News & Advocacy

Photo Credit: International Business Machines Corporation (IBM).

Federal Proposal Would Eliminate IRB Oversight of History

By Zach Schrag

Historians have long complained about interference with their work by institutional review boards (IRBs), university-based ethics committees charged with protecting people who participate in experiments and other forms of human subjects research. Though well intentioned, IRB members and staff frequently fail to understand the differences between psychology experiments and genetic research on the one hand, and oral-history interviews and archival research on the other. For instance, they have sometimes insisted that oral historians disguise the identities of their narrators or destroy audio recordings, even though the identification of narrators and the preservation of their stories are central to the discipline.