This page describes what is meant by the term "oral history" based on guidance put forth by the Office of Human Research Protection*.
When making the decision as to whether oral history or similar activities require IRB review, the IRB takes into account the prospective intent of the investigator and the definition of "research" under the federal regulations. Per federal regulation 45 CFR 46.102(l) research is defined as "a systematic investigation, including research development, testing and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge."
Specifically, for the purposes of this guidance, the requirement for IRB review of such activities hinges upon whether:
a) The activity involves a prospective research plan which incorporates data collection, including qualitative data, and data analysis to answer a research question; ANDGeneral principles for evaluating whether Oral History type activities require IRB review:
b) The activity is designed to draw general conclusions (i.e., knowledge gained from a study may be applied to populations outside of the specific study population), inform policy, or generalize findings.
1. Oral history activities, such as open-ended interviews, that ONLY document a specific historical event or the experiences of individuals without intent to draw conclusions or generalize findings would NOT constitute "research" as defined by HHS regulations 45 CFR part 46.
- Example: An oral history video recording of interviews with holocaust survivors is created for viewing in the Holocaust Museum. The creation of the video tape does NOT intend to draw conclusions, inform policy, or generalize findings. The sole purpose is to create a historical record of specific personal events and experiences related to the Holocaust and provide a venue for Holocaust survivors to tell their stories.
- Example: An open ended interview of surviving Gulf War veterans to document their experiences and to draw conclusions about their experiences, inform policy, or generalize findings.
- Example: Open-ended interviews are conducted with surviving Negro League Baseball players in order to create an archive for future research. The creation of such an archive would constitute research under 45 CFR part 46 since the intent is to collect data for future research.
*This guidance document was adapted from UMassAmherst's guidance on Oral History.