Who made this site?

My name is Amy Starecheski. I am an oral historian and cultural anthropologist. I have lived in Mott Haven, as a renter on 139th Street, since 2001. I have been a member of El Girasol Garden, Padre Plaza, and (most recently) Brook Park. I am married and have a 6 year old daughter. I teach oral history at Columbia University and I have a PhD from the CUNY Grad Center. My last project was with former squatters on the Lower East Side who were turning their buildings into low-income co-ops. I created an archive of interviews with them that is available to the public through NYU, a book (Ours to Lose: When Squatters Became Homeowners in New York City, 2016, University of Chicago Press), and a podcast about the story (99% Invisible, Episode # 261, Squatters of the Lower East Side).

What is this project about?

People are talking a lot about how Mott Haven is changing these days, wondering if it will be “the next Williamsburg.” But Mott Haven, like any neighborhood, has always been changing. Longtime residents know that the Mott Haven of today, or even of five years ago, is not the same as the Mott Haven of the 1980s or early 1990s. In this project, I am documenting how Mott Haven changed over the past 25-30 years, and how it is continuing to change, in order to better understand how and why neighborhoods develop in different ways. I think that this knowledge can help people make decisions about development and participate in shaping their neighborhoods.

Right now the project is just getting started. I welcome ideas about how to do the research, who to talk to, what questions to ask, and ways to partner with other local people and organizations. There are a bunch of different ways to participate in this project, from helping to develop ideas or getting others involved to being interviewed. One kind of interview I will be doing is an oral history interview.

What is an oral history interview?

Oral history interviews are different from the interviews we see most often on TV and hear on the radio in several important ways:

• The person being interviewed has more control over the interview – how it is structured and what it is about. Oral history interviewers usually ask open-ended questions, and give the person they’re interviewing a lot of time and space to talk about whatever they want. We know that both the interviewer and the person being interviewed will have things they want to talk about, and believe that both people’s agendas are important.

• The interviewer will almost always start by asking the person being interviewed to tell about their early life – where they were born, where they grew up, their family, etc. - so that people listening to the interview 50 or 100 years from know who it is that’s telling the history.

• The interviews are often long. They sometimes are recorded in several sessions, and each session is 1-2 hours long.

• The person being interviewed has more control over the way the interview is used. In this project, that means that I will not ask the, to sign a legal release form until after the interview is over. The release form I use allows them to keep the copyright to their interview and also allow others to access and use it. They also have the option of editing their interview or closing parts of your interview to the public for a period of time.

•Oral histories are archived – this means that the recordings are stored in a public institution where they can be preserved and made available to anyone who wants to use them. The whole interviews are put into the archive – just as they were recorded, unless the person being interviewed requests that changes be made to them. The release you sign will allow an archive to keep the interviews and make them available to the public. These interviews will be archived at the Columbia Center for Oral History Research.