The sixth virtual meeting of Iranian oral history

Methods of Compiling and Writing Oral History – 1

Compiled by: Iranian Oral History Website
Translated by: Fazel Shirzad


The 6th oral history meeting was held at the clubhouse and the historian's room on Saturday, January 15, 2021, under the direction of Dr. Mehdi Farahani Monfared and performed by Mrs. Musfa. In this meeting, Dr. Abolfazl Hassanabadi, Dr. Habibullah Esmaili, Dr. Seyed Mahmoud Sadat Bidgholi, Dr. Javad Abbasi, Dr. Mehdi Abolhasani Targhee, Ali Mohammad Zamani, Dr. Ashraf, and Dr. Nazila Khalkhali spoke about editing and compiling of oral history.

Ms. Musafa started the program as follows: We are in the sixth meeting of the series of oral history meetings, which was established with the efforts of Mr. Dr. Monfared, and with the efforts and guidance and speeches of Dr. Hassanabadi, we completed five of these meetings. For me, it was really like an educational workshop and I was able to benefit a lot. In the sixth meeting, the methods of compilation and writing of oral history will be discussed by the honored guests. We will start talking about this issue with Mr. Dr. Hassan Abadi and I would like him to speak for us about the stages of compilation and methods of writing oral history.

Before his speech, Dr. Hassanabadi introduced Dr. Seyyed Mahmoud Sadat Bidgoli and said: Dr. Sadat is a mutual friend of mine and Mr. Esmaili. He has a doctorate in local history. They worked for many years in the National Library and Documents Organization, and now they are members of the faculty of the Imam Khomeini Research Institute. They are the executive director of Ganjeneh Document magazine and are also involved in the field of oral history. They are familiar with the field of oral history and have very good reviews, especially in the field of oral history. They have also attended the conferences that have been held in the last few years and it can be said that they are among the opinionated people; especially in the field of editing and compiling, who have their own opinions, and that is why we have invited Dr. Sadat tonight.

The discussion that is going to be discussed tonight is in the field of compilation and writing in oral history. The reason is that there is a lot of discussion in the field of editing and writing. At one time in Iran, the discussion of conducting oral history, interviews, and various interview methods and interview standards was discussed a lot, and as a result, this topic is now established in oral history centers in Iran and even in non-governmental organizations and groups. The workshops that are held in this field generally discuss oral history and how to conduct interviews and standards and things like this; But we discuss the compilation, writing, and output of oral history, which is a serious issue and has been discussed a lot in the last six or seven years, at least in the Oral History Association. One of the conferences was devoted to the discussion of editing, and Mr. Ali Tatari took pains to compile its articles and published them under the title of Conference Articles in the Parliament Library.[1] But one of the challenges of all those who are raised in the field of oral history is that many topics are discussed under the compilation and writing of oral history; that is, many of the objections they take to oral history are in this field, and they take these objections to its outputs. Many of the friends who challenged the oral history debate in recent years have challenged the outputs of the oral history, not the oral history itself, and put this output at the foot of the oral history and spoke for or against the oral history.

Perhaps the most important question to be asked is whether there is a standard in the world about oral history or not? This is a serious discussion and it has been discussed a lot in the world, whether we can develop a standard in compiling oral history such as conducting oral history interviews or not? This is one of the topics that has been a serious concern even in oral history centers abroad, at least in the last ten years. The fact is that if we examine and see and pay attention to the sources that have been published in this field in the form of manuscripts in the world, it shows that there is no official view on this topic and there is no agreement anywhere in the world in this sense. There is no about it. The only book that has been published under this title, in general, is the book published in the 1990s by Mrs. "Bam"[2] under the title "Implementation and Editing in Oral History", which cannot be said to be about compilation. Rather than discussing editing, he has discussed editing and compiling in oral history.

Many institutions have their system; That is, when you look at many oral history centers and associations, you will see that under their guidelines and standards, they have dedicated a discussion to the discussion of oral history editing[3]. If we look at oral history from this point of view as an archival point of view, in general, the issue of editing in oral history and not compilation in oral history is considered by many institutions. We do not have a special field in this issue inside the country. In general, in Iran, not much work has been done in this area of oral history, except for the collection of oral history conference articles that was published under the editorship, and of course, if we check, some of them were not strong articles. I remember that at that conference that was held, we had a shortage of articles. However, in this topic, we have several main issues that can be discussed concerning it. The first question can also be raised in this way is it possible to develop a standard for compiling oral history or not?

