Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Those Noisy Voices from the Grave

This afternoon I had the pleasure of speaking on the Kojo Nnamdi Show about the Belfast Project (a.k.a. Boston College’s Oral History Archive on the Troubles in Northern Ireland) and its impact on oral history. I didn't have a lot of time, but I tried to make the case for a shield law, analogous to the protections provided to health research and DOJ-sponsored criminal justice research.

[“Old Wounds & Oral History: The Aftermath of the Belfast Project,” Kojo Nnamdi Show, July 7, 2014.]

While I'm on the subject, it has been more than three years since the U.S. Attorney's office filed a subpoena for two tapes that were recorded as part of the project. The Boston College Subpoena News (which is published anonymously but presents things from the perspective of researchers Anthony McIntyre and Ed Moloney) remains the best source for links to news reports and opinion pieces about the case. But here are some recent items of note.
  • Cullen, Kevin. “In Belfast, The Shadows and the Gunmen," Boston Globe, July 6, 2014.

    Cullen, who joined the Kojo show via telephone, explores the fallout from the case in Northern Ireland, where former IRA members and loyalists fear being arrested or shot.

  • Zittrain, Jonathan. “BC’s Belfast Project: Archives Are in Danger, but Technology Can Help,” Boston Globe, June 8, 2014. h/t Rebecca Tushnet.

    Proposes encryption methods to put interview recording and transcripts beyond the reach of subpoena.

    Are we stuck with either having to destroy our secrets or leave them exposed to near-instant disclosure? It might be possible to split the difference: to develop an ecosystem of contingent cryptography for libraries, companies, governments, and citizens. Instead of using new technologies to preserve for ready discovery material that might in the past never have been stored, or deleting everything as soon as possible, we can develop systems that place sensitive information beyond reach until a specified amount of time has passed, or other conditions are met.
  • Marcus, Jon. “Oral History: Where next after the Belfast Project?Times Higher Education, 5 June 2014. h/t Rob Townsend.

    Suggests that oral historians and archivists may end up doing their job better.

    “There have been a lot of things written with headlines like, ‘This is the end for oral history’,” says Cliff Kuhn, associate professor of history at Georgia State University and executive director of the Oral History Association. “I do think the Boston College case afforded something of a wake-up call. I’m sure there are a number of repositories that have re-examined their protocols to make sure things are tighter. And that’s a good thing.”

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