Human Subjects and IRB Review

Human Subjects and IRB Review

Oral History, Human Subjects, and Institutional Review Boards

by Linda Shopes

Since at least the mid-1990s, college and university students, faculty, and staff who conduct oral history interviews have increasingly found their interviewing protocols subject to review by their local Institutional Review Board (commonly referred to as an IRB), a body charged by the federal government with protecting the rights, interests, and dignity of human research subjects – or, as some prefer, research participants. The review has generally not been a constructive process for oral historians, indeed, in many cases has been quite contentious as principles and practices developed within biomedical and behavioral frameworks have been applied to a more humanistic form of inquiry. The following sections will:

  • outline the regulatory framework and historical context for IRB review of research involving what are termed “living individuals;”
  • explain why IRBs claim authority to review oral history and suggest why they are increasingly choosing to do so;
  • identify primary difficulties oral historians face when submitting interview protocols for IRB review;
  • explain efforts to address these problems made by professional bodies including the Oral History Association; and
  • suggest what to do when facing IRB review of oral history interviewing projects.

Framework and Context: Authority to review research involving living individuals resides with the federal government, as authorized by Title II of the National Research Act of 1974 (P.L. 93-348) and codified in Title 45 (Public Welfare), Part 46 (Protection of Human Subjects) of the Code of Federal Regulations, commonly referred to as 45 CFR 46 or the Common Rule. The Office of Human Research Protections (OHRP) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) oversees implementation of 45 CFR 46; however, actual responsibility falls to local, typically campus-based IRBs. IRBs are empowered by 45 CFR 46 to approve or disapprove research protocols – or more typically, request their revision – based on their conformity to the principles and practices delineated by the regulations, as well as subsequent guidance issued by OHRP.

The result of lengthy and at times contentious deliberations within government and professional circles, 45 CFR 46 was first codified in 1981 and, in its current form, in 1991. However, its origins date to the 1960s and 1970s, with policies established first by the U.S. Public Health Service and then by the entire U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW, predecessor to HHS) requiring independent review of research involving human subjects funded by these agencies. More broadly, concern for the welfare of human subjects of research was provoked, on the one hand, by the explosion of government funded medical research in the years after World War II; and on the other, by outrage at the violation of human rights demonstrated by certain medical experiments, including Nazi doctors’ experiments on Holocaust victims and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study.1

Three ethical principles underlie 45 CFR 46, each codified in procedures to ensure adherence to the principle. These were first articulated in The Belmont Report, issued in 1979 by the federally mandated National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, which was charged with identifying the ethical principles underlying the conduct of research involving living human beings. These principles are:

  • a respect for persons as autonomous individuals capable of making decisions about their own behavior, or, in the case of individuals with “diminished autonomy,” as needing specific protections, codified in 45 CFR 46 as procedures for securing informed consent from research subjects;
  • beneficence, or the obligation to minimize harm and maximize benefits to research subjects, codified as a directive to assess and balance risks and benefits of research;
  • and justice, or the equitable selection of research subjects, codified as terms for selection of subjects.

Oral History: The Common Rule defines “research” as “a systematic investigation, including research development, testing and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge;” and “human subject” as “a living individual about whom an investigator (whether professional or student) conducting research obtains (1) data through intervention or interaction with the individual, or (2) identifiable private information” (46.102[d] and [f]). Most IRBs – and oral historians – assume that oral history interviewing is “research” (even though it doesn’t exactly fit the above definition) and because it involves “interaction,” further defined as “communication or interpersonal contact between investigator and subject (46.102 [f]),” that it is subject to IRB review.
However, 45 CFR 46 also exempts most oral history from regulatory oversight. The regulations state that “research involving . . . interview procedures . . . [is exempt from this policy] unless (i) information obtained is recorded in such a manner that human subjects can be identified directly or through identifiers linked to the subjects and [this “and” is all important] (ii) disclosure of the human subjects’ responses outside the research could reasonably place the subjects at risk of criminal or civil liability, or be damaging to the subjects’ financial standing, employability, or reputation” ( 46.101 [b] [2]). In other words, while most oral history narrators can be identified if by no other means than their recorded voice, most do not reveal information that could “reasonably place [them] at risk.” However, following advice issued by OHRP in 1995, the IRB – not the researcher – determines exemption, so we find ourselves in the position of submitting a description of our oral history research protocols to an IRB in order to apply for an exemption from applying to the IRB.

