The Association reiterated its long-held opinion that oral history research should be fully excluded from institutional review board (IRB) oversight in a letter submitted by AHA Executive Director Jim Grossman to the federal Office of Human Research Protections today. The letter explains:
Historians who use interview methods focus on eliciting information about particular experiences of the past, and their work suffers irreparable harm when forced into rubrics developed to treat human beings in a general (or “generalizable”) way. The standards and procedures of Institutional Review Boards are alien to oral history research, and over the past decade we have compiled ample documentation of the misapplication of such rules to research projects in the field.
As regular readers of AHA Today know, the federal government is offering a significant opportunity to weigh in on rules that cover institutional review boards (IRBs) and often interfere with legitimate history work. The current proposal seems to be a very mixed bag for history—offering both a tantalizing opportunity to address past concerns about the effect IRBs have on oral history and potentially new problems for history under the label of “information risk.”
Over the past month, we have been consulting extensively with members of the discipline, trying to identify a set of core principles for a response to the proposal.
In the news this week, discussion continues on proposed changes for human-subject research, Rosa Parks’s archive is up for sale, and the Squeeze Imaging Project goes online. Then, read one historian’s concerns about “culturomics” (a project that analyzes text in the Google Books project), discover 5 reasons to love libraries, and learn about 600 New Yorkers’ experiences in the 9/11 Oral History Project. Finally, check out EDSITEment’s Back-to-School Reading Index and an infographic that tracks U.S. post office expansion from 1700 to 1900.
In the news this week, online buzz about possiblehuman-subject research rules, judge orders release of Nixon grand jury testimony, increase in political science jobs, D.C. reaches temperatures it hasn’t seen in nearly a sesquicentennial, and a new translation is out for an 1830s autobiography of a “Muslim American Slave.” We also link to digital history articles on newly awarded digital humanities start-up grants, the new Historical Thinking Project website, and historians using digitized records from London’s Old Bailey courthouse. Also read a CNN contributor’s thoughts on the question“If students fail history, does it matter?” and the draft foreword of Dan Cohen’s new book.
The federal government is offering a significant opportunity to weigh in on the intrusion of institutional review boards (IRBs) into history work, as part of a major re-evaluation of the rules governing human-subject research. Any historian who uses oral history methods, or supervises students who conduct interviews, should speak out and demand change.
The request comes as part of a much larger proposal from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to revise the oversight regime for federally funded research (and by extension, all forms of research at institutions that receive federal funds).
In a letter sent today to the federal Office of Human Research Protections (OHRP), the American Historical Association asks for care in the implementation of new and more rigorous training and education programs for Institutional Review Boards (IRBs). Drawing on the experiences of members of our discipline, the letter expresses concern that “the proposed training program will reinforce the tendency to treat all research as if it was conducted in the experimental sciences,” and fail to “include room for discerning among different types of research methods.”
OHRP first requested comments on the issue back in July.
A committee of the Oral History Association was recently tasked with revising their oral history Evaluation Guidelines. These guidelines are invaluable to the discipline, offering the best statement of principles of good practice in oral history research, and the AHA has consistently endorsed them over the past decade. They have also been invaluable in our discussions with and about institutional review boards.
Committee chair Tracy K’Meyer invites “suggestions for material to add or subtract, issues to address, ways to reorganize” the document, so we strongly encourage historians who use oral history methods to re-read the guidelines and offer their suggestions to the committee.
The federal Office of Human Research Protections (OHRP) recently invited comments on education and training programs for institutional review boards (IRBs), which poses a difficult question for members of our discipline—would a more consistent and effective training program make matters better or worse for oral history?
After following this issue for the past eight years, I am not sure. The inconsistent and uneven application of IRB policies to members of our discipline should be familiar to AHA Today readers. But it is not clear whether these problems arise from ambiguities in OHRP’s regulations or uneven preparation of review board members and staff.