Live webcast on the Boston College oral histories controversy

Today’s post is from Beth Kaplan, SAA Council liaison to the Oral History Section, about a special event they’re hosting  this Wednesday, July 17, 2013 @ 2pm Eastern time. I’ll be really interested in how this goes, since SAA’s Council has encouraged discussion across the archival community about the issues raised by the controversy surrounding the Boston College oral histories with former members of the Irish Republican Army. -Jackie

Sometimes when terrible or troubling things happen in the world, we archivists can feel powerless to respond in any meaningful way. Other times, if the stars align, we can seize the opportunity and use our professional expertise in creative ways to both enhance the discourse and suggest long-lasting implications for archival practice.

SAA’s Oral History Section does just that this coming week.  “Lessons Learned from Boston College and the Belfast Case” will be a live web chat hosted by the Oral History Section, featuring guest panelists Clifford Kuhn and Elena Danielson. More information and login instructions are here.

Some background:

Many archivists and historians have been following the Belfast Case, which involves a group of oral history interviews with Irish paramilitarists during the Troubles that were created at and are housed at Boston College. The UK government requested access to some of the transcripts, and the US Justice Department then issued a subpoena to Boston College.

The case has sent ripples through the international heritage and human rights communities, and archivists, historians, and their professional organizations have responded in varying ways. SAA Council declined to take a position but urged archivists to use the opportunity for education and outreach around the thorny archival issues it raises, particularly the concept of “archival privilege.”

The Oral History Section’s steering committee has done a model job of this. If you are interested in learning more about the case and responses to it, the best place to start is on the OHS microsite, with “Archives, Oral History, and the Belfast Case: A Re-focused Discussion,” where the Steering committee has posted a list of thoughtfully selected and richly annotated links to resources that provide the facts of the case, as well as a range of perspectives on it.  SAA members were invited to log in and comment.

This week’s live chat builds on that strength, intentionally reaching beyond SAA’s borders to draw in colleagues from related professions, and continuing to reinforce the growing relationship between SAA and the Oral History Association via the Oral History Section. Members of the steering committee will moderate the session. They intend it to be a venue for conversation about professional implications both on and off the job, as well as to explore differing viewpoints regarding “taking action” around legal cases.

For those not able to attend, a transcript will be posted on the OHS website after the event.

One response to “Live webcast on the Boston College oral histories controversy

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