Bioethics Blogs

Oral Historians as Ethical Proofreaders

Kevin Bradley and Anisa Puri of the Australian Generations Oral History Project explain that the ethical challenges they faced came after they had conducted the interviews.

[Kevin Bradley and Anisa Puri, “Creating an Oral History Archive: Digital Opportunities and Ethical Issues,” Australian Historical Studies 47, no. 1 (2016): 75–91, doi:10.1080/1031461X.2015.1122072.]

The project asked Australians from four generations “about the interactions and overlaps between generations, and the ways in which class, gender, ethnicity, race and region inflect with and cut across age and generation.” It elicited some frank responses on sensitive matters. As Bradley and Puri explain,

The Australian Generations project required a process to ensure that potentially problematic material was identified and assessed before being made publicly available, especially online. We developed a ‘traffic light system’ to manage this issue when we realised how many interviews contained sensitive material. Unlike other oral history projects undertaken by the [National Library of Australia], the Australian Generations team did not fully anticipate the extent to which narratives about domestic and sexual abuse would appear in the interviews. The project adopted the key considerations used in the Forgotten Australians project to identify problematic material: namely, whether someone would be seriously offended or hurt by what was said and whether police would take action. In assessing contentious material, the project’s attitude was shaped by the library’s preference to err on the side of access, but to consider the risk in each instance.

In particular, project staff flagged content that, if made publicly available, “might be actionable for defamation or might cause harm to some other individual.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.