Good News for Oral Historians

This is good news indeed.  It looks like oral historians working at colleges and universities will no longer have to worry about Institutional Review Boards.

From 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.
This is potentially a big breakthrough in what has been a twenty-year struggle over oral history and IRB review.  The Oral History Association is collaborating with other professional associations to develop a collective response to the recommendations, and will be developing its own response. There is also a 90 day period during which individuals and organizations may add their own commentary.
To read the entire document and to submit a comment, go to Federal Register.
For more information go to the Institutional Review Blog maintained by George Mason University professor Zachary Schrag: Institutional Review Blog.
For specific responses to the recent recommendations, see For specific responses to the recent recommendations, see and
The OHA will continue to monitor and publicize new developments as they take place.

4 thoughts on “Good News for Oral Historians

  1. The potential for problems with the IRB process – having to prove that asking interview questions would do no harm to subjects – was why I ultimately chose to rely n existing Veterans' Oral History projects for my dissertation. This clarification is great news.


  2. Some of the grad student (public history) capstone projects I am supervising this semester have oral history components. We ran them by the IRB with the expectation that the IRB would determine that they do not “constitute human subject research,” and thus are not required to receive IRB oversight. But it was still important that we get that determination. My understanding that IRBs have, for some time, been passing on oversight of oral history projects, so this is pro forma. Anyhow, I just received one such determination when this post popped up in the reader.


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