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Recording an Oral History of the Obama Presidency with Evan D. McCormick

What is a legacy? As the artist Lin-Manual Miranda tells us, it’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.

American presidents, regardless of party, spend a great deal of time during their presidencies and after they leave office thinking about their own legacies, and how people will study and remember their administrations.

Whether the 2020 presidential election results in a second term for President Trump or an inaugural one for a President Biden, both men and the people in their administrations are or will be thinking about what to plant in those gardens.

Today’s show builds on this week’s virtual George Washington Symposium at the Washington Library, which is dedicated to consequential elections in American presidential history.

On the podcast, we explore one aspect of how modern presidents and their administrations preserve records and memories of the past through oral history.

Dr. Evan D. McCormick joins Jim Ambuske today to talk about the Obama Presidency Oral History Project at Columbia University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics or (INCITE). McCormick is an Associate Research Scholar with the project, and Columbia was chosen by the Obama Foundation in 2019 to oversee the oral history initiative.

McCormick is also a historian of the United States and the World, and he is completing a book on Ronald Reagan’s policies toward Latin America.

Ambuske and McCormick dive into the significance of conducting oral histories for preserving and interpreting the legacy of modern presidents, the shape of the Obama Project, and the contrasts between the kinds of sources that historians of early and modern America use to reconstruct the past.

About Our Guest: 

Evan D McCormick an associate research scholar at Columbia University's Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics (INCITE) where he works on the Obama Presidency Oral History project. Evan is an historian of the United States and the world, and is completing a book on Ronald Reagan's policies toward Latin America. He received his Ph.D. in History from the University of Virginia (2015) and an M.A. in International Relations from Yale University (2007). He has held postdoctoral fellowships from the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University and the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin. From 2007-2009, he was a policy fellow at the Department of Homeland Security, spanning both the Bush and Obama administrations.

About Our Host:

Jim Ambuske, Ph.D. leads the Center for Digital History at the Washington Library. A historian of the American Revolution, Scotland, and the British Atlantic World, Ambuske graduated from the University of Virginia in 2016. He is a former Farmer Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities at the University of Virginia Law Library. At UVA Law, Ambuske co-directed the 1828 Catalogue Project and the Scottish Court of Session Project.  He is currently at work on a book about emigration from Scotland in the era of the American Revolution as well as a chapter on Scottish loyalism during the American Revolution for a volume to be published by the University of Edinburgh Press.