Oral history’s relationship to IRB review is further complicated by the fact that in 1998 ORHP, in an effort to ease the regulatory burden increasingly imposed upon oral history – and in a perverse example of the cure being worse than the disease – issued guidance that included oral history in a list of research modes that could enjoy “expedited review,” which means that the full IRB does not need to review a research proposal, that review can be delegated to one or more members of the Board. “Exempt” or “expedited”? – a contradiction that OHRP has never clarified.

Federal and institutional policies also support IRB review of oral history. The Common Rule itself applies only to research funded by the seventeen federal agencies that subscribe to its terms – and notably, the National Endowment for the Humanities, which is the federal agency most likely to support research in history and other humanities fields, is not among them. In fact, however, most universities and research centers that receive funding from any of these seventeen agencies – and very few do not – apply the terms of 45 CFR 46 to all research conducted within or sponsored by the institution, whether or not the research receives funding from one of these agencies, or is funded at all. For it is in an institution’s self-interest to apply the same oversight to all research conducted within the institution. The regulations themselves also require assurance that ethical safeguards are in place for all human subjects research conducted within an institution for that institution to be eligible for funds from any of the seventeen agencies subscribing to the Common Rule. Most institutions simply choose to extend the terms of the Common Rule – and hence IRB review – to all such research.

Yet another reason for the extension of IRB review to oral history interviewing is what some have termed “mission creep.” Within the last several years, egregious violations of requirements for human subjects review in biomedical research have led to the suspension of all human subjects research at several major institutions. Simultaneously, colleges and universities have become increasingly fearful of litigation or bad press over dangerous or controversial research. As a result, IRBs, already risk-averse bodies, have tended to become hyper-vigilant, extending review to forms of minimal risk research in the social sciences and humanities that previously had escaped their purview. Arguably, oral history’s increasing visibility and acceptance within the academy during this same period have also served to bring it to the attention of local IRBs.

Difficulties: Not surprisingly given the abuses that formed the context within which 45 CFR 46 was developed, the regulations assume a scientific, largely biomedical, model of research. While the social sciences have always been included within the regulatory embrace, their inclusion has been disputed by critics among both policy makers and scholars since the 1960s. The lack of fit between the epistemologies of various social science disciplines and the terms of regulation has never been given due consideration. Psychology is the discipline that has most concerned regulators and with which they are most familiar; history – and the humanities in general – have been a “foreign language.”2 As a result, IRB review of oral history is an awkward and at times contentious affair.

The problems oral historians confront cluster in two areas: 1.) the potential an interview might have for inflicting psychological harm on the narrator within the interview; and 2.) maintaining narrator privacy in any subsequent use of the interview. Concern about psychological harm derives rather awkwardly from that section of the Common Rule that defines minimal risk as the “harm or discomfort . . . encountered . . . during the performance of routine physical or psychological examinations or tests” (46.102 [i]). The Guidebook issued by OHRP explicates the notion of psychological harm, stating that “stress and feelings of guilt or embarrassment may arise simply from thinking or talking about one’s own behavior or attitudes on sensitive topics.” In fact, the assumption that harm can result from talking about sensitive topics is contradicted by both anecdotal and more scientific evidence, which suggests that talking about even the most difficult of subjects is generally not perceived as harmful but indeed as having a salutary effect.3 And insofar as oral history narrators freely agree to be interviewed about past experiences (one area in which oral historians and IRBs do agree is the need for informed consent!), it seems patronizing to assume they need to be protected from talking about those experiences, that they cannot decide which experiences, including traumatic experiences, they wish to talk about and which they do not.

Still, concerns about psychological harm have led some IRBs to require oral historians to submit lists of interview questions for review, advise against or prevent them from asking questions about potentially sensitive subjects, and require interviewers who do ask potentially sensitive questions to make referrals to counseling services available to narrators at the conclusion of the interview. These proscriptions make little sense to oral historians: our inquiries are open-ended dialogues that cannot be confined to a prescripted set of questions and we do not always know in advance if an inquiry will enter into a sensitive area – or what might even be a sensitive area for any given narrator. Our practice often requires a series of ethically sensitive decisions within the context of a specific interview relationship.4 The Oral History Association’s Evaluation Guidelines, which codifies the fundamental principles of oral history, provides more appropriate guidance, stating that interviewers “should encourage interviewees . . . to address issues that reflect their concerns” and “must respect the rights of interviewees to refuse to discuss certain subjects,” and “clearly explain [this option] to all interviewees.”

