For detailed guidance about best practices, we recommend reading the Oral History Association's "Principles for Oral History and Best Practices for Oral History," adopted in October 2018. As the official leading professional body for oral historians in the United States, this organization offers centralized, up-to-date information for all levels of experience. For your convenience, we have summarized some of their recommendations, below:
Access and Use:
You should be transparent with your motives when approaching potential narrators. Be sure to clearly communicate your project goals and solicit questions from your interview partners. Strive for a model of reciprocity - in other words, ask yourself, “does the narrator get anything out of this process? Will the community benefit?” Be clear about where the interviews will end up and how they will be used.
Ultimately, you should aim for a “do no harm” model - consider what information or realizations will be important for the historical record, but also create a space that allows your narrator to think out loud and arrive at their own conclusions. Do not ascribe meanings, feelings, or reasons for their experiences with your questioning or transcribing.
Factors to Consider:
Working with Minors
Are you planning to interview narrators who are underage (under 18)? You will need a release form signed by a parent or guardian as well as the narrator.
Also consider - is your narrator old enough to truly consent? Are you asking them about events or situations that could endanger themselves or others? Consider waiting until the narrator is 18 to release the interviews, or placing a specific, time-bound restriction on the files. If you have questions, contact HSIRB.
Working with cultures beyond your own
What are the cultural norms of your narrator? Ask if there are topics you are not allowed to address or if there needs to be someone else in the room.
These responsibilities may extend beyond the interview - it may not be acceptable to share certain information beyond the interview space. Determine these limitations before the interview begins and make note of them in the release form with an attached appendices.
Understand there may be historical precedents of extractive interviews which result in narrator reticence and respect that - while also working to address those concerns. Additionally, different peoples have different understandings of the words "ownership" and "copyright" - carefully go through these terms with your narrator.
Working with vulnerable populations
Does your project include interviews with displaced persons, imprisoned persons, survivors of abuse, issues with mental health, or veterans (among others)? Carefully consider the ethics, legality, and morality of making such interviews available online as well as issues with informed consent.
In these instances, it would be important to contact HSIRB.
For more information and training on interviewing youth subjects, vulnerable populations, and cultural considerations during the oral history process, consult the publications and institutions below: