Wednesday marked the release of the first installment of a new oral history project designed to give people unprecedented insight into the inner workings of the Obama administration.
The Obama Presidency Oral History, led by Columbia University's Incite research institute in collaboration with the Obama Foundation, pulls from “470 interviews with officials, activists, artists, organizers, and extraordinary people from all walks of life," according to its website.
How is this oral history different from others? Its website explains:
Unlike past presidential oral histories — which have largely confined themselves to recording the memories of administration officials and those in their immediate orbits — the Obama Presidency Oral History has also gathered recollections from activists, artists, organizers, and extraordinary people from all walks of life. These recollections include those whose letters were given to the president every night, individuals who had their sentences commuted, critics who engaged with administration officials, or others who had an organic connection to the presidency.
With all due respect to the stellar presidential oral histories compiled by the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs and other institutes, Columbia's is just … well … more lit.
OK, maybe “more dynamic” is a better way to put it. It certainly offers a better user experience than previous oral histories.
The first installment focuses on the Obama administration’s climate initiatives and features interviews with activists, former government officials, farmers, teachers, architects and more.
I’m loving the presentation of this oral history so far. I think it helps put the Obama presidency in context — and not solely through the lens of people who worked in it officially. This is a modern spin on the presidential oral history that, thanks to video and a well-designed website, is more accessible than previous versions.
That accessibility factor aligns with the ethos of the Obama presidency, which I’d argue centered on a man who tried his damnedest to relate to every American (sometimes, to great public frustration).
Ashleigh Axios, a digital strategist and former creative director for the Obama White House, delivered a great lecture on this back in 2018. I highly recommend you check it out.
In the meantime, excuse me while I and other self-identifying nerds geek out over this riveting and revolutionary new compilation of presidential history. Presidential archivists, assemble!