New Publication: Managing danger in oral historical fieldwork

The latest issue of Oral History Review has just been published, and it includes my new article on ‘Managing Danger in Oral Historical Fieldwork.’ This article has been on my to-write list for some time now, and is informed by the fieldwork that I’ve done since 2007 in conflict-affected settings, such as post-genocide Rwanda and Bosnia, where state-level actors often regard the study of history as politically provocative. I evaluate an interdisciplinary body of literature on anticipating and managing danger in qualitative fieldwork with the specific needs of oral historians in mind. However, while the article speaks to the best practices that oral historians can apply and adapt when working in overtly dangerous settings or on potentially provocative subject matter, it’s also intended to benefit oral historians who work on low-risk projects, but nonetheless find themselves unwittingly caught up in interpersonal conflict, political upheaval, or even mass violence.

The article’s overarching purpose is to encourage oral historians to thoroughly consider the dangers to which they are exposed in the course of undertaking fieldwork in various settings, alongside the more commonly discussed dangers that research participants encounter. I argue ‘[w]e owe it to ourselves, our loved ones, and our students and colleagues to engage with the various harms to which we are exposed in the course of our research and to approach this research with an informed understanding of the potential impact it can have on us and our personal and professional relationships. Likewise, we need to continue to assess and adapt our best practices in order to mitigate these harms, if for no other reason than to allow us to engage with this difficult subject matter long-term and, we hope, with greater benefit to the people and communities with whom we work.’ This argument emerges from the realisation that as the field of oral history potentially moves away from institutional review in the United States, it is time to initiate a conversation on the full range of potential harms and worst-case scenarios that oral historians should be prepared to negotiate, regardless of the location or subject of their research, particularly as oral historical studies of political violence in its various manifestations is becoming more common.

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