Good news for scholars doing oral history! The federal government is preparing to grant them a right to be excluded from IRBs.Breaking News
HNN Editor's Note After we ran this excerpt we learned that the federal government has not yet issued its final regulations. Here are the details according to an announcement on the website of the Oral History Association: "On September 8, 2015, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a set of recommended revisions to the regulations concerning human subject research. Specifically, it recommended that oral history be explicitly excluded from review by institutional review boards, or IRBs, and alluded to the fact that oral history already has its own code of ethics, including the principle of informed consent." Scholars doing oral histories should consult the OHA's Principles and Best Practices.
All of those presidential candidates who promise to change the world on “my first day in office” have a lot to learn about the federal government’s glacial pace. The government does tend to do the right thing, so long as you have the patience to wait a few years (or decades). On 8 September 2015, a 20-year struggle culminated in a ruling from the US Department of Health and Human Services that specifically excludes the following from human subject regulation: “Oral history, journalism, biography, and historical scholarship activities that focus directly on the specific individuals about whom the information is collected.”
The federal government began issuing rules that required universities to review human subject research back in 1980. At first, the regulations applied only to medical and behavioral research, but in 1991, the government broadened its requirements to include any “interaction with living individuals.” In 1995, a university hierarchy declined to accept a doctoral dissertation because the history graduate student had failed to consult the university’s institutional review board (IRB)—an entity none of her professors knew existed. She eventually received a retroactive exemption, but the incident sent shivers through the oral history community.
IRBs at universities, staffed almost entirely by those in the medical and behavioral sciences, began trying to fit oral history interviewing into protocols more designed for blood samples. IRBs instructed oral historians to keep their interviews anonymous, erase their recordings, and avoid asking possibly intrusive questions, which defeated the purpose of their projects. One student was met with resistance for naming the scholars in her field whom she had interviewed. Others were cautioned not to ask about illegal activities—even when interviewing civil rights activists who remained proud of the civil disobedience that led to their arrests. At their most illogical, there were boards that wanted researchers to obtain permission from third parties who had been mentioned during an interview, and even urged archivists to require researchers to apply for IRB clearance just to read an oral history transcript or listen to a recording in their collections.
comments powered by Disqus
- 75 Years After World War II Theft, a Painting Returns to Italy
- U.S. Ship Sunk in World War II by German Sub Is Found Off Maine Coast
- The Woman Who Discovered the Cause of Global Warming Was Long Overlooked. Her Story Is a Reminder to Champion All Women Leading on Climate
- Iran Confrontation With U.K. Reflects History of Bad Blood
- The deadly race riot ‘aided and abetted’ by The Washington Post a century ago
- Tom Engelhardt Writes Personal and Historical Essay: Turning 75 in the Age of Trump
- Historian Drew Gilpin Faust Pens Personal and Historical Essay: "Race, History, and Memories of a Virginia Girlhood"
- WBUR Is Belatedly Giving Credit to a Female Historian for a Segment
- Behind the men on the moon, there were thousands of women
- Professor Rebecca Gordon Pens Essay Revealing Her Abortion and Examines Ongoing History of Roe v. Wade