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Oral History of the American Left Collection

Call Number



1940-2011, inclusive


Tamiment Library


63.91 Linear Feet
in 21 record cartons, 39 card/cassette boxes, 22 manuscript boxes, 5 half manuscript boxes, 1 media box, and 8 other containers.

Language of Materials

Materials are in English, unless otherwise noted at the interview level.


The Tamiment Library at New York University established the Oral History of the American Left in 1976 in order to collect and preserve the memories of veteran activists. These interviews describe seven decades of Left politics from the 1910s through the 1970s. They document the full spectrum of left politics in the twentieth century, including socialism, Communism, anarchism, Trotskyism, and the New Left. There are interviews with both leaders and rank-and-file activists.

Historical/Biographical Note

New York University's Tamiment Library established the Oral History of the American Left (OHAL) in 1976. The purpose of this project was to expand the archive's documentation of radicalism and labor by recording the memories of veteran activists before they were lost. The founders of OHAL were working within the milieu of "new social history" and were intent on using the Oral History of the American Left to collect stories from groups often underrepresented in traditional historical narratives including rank and file activists, women, and ethnic minorities. The project founders, by their own admission, were a part of a revival of interest in folkloric community histories and captivated by the ability of the recorded interview to bring these stories to life. They also were cognizant of the interviewer's role in shaping an oral history, and the interviewers' own activism is also frequently on display. As such, decades later, the early interviews of the collection not only give insight into the experiences of activists from the 1910s-1960s, but illuminate the psychology of the Left during the Reagan era.

Paul Buhle was the director of the project from its founding, and was its most prolific interviewer. Other staff included Roger Keeran who was co-director in the early years and Jon Bloom who joined the project in 1977 to work as an interviewer, coordinator, and fundraiser. Additional OHAL staff in the 1980s included interviewer and project coordinator Ruth F. Prago, interviewer Bea Lemisch, and indexer Ameila Green.

Interviewing began with a series of small grants provided by the Rabinowitz and Bronson Cutting Foundations. The New Jersey Historical Commission provided funding in 1978 to support interviews on radicalism in New Jersey between 1930 and 1960. Later, Ruth F. Prago developed the idea to start a radio series based on interviews held for the OHAL collection. Together with Pacifica Radio the project received a one-year grant from the New York State Council for the Humanities to conduct interviews with twenty-five women about radicalism during the 1930s. Radio producers used these interviews to create the radio series "Grandma was an Activist," first broadcast in 1983. OHAL received major funding in 1982–1983 from the National Endowment for the Humanities. This support enabled Paul Buhle to build a comprehensive collection of oral histories regarding ethnic-immigrant radicalism, its press, and fraternal organizations. The NEH grant also enabled OHAL to collect hundreds of hours of interviews made by filmmakers on American anarchism, the Hollywood blacklist, the Communist Party, the Columbia University student strike of 1968, and other subjects.

From its founding, OHAL was intended to be a comprehensive document of the experiences of the members of the Left in the United States, and it was assumed that the collection would continue to grow over time. Tamiment Library continued to conduct interviews and collect interviews from third parties through the 1990s and into the early 2010s.


Collection is arranged into nine series: 1. Oral History of the American Left Main Series, 2. Fred Zimring Interviews, 3. Reynold Hills Project Interviews, 4. Filmmakers' Tapes and Transcripts, 5. Tamiment Institute Tapes, 6. Aleine Austin Tapes regarding Monthly Review and Highlander Folk School, 7. Restricted Interviews, 8. Higley Hill, 9. Rose Leopold

Scope and Content Note

The Oral History of the American Left documents the broad range of experiences on the left, with a focus on underrepresented voices, particularly between 1910 and 1980. The Main Series (Series 1) is particularly sweeping in the topics that it documents, but a set of prominent topics emerge representing the interests of OHAL staff members in the early years of the collection. These include immigrant/ethnic radicalism, labor, women's history, radical newspapers, fraternal organizations, and student radicalism. The earliest interviews were done to collect the memories of men and women who could recall the 1910s-1920s. Later interviews document the effects of the Russian Revolution on the Left in the United States, the formation of social and cultural institutions by the "New Immigrant" groups, the history of socialism and anarchism, the relationship between the "Old Left" and "New Left," and Communist activism in the United States. There is also an analysis of the regional development of Left movements in the United States. OHAL interviewed representative figures from the Jewish, Finnish, Slovenian, Greek, Hungarian, Polish, Italian, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, African American, Japanese, Scandinavian, and Spanish Left. For many of these interviews, there is a focus on how ethnic identity and political identity interacted and how non-English-language presses and fraternal organizations preserved this identity in the United States. The cultural experiences of Yiddish-speaking Jews are particularly represented in this regard. Paul Buhle took a sizable amount of interviews related to the relationship between Yiddish-language literature and culture and Communist and socialist political organizations and newspapers.

