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University of Hawaii to collect oral histories of Barack Obama’s early years in Hawaii

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  • Video by Stanley Lee /

    Former U.S. President Barack Obama addressed 21 young people chosen by the Obama Foundation as emerging leaders in January 2019. They gathered in January at the East-West Center in Honolulu for workshops and conversations about how to design a leadership program for the Asia-Pacific region.


    Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the East-West Center in January 2019.

The University of Hawaii announced today that it is collecting oral histories of President Barack Obama’s early contacts in Hawaii for the Obama Foundation.

New York’s Columbia Center for Oral History Research at Columbia University has been selected to conduct the official oral history of the Obama presidency, according to the foundation, while UH and the University of Chicago will collect oral histories that document the pre-presidential lives of Barack and Michelle Obama.

President Obama was born in Hawaii, where he spent most of his childhood and graduated from Punahou School.

“Michelle Obama famously observed, ‘You can’t really understand Barack until you understand Hawaii,’”said UH President David Lassner in a news release. “UH and our extraordinary Center for Oral History are looking forward to exploring those early days with those who were part of President Obama’s story.”

The Obama Presidency Oral History Project will conduct interviews with roughly 400 people, starting this summer and over the next five years, including senior leaders and policy makers within the administration, as well as elected officials, campaign staff, journalists and other key figures. The project will also examine Michelle Obama’s legacy as First Lady.

“We are grateful to the universities of Hawaii and Chicago for participating and ensuring that the important work that preceded President and Mrs. Obama’s time in the White House is integrated into this project,” said David Simas, chief executive officer of the Obama Foundation, in a statement.

The oral histories are expected to be publicly available online and on-site at Columbia no later than 2026.

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