The next questions can be: What are the factors affecting writing and editing in oral history? What factors affect the compilation and writing of oral history in Iran? What influences the form and style of the output? What are the types of editing in oral history? What are the types of output in oral history? And the next issue that will be discussed tonight is the discussion about problems of competition, what are the editing problems? And the last point in the discussion of generalities, ethics, and copyright is editing. The right for editing is a serious topic that is not given much attention in Iran.

In the discussion of the factors affecting the compilation, we have some general elements, including the discussion of organizational policies and compilation in Iran. What influence did government organizations and institutions have on the compilation in Iran? Take from the official centers of oral history to the discussion of institutions under the government, such as the foundation for preserving the works and values ​​of the holy defense, etc. How do these affect editing? What effect did these indicators have on the compilation?

Another question is what is the position of the interviewer in editing? Where is the place of the interview in editing? The next issue is the purposeful discussion in editing, what is its dignity and index, and it is one of the topics that can be discussed and talked about a lot.

The next point is the necessity of text and content in the compilation, what indicators should the compilation have? What importance and dignity should it have? Perhaps one of the most important questions that are important in editing is what stage is editing in oral history? From what stage is compilation formed in oral history? Some people like Dr. Nouraei in an article titled "Revenue on Editing" believe that editing is formed in oral history from the very beginning. It should be shaped from the beginning. Some people, including myself, believe that we cannot conduct an interview from the beginning with the intention of editing, because a lot of information that we feel is extraneous and has no informational value, may be missed because it is not related to our topic. On the other hand, some friends, including Dr. Noraei, believe that if you do not give a framework to the interview, a lot of information may be taken that may not fit into the framework of your work. This is one of the questions that we must answer tonight, at what stage in oral history and in what way does compilation begin?

The next point is the discussion of effective micro-components in editing, which includes accent and expression, such as local history and its importance in editing, like the literary approach in editing, or the research approach in editing, which is one of the main topics that are suitable for the areas we entered and now in this field we have serious discussions that we should have a literary approach or a scientific and research approach or a memoir approach?

Another point is, what is the effect of oral history being narrative or descriptive, that is, research, on the compilation?

But in the first step, we have some main problems in compiling oral history that will be discussed. The first is the discussion of documenting the content. To what extent the text should be clear and concise. An issue that Dr. Esmaili talked about in several previous meetings regarding the oral history of Iran and abroad. One of the topics was that one of the faults of these books is that they are too descriptive and too prescriptive.[4] So the point is, to what extent do we have to explain the content?

Second, to what extent do the interviewer's and the interviewee's tastes affect editing? What is the importance of this issue? The next point is, what is the difference between doing oral history and an autobiography? In many topics of oral history, these topics get mixed up, and basically, we cannot distinguish between the two and say that this is related to personal biography and this is related to oral history. Content is scrambled. Borders cannot be separated and this has a direct impact on the output of oral history.

Another thing we should talk about is where is the ethical approach to editing? To what extent are the boundaries of authority of institutions and interviewers changing the output of oral history? Is it possible to set a limit for it? To what extent do the interviewer and editor have authority in editing? As the last point, who is the editor in the interview? We should also discuss whether every interviewer can be a good editor or not? Should the editor be outside the interview? From when can the editor enter the discussion and enter the pit of interviewing and editing? Can he enter during the interview? After editing, should the work be given to the interviewee?

Next, Ms. Musfa invited Dr. Seyyed Mahmoud Sadat Bidgholi to continue the discussion.

Mr. Sadat: I wrote down what Mr. Dr. Hassanabadi said and I also have some points about his issues. Part of the topics that I raise depends on the field of practice in the oral history of Iran. There are many theoretical discussions in this field. When I criticize the oral history works of the Organization of Documents or other places, my criticism is based on the field of opinion; But when I directly enter the field of action, I see that some of the things that we propose in the field of opinion are not feasible in terms of the action that we want to implement. However, it is very difficult to implement what we believe in the field of opinion.

My opinion in the field of editing is that we can divide the compilation into two parts, or we edit in such a way that we memorize the text; that is, we want to keep the same thing that was interviewed. Like what Harvard has done in the form of questions and answers, and we can't call it editing. They interviewed in the form of questions and answers, or to think about the user's use. It means to think that a reader wants to read this text and enjoy this text.