The collection also documents the factionalism of the Left in the mid-20th century United States. Rank and file members and leaders alike comment on the conflicts between the Communist Party of the USA and different socialist and Trotskyist organizations, analyzing matters of theory and the personalities that drove the splits. The Johnson-Forest Tendency and CLR James receive particular attention. Other political parties/factions addressed include the the Socialist Party, Workers Party, Socialist Workers Party, and the American Labor Party. The CP's role in the period is examined in depth, both by members and opponents, especially during the 1930s. The interviews taken to support "Grandma Was an Activist" provide insight into the experiences of women activists during the period.

The collection includes several interviews with participants of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, the US component of the International Brigades which fought in the Spanish Civil War. There are other interviews documenting the long tenure of Jasper McLevy, Socialist Party Mayor of Bridgeport, Connecticut from 1933-1957. Organizations discussed in other interviews include the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Workmens' Circle, International Labor Defense, National Lawyers Guild, the Southern Negro Youth Congress, and the Yidisher Kultur Farband (YKUF), among many others. The labor movement and the operations of different political parties and factions within labor unions are also frequently addressed. The International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) and the needle trades are particularly well represented in this regard.

OHAL also received interviews from filmmakers and graduate students that were added to the collection as distinct units. These materials, found in Series 2-9, are further described at the series level.



Boggs, Grace Lee; Moore, Audley, 1898-1997; Baxandall, Rosalyn Fraad, 1939- -- Interviews; Sale, Kirkpatrick; Draper, Hal -- Interviews; Deak, Zoltan; Dunayevskaya, Raya -- Interviews; Darcy, Samuel, 1905-; Ferlinghetti, Lawrence; Goldberg, Itshe; Glaberman, Martin -- Interviews; Gitlin, Todd; Berrigan, Daniel; James, C. L. R. (Cyril Lionel Robert), 1901-1989 -- Interviews; Berry, Abner -- Interviews; Buhle, Paul, 1944-; Boggs, James -- Interviews; Epstein, Melech -- Interviews; Bloom, Jonathan; Prago, Ruth.; Lemisch, Bea; Seeger, Pete, 1919-2014; De Leon, Solon, 1883-; Patterson, Louise Thompson, 1901-1999; Rawick, George P., 1929-; Cowley, Malcolm, 1898-1989; Chernin, Rose -- Interviews; Kolehmainen, Mary -- Interviews; Johnson, Howard, 1915- -- Interviews; Breitman, George -- Interviews; Glotzer, Albert, 1908-1999. -- |v Interviews; Noṿiḳ, P., 1891-; Harrington, Michael, 1928-1989 -- Interviews; Harap, Louis -- Interviews; Gellert, Hugo, 1892-1985 -- Interviews; Foner, Moe, 1915- -- Interviews; Foner, Henry -- Interviews; Weir, Stan -- nterviews; Weiss, Myra Tanner -- Interviews; Thomas, Norman, 1884-1968 -- Interviews; Rubinstein, Annette Teta, 1910-2007. -- Interviews; Le Sueur, Meridel -- Interviews; Rodney, Lester, 1911-2009 -- Interviews; O'Connor, Harvey, 1897-1987 -- Interviews; Nelson, Steve, 1903-1993 -- Interviews; McLevy, Jasper, 1878-1962 -- Interviews; McKinney, Ernest Rice, 1886-1984 -- Interviews; McGrath, Thomas, 1916-1990 -- Interviews; Magil, A. B. (Abraham Bernard), 1905-2003 -- Interviews; Kolehmainen, Mary

Conditions Governing Access

Unless otherwise noted, materials are open without restrictions. Any limitations on access, as stipulated in an interviewee's release form, are noted at the interview or series level.

Use Restrictions

Because of the assembled nature of this collection, copyright status varies across the collection. Copyright is assumed to be held by the original creator of individual items in the collection; these items are expected to pass into the public domain 120 years after their creation. Repository is not authorized to grant permission to publish or reproduce materials from this collection.

New York University holds any rights (including copyright and related rights to publicity and privacy) for the majority of the interviews in Series 1 of this collection. Unless otherwise noted, permission to publish or reproduce materials must be secured from the Tamiment Library. Interviews in Series 1 for which New York University does not hold rights are noted at the interview level. Any restrictions on use that the interviewer and interviewee agreed to in the interview's release form are also noted at the interview level.

Copyright ownership and use restrictions vary across Series 2-9. Please contact for more information.

