UChicago faculty to contribute to Obama Presidency Oral History Project

Effort will include hundreds of interviews, including from the Obamas’ time in Chicago

Faculty members from the University of Chicago will contribute to the official oral history of the Obama presidency, a project being led by the Center for Oral History Research at Columbia University.

The Obama Foundation and Columbia University announced today that the project is intended to produce a comprehensive, enduring record of the decisions, actions and effects of the Obama presidency, as well as the lives of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. In addition to the work at the University of Chicago, the University of Hawaii will partner with Columbia to conduct oral histories to document President Obama’s early life.

The work at the University of Chicago will be led by Adam Green, associate professor of American History and the College; and Jacqueline Stewart, professor in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies and the College. The oral histories collected by the Chicago group will focus on the Obamas’ careers in Chicago and on President Obama’s time as a community organizer, state legislator, U.S. senator and senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School.

The project will examine Michelle Obama’s work and legacy as First Lady, as well as her career in Chicago before entering the White House. This will encompass her time as a lawyer, in city government as the Assistant Commissioner of Planning and Development, her leadership of Public Allies, and her roles at the University of Chicago, including serving as Vice President for Community and External Affairs at the Medical Center and as the first director of the University Community Service Center, which offers opportunities to students, staff and faculty for service learning, volunteerism and civic engagement.

“We are pleased to collaborate with Columbia on this exciting project,” Green and Stewart said in a joint statement. “The stories of Michelle and Barack Obama are intertwined with the story of Chicago and the South Side in particular. We look forward to contributing to that historic narrative, with a focus on how their city helped to shape them as civic leaders.”

The project builds upon a longstanding tradition of presidential oral histories. For more than 50 years, oral history has been used to record the stories of people inside and outside of the White House who can shed light on a president’s time in office. This will be the second presidential oral history project to be conducted by Columbia University, home to the country’s largest and oldest oral history archive, which houses the Eisenhower Administration Oral History project.

“We are grateful to the University of Hawaii and the University of Chicago for participating and ensuring that the important work that preceded President and Mrs. Obama’s time in the White House is integrated into this project,” said David Simas, chief executive officer of the Obama Foundation.

The Obama Presidency Oral History Project will conduct interviews over the next five years with roughly 400 people, including senior leaders and policymakers within the administration, as well as elected officials, campaign staff, journalists and other key figures—Republican and Democrat—outside of the White House.

The project will incorporate interviews with individuals who represent different dimensions of daily American life, whose perspectives enable the archive to weave recollections of administration officials with the stories and experiences of people affected by the administration’s decisions.