The second area of concern, privacy, also arises from language in the Common Rule, which does not exempt – and hence raises concern about – interviews for which “disclosure of the human subjects’ responses outside the research could reasonably place the subjects at risk of criminal or civil liability, or be damaging to the subjects’ financial standing, employability, or reputation” ( 46.101 [b] [2]). In an effort to protect narrators from such potential risk or damage, IRBs frequently require that they remain anonymous; and that researchers either retain completed interviews in their possession or, preferably, destroy them after the research is completed. For those who come to oral history via anthropology or sociology, maintaining confidentiality of sources is quite compatible with normal disciplinary practice. Yet requiring anonymity violates a fundamental principle of oral history. For historians, anonymous sources lack credibility – knowing the identity of a narrator allows the historian to gauge that person’s relationship to the topic at hand and hence assess the perspective from which he speaks. While OHA’s Evaluation Guidelines do allow interviewees to choose anonymity “under extreme circumstances,” when failure to do so could have adverse consequences, the operating assumption is for narrators to be identified and most, in fact, choose to be. Typically, narrators are proud of having contributed their story to the permanent record and wish to be associated with it.

Furthermore, historians neither keep to themselves nor destroy evidence but rather are enjoined by their own disciplinary ethics to provide open access to sources, so that others can evaluate and build upon their scholarship. Oral history is fundamentally an archival practice, defined by the assumption that interviews are conducted for the permanent record and are to be made publicly available. Again to cite the Evaluation Guidelines: “With the permission of interviewees, interviewers should arrange to deposit their interviews in an archival repository that is capable of both preserving the interviews and eventually making them available for general use.”

For all matters of privacy, “with the permission of interviewees” is the operative phrase within oral history, not the terms of 45 CFR 46: Because oral history interviews are a copyrightable document, owned by the narrator, he or she must sign over – to either an individual researcher or a public archive – rights to the interview via a legal release form. Without this, no one, including the interviewer, can legally use the interview. This release allows the narrator to define the terms with which the interview can be used, including if he/she wishes to remain anonymous or restrict access to the interview for a period of years. The Evaluation Guidelines also recognize the potential for exploitation in oral history, if not “risk of criminal or civil liability,” or damage to a narrator’s “financial standing, employability, or reputation.” They state that “interviewers should guard against possible exploitation of interviewees and be sensitive to the ways in which their interviews might be used;” and “should be sensitive to the communities from which they have collected oral histories, taking care not to reinforce thoughtless stereotypes or to bring undue notoriety to them.” In fact, these principles are more expansive – and more appropriate to oral history – than the terms of 45 CFR 46.

Still, it must also be said that for historians, a deep disjunction exists between the Common Rule’s concern for privacy and the canons of historical inquiry. At times information in an interview, if made public, can indeed place a person at risk of criminal or civil liability, or be damaging to his financial standing, employability, or reputation. Yet historians’ deepest responsibility is to follow the evidence where it leads, to discern and make sense of the past in all its complexity; not necessarily to protect individuals from their past actions. The American Historical Association’s (AHA) “Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct” puts it this way: “Professional integrity in the practice of history requires awareness of one’s own biases and a readiness to follow sound method and analysis wherever they may lead” (bold face in the original). And the OHA Guidelines suggest a similarly critical approach, calling on both interviewees and interviewers to “mutually strive to record candid information of lasting value” and enjoining interviewers to “strive to prompt informative dialogue through challenging and perceptive inquiry.” In this we are akin to journalists and unlike medical professionals, who are indeed enjoined to do no harm.

Historians are not alone in their concern that 45 CFR 46 can be used to constrain critical inquiry. Legal scholar Philip Hamburger has argued that insofar as it requires researchers to get permission to conduct research, 45 CFR 46 violates First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and the press.5 In a 2006 report, “Research on Human Subjects: Academic Freedom and the Institutional Review Board,” the American Association of University Professors recommends that “research on autonomous adults whose methodology consists entirely in collecting data by surveys, conducting interviews, or observing behavior in public places, be exempt from the requirement of IRB review—straightforwardly exempt, with no provisos, and no requirement of IRB approval of the exemption.”6 The Illinois White Paper, “Improving the System for Protecting Human Subjects: Counteracting IRB ‘Mission Creep’“, produced by the Center for Advanced Study at the University of Illinois, concludes that “most journalism and oral history cannot be appropriately reviewed under the Common Rule.”

