Naming Names

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    • #845
      Marina Ni Dhubháin


      I am curious about attitudes in Ireland oral history methodology regarding the topic of narrator anonymity. The best practice guide for the American Oral History society recommends that anonymity be offered only in very rare cases, as the historical value of the testimony is compromised without verification of sources. A senior oral historian in Ireland suggested to me recently however that this just won’t work in Ireland – except in the most anodyne or celebratory situations.

      So my questions are:
      1. Does the OHNI have a recommended position on this subject?
      2. Has anybody had experience of difficulties/challenges in this area?

    • #846

      Hi Marina, this is a fascinating issue, and any good discussion would take up a lot of space. Just a quick observation: at the Cork Folklore Project, we have as a very basic understanding that, whatever about naming names, we can’t ever say that we can guarantee anonymity to an interviewee, simply because their voice or stories may be recognised by anyone who knows them, and so it is impossible to guarantee anonymity. We make sure that our interviewees are happy to have their testimony archived in conjunction with their names. Archiving and dissemination are different things in the way we treat them. When we were publishing a book from material that had been generated and used the previous year to create a series of radio programmes, we contacted interviewees in the project to ask them (1) if they were happy to be included in the book, (2) if they wanted their name to be associated with their material, and (3) if ‘no’ to 2, how they would like to be referred to. One individual decided that she would prefer that her initials be used, and understood that anyone who knew her would be able to identify her. It was easy enough to follow up in this way as the project was recent. In my experience in radio, sometimes people just don’t want to be named (for a whole host of potential reasons), but this doesn’t mean that they’re not identifiable. Now that we will be creating a digital catalogue for use online, we are very much coming up against questions about the different implications for presenting people’s names in different media. All these questions have to be considered, regardless of how sensitive or not the material is. This is only a partial answer, and addresses only part of your query, but it might help further the conversation.

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