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Ethical issues in archiving oral histories and research interviews

Ethical issues are now key in any archival project, and especially so in oral history projects with living participants, conducted as part of a university-based research project.

Yet when I originally carried out these interviews, mainly in 1996, consent forms were not yet standard practice in research, however I was lucky to have been advised to get signed consent forms, and luckier still that somehow I had a long term view of the interviews and how they might be used.

The participants who provided oral histories for the research project during the 1990s allowed interviews to be (audio) recorded and signed consent forms about how they could be used. The consent forms included permission to ‘broadcast’ interviews: ‘I agree that the contents of the interview may be used throughout Niamh Moore's research, in her thesis, teaching, in any ensuing presentations, publications or broadcasts.’ Realistically at the time, radio broadcasts or similar were in mind, but since then developments in internet technology have enabled new ways of broadcasting research.

So much has changed in ‘broadcasting’ since the 1990s which  required the Clayoquot Lives team to pay new attention and care to ethical issues. For this reason, in addition to abiding by the conditions of the original consent forms, and any modifications of these (the use of pseudonyms, for example), the team took various steps in preparing the materials for online publication.

We took advice from expert staff at the University of Edinburgh on ethics, consent and archiving.

We submitted the archival project to the University of Edinburgh ethical review process and successfuly gained ethical approval.

We redacted a small amount of material which included (i) material that participants had asked to be redacted (ii) general conversation at the beginning or end of the interview, or digressions during the interview (iii) names of third parties mentioned which included details which may not already be in the public domain and which that person may not have wanted in the public domain including physical or mental health issues or other medical details (iv) details  of experiences of their own or others' abuse, assault or domestic violence. We also redacted the last names of any minors or children mentioned. Redacted text is marked as [redacted text]; and redactions on audio files are marked with a small bell sound.

We did not upload one interview, the only interview where the original participant had requested a pseudonym, and where it was felt that published the whole text of the interview risked identifying this person.

Finally, we contacted research participants in advance, notifying them of the launch of the archive and providing them with a two week window to view the material online and request any changes or removals before publication.

And we also instituted an ongoing ‘take down’ policy, where interviewees can contact the project at any time if they have concerns about content.

If you have any concerns about any of the material in the Clayoquot Lives archive, please contact us at clayoquotlives@ed.ac.uk.

The original consent form can be viewed below, and also viewed as a document in our archive here.

Original 1990s Consent Form by Dr Moore.pdf