued importance to the field of oral history while showcasing the powerful material contained in this collection.

Stories From the Collection is a compilation of voices ranging from early interviews conducted by program founder Allan Nevins. One hears such notables as Thurgood Marshall discussing his appointment to the United States Supreme Court; Aldino Feliciani, the publisher of an anarchist journal in Bologna, Italy; Helen Suzman, a member of the South African parliament discussing meeting Nelson Mandela for the first time; or Fred Astaire describing the filming of the famed sequence of dancing on the ceiling in the 1951 film Royal Wedding.

Each individual track varies from two and a half to seven minutes in length. The CD is framed on either end with what is titled "A Medley of Voices," quickly crossfading brief samples of multiple voices that offer intriguing bits of information. The voices included in these medleys are those of numerous recognizable and impressive individuals, including Hubert H. Humphrey, James Cagney, Joan Ganz Cooney, Gene Kelly, Kitty Carlisle Hart, and Edward Koch. The technique is a classic radio device functioning to "hook" the listener as well as frame the overall piece, and in this particular instance it works exceptionally well. Of course, this is no surprise given that the producer is Charles Hardy, a talented individual well known for effectively using radio to present oral history.

The production quality of Stories From the Collection is commendable. The subtle performative nuances of both the oral historian and the interviewee are left intact. For example, track two ("The First Interview") contains an excerpt of an interview conducted by Allan Nevins. The clip artfully begins with the initial click of the tape recorder commencing its recording. As Nevins delivers his introductory statement, the levels are far too low, and they are quickly and rather awkwardly adjusted.

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