Sept. 18: Seeking Witness: Voice of Witness and Building an Oral History Network

Thursday, September 18, 2014

6-8 PM

Knox Hall, 606 W 122nd St., Room 509

Check out OHMA students' reflections on this talk: Leonard Cox and Helen Gibb.

Voice of Witness is a non-profit that includes an oral history book series that explores contemporary human rights crises both in the United States and abroad. Voice of Witness titles take up to five years to complete and rely on broad networks of experts, activists, volunteers, and the dozens of individuals we interview for every book. In this talk, managing editor Luke Gerwe describes some of the strategies Voice of Witness staff and editors have used to build and maintain the network necessary to sustain oral history projects that require many years to assemble. Focus will be on the book series’ two most recent titles, Invisible Hands: Voices from the Global Economy (May 2014) and Palestine Speaks: Narratives of Life Under Occupation (November 2014). Both books presented special challenges as we navigated distances of space, communications technology, language, armed conflict, and expectations of the role and purpose of storytelling.

Luke Gerwe is an editor of fiction and non-fiction that has worked on staff or as a freelancer for small presses such as Soft Skull, Counterpoint, Milkweed, Tin House, and others. He is currently the managing editor of the Voice of Witness book series, a non-profit oral history imprint of McSweeney’s Books. In his role as managing editor, he helps title editors shape narratives, conceptualize book structure, research background material, manage contacts and resources, and generally be the one that panics most about deadlines.Voice of Witness started life in 2004 as a book imprint of McSweeney’s, founded by author Dave Eggers and physician/human rights scholar Lola Vollen. In 2008 Mimi Lok came on board as executive director & editor, and transitioned the imprint to a 501(c)(3) registered non-profit, with the mission of using oral history to illuminate contemporary human rights crises. The Voice of Witness Book Series depicts human rights injustices through the stories of the men and women who experience them. The Voice of Witness Education Program connects thousands of students and educators each year with these stories and issues through common core-aligned, oral history-based curricula and holistic educator support. To date there are thirteen titles in the Voice of Witness book series, including domestic titles that address issues such as undocumented workers in the U.S., public housing, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, as well as international titles that address worker exploitation in the global marketplace; conflicts in Colombia, Burma, and Zimbabwe; and other human rights crises.

SPONSORS: This talk is part of the “Paul F. Lazarsfeld Lecture Series,” co-sponsored by the Columbia Center for Oral History Research (CCOHR), the Oral History Master of Arts Program (OHMA), and the University Seminar on Narrative, Health and Social Justice. Support from the Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics (INCITE) is provided for programming that embodies late Professor Paul Lazarsfeld’s commitment to improving methodological approaches that address concerns of vital cultural and social significance.

INFORMATION: For more information, please email Amy Starecheski at aas39(at)