Adding restrictions to oral histories at interview

Restrictions on oral histories fall roughly into two categories:

  1. Those placed on the interview at the time of the interview.
  2. Those placed on the interview by the archive.

While the archive might restrict an interview or collection of interviews for any number of reasons, including access (an analogue resource might not be digitally available), content that’s sensitive, or (most often) an unclear picture of who holds rights, respondents at the point of interview generally want to restrict material based on their candor, as they perceived it, in the interview itself.  They may have said something about a life partner, business associate, relations, friends (or enemies) that they believe will have a negative impact if the information is made public.

It is critical that the oral historian protect narrators and third parties who have the potential to be hurt as a consequence of an oral history being made public.  However, it is equally important that the oral historian impress upon narrators that oral histories where access is indefinitely restricted are of little if any use to anyone.

Using the release form as a place to record restrictions is appropriate.  However, restriction options should generally not be outlined as a part of the release form.  Offering a menu of potential restrictions to narrators will most often result in a narrator choosing a restriction, even if the content does not merit it.  If, following an interview and upon signing the release, a respondent wishes to redact a portion of the interview or place on the interview a general restriction, that information can be recorded in writing on the back of the release form or on a separate restriction form (that should only be produced by the interviewer on request).  In no case should a general restriction be permanent or open-ended.

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