Efforts to Address the Problems: Responding to increasing concerns about the lack of congruence between the terms of Common Rule and the practice of oral history, in 2003 the OHA and AHA, after a series of discussions, secured the Office of Human Research Protections’ concurrence with a policy statement that excluded most oral history interviewing from IRB review on the grounds that it does not conform to the regulatory definition of research as seeking “generalizable knowledge,” that is to say historians “do not reach for generalizable principles of historical or social development; nor do they seek underlying principles or laws of nature that have predictive value and can be applied to other circumstances for the purpose of controlling outcomes.”

Some IRBs, however, questioned this policy and subsequent commentary from OHRP, developed in response to inquiries from the University of California Los Angeles IRB, refined its concurrence with a policy of exclusion by attempting to distinguish between interviews that are not intended “to draw conclusions, inform policy, or generalize findings” and hence are not subject to IRB review, and those that are so intended and hence are subject to review, including “creat[ion of an] archives for the purpose of providing a resource for others to do research.” To complicate matters even more, in response to further questions raised by OHA and AHA, OHRP also affirmed its original policy statement.7 If this sounds contradictory, it is: Oral history’s status vis-à-vis 45 CFR 46 and hence its relationship to IRB review remains unresolved at the federal level.8 Meanwhile, a few IRBs have attempted to address apparently contradictory advice from OHRP and adopted reasonable policies regarding IRB review of oral history.9 Others exclude interviews conducted for classroom assignments, if they are not made public beyond the classroom, on the grounds that they are pedagogy, not research. Most IRBs, however, which have considerable decision-making autonomy, continue to require review of oral history without parsing OHRP’s statements and without considered attention either to ways oral history differs from biomedical or social science research or to historians’ concerns. The AHA continues to monitor the situation and responds on behalf of all historians to requests by OHRP for public comment on various proposed policy changes.10

What To Do: Some oral historians, it must be said, are supportive – or at least tolerant – of IRB review and willingly submit interview protocols. Others, with less vigilant IRBs, simply fly below the regulatory radar. And some researchers have insisted that the regulations do not, or should not, apply to them and have refused compliance with apparently no adverse consequence.11 Still, while a tenured professor might ignore or refuse compliance with impunity, this may not be an acceptable course of action for many and is especially ill advised for graduate students, whose dissertations can – indeed have – been held up at the administrative level for failure to comply with IRB review.

So, for a college or university affiliated student, scholar, or staff member confronting IRB review for a forthcoming oral history project, the following might be a reasonable course of action:

  1. Inform yourself of the federal regulations governing research on human subjects, the context within which they were developed, and recent critiques of human subjects review in the humanities and social sciences.
  2. Seek allies within your department or relevant administrative unit as you develop an approach to the IRB.
  3. Take a proactive approach with the IRB, informing it of the principles and practices governing history in general and oral history in particular and insisting that it conform to the federal requirement that an IRB include or consult with individuals who can knowledgeably review any proposed research, in this case an individual with adequate knowledge of oral history.12  Oral historians might also consider cooperating with the IRB to develop a review policy appropriate to oral history, one that might include, as some have suggested, departmental review of oral history research projects with some minimal reporting to the IRB (see footnote 9).
  4. Provide a forum for discussing “real ethics” in oral history.  One of the consequences of criticizing human subjects regulations is the imputation of ethical insensitivity or arrogance.  Yet there is a deep ethical narrative in oral history and numerous examples of the sorts of ethical dilemmas oral historians have faced in practice.  These dilemmas cannot be resolved by the formulaic proscriptions of the Common Rule but rather by the informed judgment of the interviewer, operating within the context of a specific interview relationship.  Educating students, faculty, and staff in these real ethics would serve everyone well.13

After more than a decade of largely ineffective advocacy vis-à-vis OHRP and its predecessor, oral historians are not likely to gain many concessions from federal regulators.  If we must live within a regulatory system that is, at best, incongruent with our ways of working, perhaps the best we can do is work within our individual institutions to develop a measure of mutual accommodation.  To date that has proven to be the only available recourse.

For more information see the Bibliography: Human Subjects and Institutional Review Boards prepared by Linda Shopes.

This material revises and expands upon Linda Shopes, “Negotiating Institutional Review Boards,” AHA Perspectives Online 45:3 (March 2007); available at  We are grateful to the American Historical Association for permission to reprise portions of that article.  The author also gratefully acknowledges Charles Hardy, Marjorie McLellan, Donald Ritchie, and Robert Townsend for reading and commenting upon a draft of this article.

