Sara Sinclair is an oral historian of Cree-Ojibwa, German-Jewish and British descent. Sara teaches in the Oral History Masters Program at Columbia University. She has contributed to the Columbia Center for Oral History Research’s Covid-19 Oral History, Narrative and Memory Archive, Obama Presidency Oral History, and Robert Rauschenberg Oral History Project. With Peter Bearman and Mary Marshall Clark, Sinclair edited Robert Rauschenberg: An Oral History, published by Columbia University Press in spring 2019. Prior to attending Columbia University's Oral History Masters or Arts, Sara lived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where she conducted an oral history project for the International Labour Organization’s Regional Office for Africa. Sara’s current and previous clients include the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of the City of New York, New York City Department of Environmental Protection and the Exit Art Closure Study, a research project on the closure of New York gallery/artist’s space Exit Art (1982-2012). For Sara’s thesis at Columbia she conducted a series of interviews exploring the narratives of university-educated, reservation-raised Native North Americans on returning to their Nations after school. Sara expanded this project, How We Go Home: Voices from Indigenous North America, through Voice of Witness’ Story Lab.
My Latest Projects
What is it like to be a citizen of a nation within another nation whose dominant social, political, and economic interests are fundamentally at odds with your own?
This collection of 12 narratives investigates the following questions: What is the living legacy of the loss of Indian lands and life as a result of settlement, war, and treaties? How does this huge loss of land and life affect Indigenous people’s efforts to “protect and celebrate the core of their cultures.” And finally, given that settler colonialism is ongoing, how do its outcomes affect Native lives today, as Indigenous peoples continue to fight with the US and Canadian nations for the resources needed to live?
Collectively, these stories illuminate: the legacy of the Indian residential school systems in both the United States and Canada; the effects of high rates of Indigenous children in foster care and incarcerated Indigenous men and women on Native families; the violation of treaty rights in pursuit of natural resource extraction, the effects of urban encroachment on traditional territories; the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, the struggles to access on reserve/reservation services including health care and education, and the continuous, constant efforts made to sustain language, culture and traditional life ways.
 Louise Erdrich, “Where I Ought to Be: A Writer’s Sense of Place,” New York Times, July 28, 1985.
This oral history documents the life and legacy of renowned American Artist Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008). Mr. Rauschenberg’s impact on the avant art world of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, and the conditions for creativity that inspired his work, comprise the framework for the project’s design. Through this exploration, the oral history provides a new perspective on Rauschenberg’s work and how the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation may “re-create” the conditions that helped Mr. Rauschenberg flourish for other young artists.
The project will be archived at Columbia University Libraries Oral History Archives and Rauschenberg Foundation, where you can also read many of the interviews online.
Robert Rauschenberg: An Oral History, a book that compiles this work into a collaborative oral biography, will be released in August 2019. It is edited by Sara Sinclair with Mary Marshall Clark and Peter Bearman, to be published by Columbia University Press.
This project was funded by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
Read more about the project here.
My Latest Workshops
In this workshop we will think about how to take an intentionally anti-colonial or indigenizing approach to the planning, execution and presentation of oral history. We will consider how, who we choose to tell certain stories, the questions that we ask of them, and the additional information that we use to supplement their narratives, ensure that the stories we amplify empower the people who share them with us. We will use Sara’s project How We Go Home as a case study and launching point for discussion and exercises to explore project, interview and editorial design.
Columbia University, August 2020
To develop our projects oral historians travel through several “thinking intersections” to plot the course of our work. In this workshop we will consider some of the key questions we ask of ourselves, to prepare for the questioning of our narrators.
We will break down the big moments of thinking towards designing a project: from determining your project goals and desired outcomes, researching & writing your project blueprint, establishing narrator lists, and prepping for your interviews. Although participants do not need to be in the midst of conducting a project, they should come prepared to workshop their ideas through the steps outlined above.
Columbia University, January 2019
In this workshop we will steep ourselves in the oral history interview form. The session will begin with an overview of oral history interviewing values and methodology. We will then consider some of the key questions we must ask of ourselves, to prepare for the questioning of our narrators. Finally, we will listen to, read and discuss interview excerpts and close the session with an opportunity to practice interviewing in the space.
Columbia University, May 2019