The FDA Oral History Program
This project has produced scores of cumulatively indexed interviews; transcripts are available at the NLM; many also are available at Emory University. The former also has the interview tapes. Individuals interviewed represent a broad spectrum of the agency's activities. Included are oral histories with former FDA Commissioners, scientists, executive officers, early inspectors and analysts, public information and consumer information officers, and many others. The interviews of James Harvey Young and his students, which are included in the cumulative index, include Morris Fishbein, former editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, Robert Fischelis, former Secretary of the American Pharmaceutical Association, and Rexford Tugwell, Under Secretary of the Department of Agriculture during the New Deal.
The oral histories have had wide use within and outside of the agency. The interviews have served as the basis for briefing reports for virtually all centers and offices in the FDA. They are frequently consulted by historians and others interested in the development of FDA and its functions. In addition, they have been an important reference for new hire training of investigators, analysts, consumer affairs officers, and others.
The success of this program has been due largely to the involvement of experienced employees, people who have spent their entire careers in various program areas of the Food and Drug Administration. By applying their collective experience in the selection of those to be interviewed, these former employees have ensured that the oral histories reflect the depth and breadth of FDA's regulatory and scientific experience.
While professional historians on staff and outside the agency can and do provide some questions, the interviews have a special interest, accuracy, and flow because they take place between like-minded colleagues. No matter how uninhibited the interviewee may be, the success of an oral history--and thus the success of an oral history program--depends on the ability of the interviewer to push the session in the direction most likely to fill in the gaps in our understanding of FDA history.