  1. A useful summary of the history of regulations governing research on human subjects is Constance F. Citro, Daniel R. Ilgen, and Cara B. Marrett, eds., Protecting Participants and Facilitating Social and Behavioral Research (Washington, D.C: National Academies Press, 2003), especially chapter 3, “ Regulatory History.” In addition to Nazi experiments and the Tuskegee Study, also influential in raising contemporary awareness about ethically suspect biomedical research on humans was Harvard University professor Henry K. Beecher, M.D.’s article, “Ethics and Clinical Research,” appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine 274:24 (June 1966): 154-60, which identified twenty-two experiments involving ethically questionable methods.
  2. On the contentious history of human subjects regulation of research in nonbiomedical fields, see Zachary Schrag, “How Talking Became Human Subjects Research: The Federal Regulation of the Social Sciences, 1965-1991, The Journal of Policy History 21:1 (2009): 1-35; available at
  3. See, for example, Kari Dyregrov, Atle Dyregov, and Magne Raundalen, “Refugee Families’ Experience of Research Participation,” Journal of Traumatic Stress, 12:3 (2000), pp. 413-426; Elana Newman, Edward A. Walker, and Anne Gefland, “Assessing the Ethical Costs and Benefits of Trauma-Focused Research,” General Hospital Psychiatry 21 (1999), pp. 197-196; and Edward A. Walker, Elana Newman, Mary Koss, and David Bernstein, “Does the Study of Victimization Revictimize the Victims?” General Hospital Psychiatry 19 (1997), pp. 403-410.
  4. For a thoughtful discussion of the complexity of ethically sensitive decisions in oral history, the way they cannot be scripted in advance but evolve over the course of an interviewing project – and in ways that may vary from narrator to narrator – see Roberta S. Gould, “None of Anybody’s Goddamned Business?: Oral History and the Communist Past,” Institutional Review Blog, posted September 29, 2007;
  5. Philip Hamburger, “The New Censorship: Institutional Review Boards,” The Supreme Court Review (2005), 271-354. For a broader critical assessment, see C. K. Gunsalus, “The Nanny State Meets the Inner Lawyer: Overregulating While Underprotecting Human Participants in Research,” Ethics and Behavior 14:4 (2004), pp. 369-382.
  6. The AAUP report also recommends that academic institutions take advantage of that part of 45 CFR 46 that allows them to subject its terms only to research supported by the seventeen federal agencies that have accepted its terms; and that, in lieu of subjecting all research involving human subjects to IRB review in order to be eligible for federal funding for any research, it submit “a statement of principles governing the institution in the discharge of its responsibilities for protecting the rights and welfare of human subjects of research conducted at or sponsored by the institution . . . . This may include an appropriate existing code, declaration, or statement of ethical principles, or a statement formulated by the institution itself” (45.103(b)(1). As reported in Zachary Scharag’s Institutional Review Blog, law professor Malcom Feeley has noted that some universities have, in fact, implemented this recommendation
  7. After a January 7, 2004, conference call with Donald Ritchie and Linda Shopes, who negotiated the original policy statement with OHRP, Michael Carome, M.D., associate director for regulatory affairs at OHRP, wrote the following in an email message to Ritchie and Shopes, dated January 8, 2004: “To summarize from OHRP’s perspective, OHRP yesterday reaffirmed its concurrence with your policy statement that oral history interviewing activities, in general, are not designed to contribute to generalizable knowledge and therefore do not involve research as defined by Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulations at 45 CFR 46.102(d) and do not need to be reviewed by an institutional review board (IRB). OHRP has tried consistently to confirm this concurrence whenever it received inquiries about this matter from representatives of IRBs or other institutional officials.”
  8. For a discussion of the current status of the policy statement and AHA’s position on the matter, see Robert Townsend and Meriam Belli, “Oral History and IRBs: Caution Urged as Rule Interpretations Vary Widely, Perspectives, 42:9 (December 2004); available at