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date; Oral History of the American Left; OH 002; box number; folder number or item identifier; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.

Location of Materials

Some materials are stored offsite and advance notice is required for use. Please request materials at least two business days prior to your research visit to coordinate access. Access compact disks and transcripts are stored onsite.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

From its inception, the Oral History of the American Left was an assembled collection with a diverse provenance. The majority of the interviews, particularly in Series I, were collected by the Oral History of American Left for deposit at the Tamiment Library. At the same time, OHAL solicited and accepted recordings from scholars, filmmakers, activists, and other likeminded individuals who were not affiliated with the project. OHAL staff actively took interviews between 1976-1985. The collection of interviews by OHAL and Tamiment Library continued through the late 2000s at a diminished pace. The collection also contains materials that were created or collected by the Tamiment Institute before the establishment of OHAL. The accession numbers associated with this collection are 1976.001, 2004.026, 2010.002, 2018.050, and 2018.072.

Audiovisual Access Policies and Procedures

Access to audiovisual materials in this collection is available through digitized access copies. Researchers may view an item's original container, but the media themselves are not available for playback because of preservation concerns. Materials that have already been digitized are noted in the collection's finding aid and can be requested in our reading room.

Related Archival Materials

Guide to the Oral History of the American Left, edited by Paul Buhle and Jonathan Bloom, is cataloged with Tamiment Library's bibliographic collections and provides insight into the goals and considerations at OHAL's founding and a history of the collection up to 1984. The project's newsletter, filed with Tamiment Library's serials, similarly gives context for the creation and collection of OHAL's earliest materials.

Paul Buhle Papers (TAM 171)

Collection processed by

Paul Buhle, Jonathan Bloom, Michael Nash, unattributed Tamiment staff, and David A. Olson

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2024-05-30 16:28:19 -0400.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: Description is in English.

Processing Information

The Oral History of the American Left has seen many waves of processing since its founding in 1976. The two primary access tools resulting from the first wave of processing were indexes and Jonathan Bloom and Paul Buhle's Guide to the Oral History of the American Left, published in 1984. Discovery tools were updated as new tapes were added to the collection. A wide range of appraisal guidelines, arrangement strategies, and numbering schemes were deployed by the archivists working on the collection over the decades. At times, this created inconsistencies in collection management and description.

Digitization began in the late 2000s, employing outside vendors and NewYork University's Preservation Department. Transcription had occurred since the 1980s, and another batch of interviews was transcribed and edited in the early 2010s.

In 2012, efforts to complete the digitization were resumed in earnest, and digitization of Series I was completed in 2015. This push was supported by three grants from the Korein Foundation, and sustained use of New York University's in-house transfer capabilities for the transfer of OHAL materials.

In conjunction with the digitization, a serious effort was undertaken to consolidate physical control over Series I. Different generations of cassettes were stored in different locations throughout the library, and a major effort was undertaken to reconcile these materials and confirm that the library was digitizing the most complete versions of interviews. At the same time, a new online finding aid was written, consolidating legacy description from multiple sources, updating it to conform to modern archival standards, and creating new content. This was completed in 2015.

Less visibly, a major effort was undertaken to standardize the diverse naming conventions for digital surrogates from in the first wave of digitization projects. Files in the library's digital preservation repository we mapped and batch renamed for better control over digital assets. This too was completed in 2015.

In 2020, narrative description of the Karl Yoneda interview was edited to more accurately describe the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Researchers can access previous versions of the finding aid in our GitHub repository at

In 2023, audiocassette materials were removed from storage cabinets in the ACM space and housed in 15 cassette boxes as new top containers. Instances were either added to existing titles or titles and corresponding instances were created under the respective series.

In October 2023, a student worker edited top container numbers and added instances for one box of audiocassettes.

Revisions to this Guide

December 2020: Edited by Amy C. Vo to change legacy description about the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II
August 2021: Edited by Rachel Mahre to reflect digitization of some audio materials.
November 2021: Edited by Anna Björnsson McCormick to correctly identify Grace Lee Boggs as an activist in the Black Power movement
January 2023: Edited by Maddie DeLaere to update titles and top containers for select audiocassettes.
May 2023: Updated by Maddie DeLaere to state that audio materials have been digitized and are accessible to patrons.
June 2023: Edited by Olivija Liepa to update top containers and dates for select audiocassettes.
October 2023: Edited by Maddie DeLaere to update titles and add additional top containers for select audiocassettes.
May 2024: Edited by Olivija Liepa to state that audio materials have been digitized and are accessible to patrons.

Edition of this Guide

This version was derived from OHALforw.doc


Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012