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In 2012, the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality (IRWGS) approached the Columbia Center for Oral History Research about embarking on an oral history project that would document the growth and development of feminism at Columbia. In celebration of its 25th anniversary, IRWGS sought a way to trace its contributions to feminist scholarship and its role within the larger context of Columbia University as a source of intellectual leadership.

The IRWGS Oral History Project was guided by a set of research questions, which emphasized the role of IRWGS as an political actor within the broader context of Columbia University, agitating for the inclusion of feminist analysis and practice, and working to do so, in its early years, without much institutional support from the university. As the project progressed, questions expanded to explore issues of generation, activism, the developments within feminism(s), evidence of increasing support of IRWGS by the university, and the challenge of addressing diversity, sexuality and other forms of social difference theoretically and as professional practice.

Interviews were conducted between 2014-2015 with current and past directors of IRWGS, affiliated and allied faculty, administrators, and students. Interviewers conducted 68 sessions with 36 individuals—over 90 hours of recordings—including 9 sessions recorded on video. Many who were integral to IRWGS’s formation and to its advances over the years were not available to be interviewed within the project timeframe, though they are in many cases acknowledged for their efforts throughout the interviews included in this project.

Featured on this site are selections from project interviews that bring into focus the History of IRWGS as well as the coalescing of ideas around major changes. To increase accessibility, a transcript of each selection, edited by the narrator, is presented below the audio and video material. Please note that the selections on this site are parts of much longer interviews and may have been edited; researchers must refer to the full interview transcripts for any citations. While the site endeavors to represent some of the major turning points in IRWGS’s history, there are many additional themes and historical arguments that are represented within the collection as a whole. To consult the full collection, please contact the Columbia Center for Oral History Archives.

The IRWGS Oral History Project was conducted with funding from the President’s Office, and was the first project administered through the Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics (INCITE), the new home of the Columbia Center for Oral History Research. INCITE recognized oral history’s potential to generate new sources of knowledge that are critical to understanding social, cultural and political movements, and the IRWGS Oral History Project put this belief into practice.