If it is the first issue, i.e. we want to preserve this text and that saying of the narrator, our work is not very difficult in this field and we can implement what is there. Finally, we add some tips with hooks to make it easier to understand. But when it depends on the user's use and we want that output to be a book that can be used and enjoyed reading, it is more difficult.

What Mr. Dr. Hassanabadi said is subject to this second part. I mean, how far are we allowed to touch the text so that the reader can use it? Where are the limit of this text and the limit of what we want the user to use? This is a very long discussion. Mr. Dr. Morteza Nurai wrote an article entitled "Income on Editing"[5], it is not an income on editing, but a part of that article is an income on editing, which was published in our magazine, Ganjineh Sanad. They mention there that you are allowed to make changes in the question, for example. Add a question, or edit it. But is that all? Or should other changes be made?

If we want to look from zero to a hundred, when the question and answer are printed in the same way, that text has been preserved. But when we get to the field of user use, we have friends who achieve complete rewriting in this field, and we have examples of works that are complete rewriting in the field of oral history. Because I have to give an example, I will give you an example; If you see the three books of Ezzat Shahi's memoirs, Ahmed Ahmad's memoirs, and Khanum Dabbagh's memoirs, written by Mr. Mohsen Kazemi, it is a complete rewrite. It means that all three books are written by Mr. Kazemi. Is the compiler allowed to work so far? One of these three people is a lady. Are the statements of a lady like Mrs. Dabbagh the same as the statements of a jailed man like Ezzatshahi? But when you look at this book, you will see that this book has the same pen. How far is this? This limit should be determined as to how much we can achieve.

There are standards in this field. These standards are compiled in the context of general issues. That is, as an example, I can point to the rationalization. The rationalization is a good thing; People or places or events may be mentioned in the text and these should be documented. Dr. Hassanabadi said that to what extent can this be taken into account? My opinion is to assume that an undergraduate student wants to at least read this book, and to the extent that the undergraduate student has information, we will rationalized this book and say that person may not know this place or this event or is not familiar with this person. The standard is rationalization; and it is done in a way that does not lead the reader's mind in one direction. Neutral sources and encyclopedias are used as much as possible.

For example, in Parviz Sabeti's memoirs[6], the author has added so many subtitles that he tries to convey to the reader whatever he thinks. This is not a rationalization. You are not allowed to do this in oral history. You have a text above, below you are rationalizing, and you should not affect the above text. For this reason, we must use neutral sources. Now what is the limit, yes there is excess. In that seven-volume collection that Mr. Dehbashi did, they tried to set a standard that would have an image on each page and a series of explanations below it. In my opinion, this amount of explanation is not needed. It is not needed in the text.

On the other hand, we have other books that do not have explanations at all, or if they do, they do not have references. Books in the field of war history (oral history of war) that are published have many, many problems in terms of narration and unfortunately, we have to say that they do not have narration at all because the authors of those books were mainly people who were present in the war and do not think when he says the island Majnoon, perhaps the person who reads this book does not know where this island is at all, because this is a matter of course for him, so he does not explain these things.

I reviewed several volumes of these books published by the Organization of Documents. I have reviewed at least four of them and these reviews have been published. Kalima[7], Forgive Me Mother[8], notes of the Tudeh party, and memoirs of Nusratullah Khazni[9] who was the head of Mossadegh's office, and these are very, very important memoirs that unfortunately were poorly conducted and poorly edited and also printed. Please, if we can have a meeting to discuss how the oral history should be printed? The discussion of oral history printing is also very important, which should be addressed both in terms of page layout and editing issues.

The position of the interviewee in the editing that Mr. Dr. Hassanabadi put forward is very important. It means a person who has either charisma or power, and the fact that these powers have given him a high position or a low position affects the blogger. Because I struggle a little with the field of oral history of war, for example, when they want to compile the oral history of the war commander, without the opinion of the narrator, the work will not progress at all. Many times, the narrator is completely wrong in one point, and instead of this wrong point is placed in the text and explained in a footnote, this point is fully reflected the narrator and that point is corrected and the corrected one would be placed in the book. I think this is a very wrong thing to do.

