The first chapter of a new oral history project focusing on former President Barack Obama’s administration was released on Wednesday.

Since 2019, Incite, Columbia University’s interdisciplinary social science research organization, has been working on the project. 470 interviews and about 1,100 hours of audio and video with senior officials, policymakers, activists, and others engaged with the Obama administration have been conducted during the last four years.
The research was inspired by “an urge to decenter the president’s experience and center the study around the experiences and interactions of people both inside and outside of the administration,” according to Peter Bearman, director of Incite at Columbia University.

Many of the storylines in the first installment, he says, deal with significant environmental and energy concerns that occurred during the Obama administration, such as the Keystone Pipeline, food and food security, energy, and international climate discussions like the Paris Agreement.

Climate is one of the project’s approximately 40 issue domains. Other sets of interviews on issues including health care and Black politics are scheduled to be released throughout the remainder of the year and into 2024.
During a preview of the oral history project on Wednesday, panelists focused on climate change and the environment, discussing how climate was prevalent throughout the Obama years, from his early campaign to his presidency.

“We pushed very hard during the campaign to raise the climate issue,” environmental activist Frances Beinecke said. “And we raised it during the primaries, and then when he was the candidate we raised it. During that period, we also worked on the platform, on the Democratic platform, making sure that climate was a main feature of the platform.”

The initial release includes 17 of hundreds of interviews. Former US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, and environmental activist Bill McKibben are among those interviewed in the series’ first installment.

Valerie Jarrett, former senior adviser to Obama, referred to climate as “one of the largest threats and concerns” and “one of the biggest priorities” for Obama.

By preserving these narratives, we ensure that future generations have access to the lived experiences and lessons learned,” Jarrett said during the event. “But ultimately, these interviews will serve a lot as an important record for both historians and scholars, to not just learn, but to learn with an act towards the future.”



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