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Special Collections & University Archives: Oral History Documentation & Forms

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Oral History Documentation

There are two important legal and ethical issues impacting oral history interviews which require written and verbal documentation: copyright and informed consent.



Copyright is related to who owns the rights to the interview. The narrator (interviewee) is by default the legal copyright holder of the interviewer. Therefore, a written statement is required to transfer the copyright to the interviewer or the institution. The transfer of copyright, or Deed of Gift, is essential if the oral history will be used for research, publication, and/or presentation.


Informed Consent

Informed consent is designed to protect the autonomy and privacy of interview participants (narrator and interviewer). Therefore, the interviewer must inform the narrator of the oral history interview terms prior to recording the oral history. This includes explaining and answering questions related to 1) how the interview will be recorded, 2) how the interview will be used, 3) where the interview will be archived, 4) who will have access to the interview, and 5) what the narrator's rights are regarding the recorded interview. Best practice would be to verbally record the interviewer informed consent terms and the narrator's agreement at the outset of the oral history interview.

Oral History Interview Forms

Two forms are required for oral history interview written and verbal documentation 1) Informed Consent, and 2) Deed of Gift. In addition to signing the forms, best practice states that the terms of both forms be recorded as they are read aloud and agreed to by the interviewer and narrator.

Therefore, it is critical that both participants (interviewer and narrator) read and understand the forms prior to recording the interview in order to address concerns and answer any questions ahead of time.

Additional Considerations

The Oral History Association Best Practices Glossary also outlines additional considerations and principles relating to personal autonomy and privacy during oral history interviews. 

Anonymity/Anonymous: "While a narrator may choose to have their name disassociated from any interview, or choose to utilize a pseudonym, there can be no guarantees towards absolute anonymity in the oral history process."

Confidential: "Confidential information is not necessarily anonymous, but it is protected to the best of the oral historian’s ability."

Privacy: "Anyone preserving oral history and making it accessible in any format (that is, unfettered online or in-person access) needs to be aware that data privacy standards have changed in the recent past."

Restrictions: "To enforce specific interviewee/donor requirements such as restriction for period of time before public access to the interview is granted, or online vs. physical access to the interview, the repository needs to have transparent collections management policies and procedures in place."

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