  9. Amherst College’s IRB accepts OHRP’s original concurrence with a policy of exclusion and states that “the treatment of participants in oral history projects must conform to the standards of the Oral History Association and/or other professional organizations in the field.” Columbia University’s IRB excludes most oral history from IRB review based on the OHRP’s original concurrence with a policy of exclusion; it does require review of oral history research that seeks “generalizable knowledge,” per 45 CFR 46 and OHRP’s subsequent commentary, but develops a more refined explication than OHRP of what kind of oral history contributes to “generalizable knowledge,” what kind does not. University of Missouri-Kansas City’s IRB has adopted an exceptionally thoughtful policy that, while not completely excluding oral history from IRB review, promotes best practices as codified by OHA’s Guidelines; allows the individual researcher in consultation with knowledgeable peers to determine whether or not his research project can be excluded or exempted from IRB review; understands that “in keeping with the public role of an historian in a democratic society . . . oral historians are expected to ask tough questions in their interrogation of the past” and that “an historian is also responsible to a wider public to recover a shared past ‘as it really happened’;” makes distinctions between what does and does not conform to the regulatory definition of research in terms that understand the nature of historical research; and conducts regular educational programs for researchers specific to oral history. The University of Michigan’s IRB further explicates OHRP directives about what kind of oral history does and does not contribute to generalizable knowledge and states that “interviews with sources (knowledgeable people) to supplement written documents and artifacts in attempting to preserve information about past events so long as: (i) they focus exclusively on past events; (ii) they are conducted to understand or explain a particular past or unique event in history; and (iii) the anonymity of the narrators is not preserved” do not require submission to IRB. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s IRB essentially accepts Columbia University’s policy. Many thanks to Zachary Schrag for compiling this information.
  10. Robert Townsend, with Carl Ashley, Mériam Belli, Richard E. Bond, and Elizabeth Fairhead, “Oral History and Review Boards: Little Gain and More Pain,” Perspectives 44:2 (February 2006); available at For AHA’s responses to OHRP’s recent calls for public comments on key issues, see “AHA Statement on IRBs and Oral History Research,” at; and Robert B. Townsend, “Training, Discernment, and Oral History,” AHA Today (Sept. 29, 2008), at
  11. For a discussion of why one oral historian refused to seek IRB approval for her interviewing project on the grounds that refusal was the ethical course of action, see Alice Dreger, “The Vulnerable Researcher and the IRB,” Bioethics Forum, posted October 3, 2008;
  12. Paragraph 46.107 (a) of 45 CFR 46 states that “[e]ach IRB shall have at least five members, with varying backgrounds to promote complete and adequate review of research activities commonly conducted by the institution.” Elsewhere in this paragraph, it refers to IRBs as needing to “[possess] the professional competence necessary to review specific research activities.” Oral historian Donald Ritchie has suggested that “professional competence” for oral history might appropriately be defined as having read an oral history manual, taken an oral history course, and conducted an oral history interview.
  13. For a thoughtful discussion of ethics in oral history interviewing, see, for example, Kathleen Blee, “Evidence, Empathy, and Ethics: Lessons from Oral Histories of the Klan, Journal of American History 80:2 (September 1984): 596-606; Tracy E. K’Meyer and A. Glenn Crothers, “’If I See Some of This in Writing, I’m Going to Shoot You’: Reluctant Narrators, Taboo Topics, and the Ethical Dilemmas of the Oral Historian,” Oral History Review 34 (2007): 71-93; Alessandro Portelli, “Tryin’ To Gather a Little Knowledge: Some Thoughts on the Ethics of Oral History,” in The Battle of Valle Giulia (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1997), 55-71; Linda Shopes, “Legal and Ethical Issues in Oral History,” in Handbook of Oral History, ed. Thomas L. Charlton, Lois E. Myers, and Rebecca Sharpless, 135-169 (Lanham, Md.: AltaMira Press, 2006); and Valerie Yow, “’Do I Like Them Too Much’: Effects of the Oral History Interview on the Interviewer and Vice-Versa,” Oral History Review 24:1 (Summer 1997): 55-79. On the need for ethical training appropriate to oral history, see Zachary Schrag, “Ethical Training for Oral Historians,” AHA Perspectives Online 45:3 (March 2007); available at

For more information see the Bibliography: Human Subjects and Institutional Review Boards prepared by Linda Shopes.

Citation for Article


Shopes, L. (2012). Human subjects and IRB review. In D. Boyd, S. Cohen, B. Rakerd, & D. Rehberger (Eds.), Oral history in the digital age. Institute of Library and Museum Services. Retrieved from


Shopes, Linda. “Human Subjects and IRB Review,” in Oral History in the Digital Age, edited by Doug Boyd, Steve Cohen, Brad Rakerd, and Dean Rehberger. Washington, D.C.: Institute of Museum and Library Services, 2012,


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