Let me give an example in this field: a book has been published in the field of war history. I was left wondering why this narrator has so much sharpness of mind. Where did this sharpness of mind come from? After I talked with the friends in this field, I see that they have put the documents related to this person's field of activity in front of him and they say that you should talk about these for us now. Well, it is not oral history. This report is the documents of this person in the war, and I understood from there why we thought this person had such a sharp mind? He has read the documents. This mistake made in the interview has its effect on compiling. To the same extent, the narrator is involved in the editing process and directs the compiling process in the direction he wants. Unfortunately, we deal with these a lot in the field of war history.

Those topics that are related to audit and censorship topics in the field of editing are a lot of discussions and maybe some of them cannot be discussed. We have a center where I have been for some time and I have seen that when the text is downloaded, they make the interview available to the editor, maybe they remove five or six lines from a ten-line text, and if this is not following the opinion of that center, these will be deleted. . Later, if the text of what was published as a book is compared to the actual tape, it will reveal what a disaster happened there, and they don't match at all. This has nothing to do with the charisma and power of the narrator. These are subject to the publishing policies of that institution, which must be what is said, following the publishing policies of that institution.

These are the topics that are important in the discussion that Dr. Hassanabadi said about ethics in editing. The final text must reach the narrator's opinion and the narrator's opinion must be taken. It is the narrator's opinion, not that we give the text to the narrator and the narrator is allowed to interfere in that text whatever he wants. We have to find out the limit of this again; Because the narrator may have said something in a conversation. I now have memories of a person who has spoken three parts of his life. He was interviewed during the reform period in 1978. One course was held during Mr. Rouhani's term and one course we spoke with him about recently. The statements of this person are different from each other in these three periods of time. Depending on how free this person is to talk, the questions are the same but the answers are not the same. From 1999 to now, 22 years ago, this person has become old, he has become a little more conservative, and the situation has changed. Therefore, when we compile this interview and give it to that person, we must specify how much you are allowed to change from this text. Is that narrator allowed to come and completely update this text according to the discourse of the time and the requirements of the time? No. It is completely wrong. That text was produced at a time and in a time frame and a specific discourse and it should be preserved. Even in this section, the editor is not allowed to change the words if they are used in a period. He is not allowed to update them and even if it is a new and updated word that the academy has produced, he is not allowed to use that word. He should use the word used by the narrator himself and relate to that period. These are very detailed discussions that can be raised in this field.


■ To be continued ...


[1] Compilation in Oral History: Proceedings of the 7th and 8th Oral History Conference, by Ali Al-Tatari, Tehran, Museum Library and Islamic Council Document Center, 2018.

[2] Willa Klug Baum, Transcribing and editing oral history, Altamir press, 1991

Mrs. Baum (1926-2006) was born in Chicago. Pioneer of oral history methodology and interview techniques to establish oral history as an academic field.

[3] Editing oral history

[4] Referring to the 7 oral history books written by Mr. Hossein Dehbashi and published by the National Library of Iran: (interview with Dr. Seyed Hossein Nasr, Shapour Azarbarzin, Alineqi Alikhani, Dariush Homayoun, Akbar Etemad, Farhang Mehr, Manouchehr Wadiei)

[5] Nurai, Morteza, "An income from editing in oral history", Ganjineh Sanad, No. 66 (summer 2008).

[6] In the wake of the accident: investigation of the causes and factors of the collapse of the imperial government (conversation with Parviz Sabeti, director of internal security of SAVAK), by Irfan Ghanei Rad, Los Angeles, Book Company, 2008.

[7]  Sadat Bidgholi, Seyyed Mahmoud, Kalima in the bush of criticism: a review of the book Kalima (Memoirs of Dr. Hasan Ali Pourhosni's Captivity from Siberia, Oral History Research Publication, Year 4, Number 1 (Series 4, Fall and Winter 2015), pp. 136- 151.

[8] Forgive me mother (Memoirs of Ali Taherzadeh from the years of captivity in the Soviet Union), research and editing: Ali Drazi, Tehran, Organization of National Library of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 2014; Sadat Bidgholi, Seyyed Mahmoud, review of the book Mera Bebakhsh Madar (Memoirs of Dr. Ali Taherzadeh from the years of captivity in the Soviet Union), Journal of Oral History Research, Volume 5, Number 1 (Spring and Summer 2016), pp. 183-170.

[9]  Nameh Roozerg (Memoirs of Nusratullah Khazni), interview and compilation: Shafiqa Niknafs, Tehran, Organization of National Library of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 2018; Sadat Bidgholi, Seyyed Mahmoud, review of the book of history, numbers 13 and 14 (spring and summer 2016), pp. 71-90.


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