In a recent issue of History of Education, 37(5), Angela Davis examines the post-Depression debates regarding the proper behaviour of mothers and, more specifically, the preparation of young girls to take on that role.
This article investigates how girls were educated about sex, pregnancy and childbirth during the years 1930 to 1970. Based on the results of 92 oral-history interviews with Oxfordshire women, it explores how national debates surrounding sex education influenced what girls in Oxfordshire were taught. In addition, it examines how successful the women themselves thought this education had been in equipping them for maternity and whether they believed women could indeed be educated for motherhood.
The result is a fascinating look at the contexts in which many of the contemporary theories of mothering have emerged. (Related readings are provided below the fold.) Continue reading Preparing girls for motherhood, c.1930-1970
In the latest issue of The Oral History Review, 35(2), an essay by Peter Monteath (pictured right) examines the contributions to be made by oral histories. In this case, he uses the method to better understand the experiences of those categorized by the Nazis as “mixed race” (der Mischlinge).
It argues that oral history provides an invaluable supplement to the written, official record. The latter is by its nature a view “from above” and from the perpetrators; it generally excludes the perspective of the victims of Nazi racial policy. Moreover, as an overview of the treatment of Mischlinge demonstrates, there were stark discrepancies between policy and practice which are difficult to comprehend on the basis of the written record alone, but which are well exemplified through a study of individual experiences. The paper uses several examples of such experiences collected from three separate video testimony repositories to analyze the nature of those experiences, detecting discrepancies between official policy and practice and observing the considerable variations in the nature and harshness of those experiences. Finally, the oral history record is found to be invaluable in tracing some of the longer-term consequences of the Third Reich for surviving Mischlinge, especially in terms of their constructions of identity and the ways in which, for the period after the Second World War, they dealt with the ascribed identities which had so heavily impacted them in their early years.
Monteath’s essay provides important insights into the value of oral histories for “getting below” the official narrative. Indeed, it is clear from his discussion that the method would be most effective when re-examining contexts where power imbalances might have skewed the reported history. (If you know of other exemplary uses of the oral history method, please add them as resources below.)
In the latest issue of The Sociological Quarterly, 49(2), Raymond M. Lee examines a thread in the history of interviewing.
For a decade beginning in the late 1940s, David Riesman, with a variety of collaborators, produced a sustained body of work on the methodology of the interview. This article looks at Riesman’s writing on the interview. It explores the relationship between this work and Riesman’s initial development as a sociologist, examines how he and his collaborators viewed the interview as a method, and assesses the relevance of Riesman’s work to contemporary understandings of the interview as a research method.
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The American Historical Association has formally requested a government agency to exempt oral history from the oversight of Institutional Research Boards (IRBs). The Boards, which are informally known as “ethics committees,” oversee scientific research to ensure that live participants are protected from abuse, but their reach has never been extended to humanities research. According to a recent proposal by the Office for Human Research Protections, however, oral history would become subject to “expedited review.” According to an article in Inside Higher Ed: Continue reading American Historican Association Defends Oral History
Traditionally, the work of historians has been exempt from oversight by Institutional Review Boards (IRBs), which examine and approve (or not) scientific research on the basis of guidelines for the ethical treatment of the research participants. The justifications for exempting history have been (1) the IRB mandate does not extend to the humanities and (2) there are typically no living participants in historical research (as there often are in, say, medicine or psychology). The one gray area has been oral history, in which living people are interviewed about their own lives. In 2003 the US government’s Office of Human Research Protections officially exempted most oral history projects. That exemption is now being reconsidered and the government is asking for submissions from historians about the possible change in status. A letter on the matter from Amy Crumpton of the Archives of the American Association for the Advancement of Science was recently sent to all members of the History of Science Society. This letter is copied below in full. Continue reading Will Oral History Become Subject to IRB Oversight?