To the Editor:
As a practicing oral historian, I am writing to express my concern at Ms. Kayyem’s characterization of the Belfast Project (“BC casethrows cold water on IRA, academia,” 7/12/2012) as “inconsistent with … oral-history standards.” Best practices in the field demand that all interviewees be fully informed, and sign a use agreement, prior to the oral history interview. The Oral History Association’s Principles and Standards state that “interviews should remain confidential until interviewees have given permission for their use,” that interviewees have the right to seal portions of their interviews, and that sponsoring institutions and archives have the responsibility to honor the agreements made and documented between interviewer and interviewee.
While it is possible to make a legal argument both for and against respecting the confidentiality agreements the Belfast Project interviewers made with those whom they interviewed, those agreements were not “inconsistent” with oral historical best practices. Rather, they followed the guidelines set out by professionals in the field.
Anna J. Cook, M.A., M.L.S.