Oral History (An Interdisciplinary Methodology)



Since, oral history is an interdisciplinary field and has many subcategories it covers a wide range of subjects. It could be said that, the most prominent writings in oral history fall into the following categories:

1. Basic books: the books which deal with oral history per se. Doing Oral History (Donald A. Ritchie), Oral History (Rebecca Sharpless) and, Transcribing and Editing Oral History (Willa Baum), are among the most important reference books recognized internationally in this category. In Iran, one could mention the book Oral History in Iran (Abulfazl Hassanabadi). Books from this category are less in numbers comparing to other books published on oral history.

2. Anthologies: writings on oral history mostly come in the form of collected volumes which usually fall into two categories: conference proceedings and collected volumes. Examples of the former would be the proceedings of the International Oral History Association conferences, the proceeding of the very first oral history conference in Iran (2006) published by the Islamic Revolution Documentation Center and, the conference proceedings of the forth panel of oral history (2007) published by the Resistance Culture and Literature Research and Studies Center.

3. Thematically classified memoirs:
The collections belonging to this category consist of interviews conducted around a single theme. The examples of such collections in Iran would be The Oral History of Hemmat Mosque and, The Oral History of the Army. Iran indeed has a rather long way to improve the standards of oral history project and publications to reach international standards. However, oral history collections are generally published and made accessible in such classified memoirs.

4. Individual Memoirs
In Iran, the outcomes of the pioneer oral history centers are published as individual memoirs. In fact, interviews are conducted for the sole goal of being published. A great amount of the experiences and information of individuals from the history of the revolution and war are organized and published in this form.

The present article attempts to review the collected volume, Oral History: an Interdisciplinary Anthology. Sponsored by the American Association for State and Local History in cooperation with the Oral History Association, the first edition of the collection was published in 1984 by the well reputed publishing house, the Altamire Press. The second edition was released in 1996. It is co-edited by David King Dunaway and, Willa K. Baum. Baum had a rich career in oral history. She was the head of the Regional Oral History office at U.C Berkeley and conducted the outstanding book, Transcribing and Editing Oral History. As for David Dunaway, he has a long career in oral history and writing biographies. In the introduction Baum states that the goal of conducting this book is to collect basic material for the ones interested in oral history or the ones whose work is in this field. The book has a unique way of finding its' own audience. The editors have tried to select papers which cover diverse subjects such as the history of oral history, the establishment and development of oral history, diverse functions of oral history and, its' interdisciplinary essence. Overall, the book makes an effort to introduce different aspects and the significance of oral history as an approach to historiography. With a critical approach towards oral history, the book attempts to explore the creative ways of using oral history and highlights the interdisciplinary essence of it. The selection of papers is as such that the book not only provides a general insight to both practical and abstract notions in oral history. The book is consisted of an introduction (p: 7-23) and five parts. The editors have put forward two main arguments in the introduction. Dunaway points to the interdisciplinary essence of oral history, the establishment of oral history and, different generations of oral historians who have influenced the contemporary current of oral history. He then, emphasizing on the interdisciplinary essence of oral history, examines the function of oral history from the practical point of view in fields such as anthropology, education, ethnic studies, genealogy, history of literature, history of medicine, social studies, generation studies, and women studies by providing examples. Baum, in the part called from the Preface to the First Edition (p: 23-25) deals with the motivation for editing this anthology, its' significance and different practical aspects. In addition, she explains the process of the selection of papers. She also introduces the foundations which supported this project.

As mentioned before, the book consists of five parts each of which cover a particular subject:
PART ONE THE GATEWAY TO ORAL HISTORY: (p: 27-62)
1. Oral History: How and Why It was Born (27-29)
Allan Nevins
2. Oral History (29-39)
Louis Starr
3. Directions for Oral History in the United States (39-62)
       Ronald J. Grele
Despite the few papers included, this part is the most significant part of the book because of the
content of it and the authors of the papers. The papers are written by the three pioneer oral historians and scholars in oral history. Allan Nevins belongs to the first generation of oral historians while Louis Starr and Ronald J.Grele belong to the second generation of oral historians. The significance of these papers lies in the fact that the authors were immediate witnesses to the current of oral history. For instance, Allan Nevins is considered as the father of oral history. In fact, many believe that he established oral history as a discipline in Columbia University. In the paper included in the first part, he talks about his own activities and memories which are most valuable. Ronald J.Grele, is an expert of the oral history of America. He actively contributed in many activities. These three papers together, draw the schema of the birth and development of oral history in the U.S.

PART TWO INTERPRETING AND DESIGNING ORAL HISTORY
Reliability and Validity in Oral History (p: 85-87)
 
Alice Hoffman
Distinguishing the Significant from the Insignificant
 Barbara Tuchman (p: 87-94)
Accuracy in Oral History Interviewing
 William Cutler III (p: 94-99)
Oral History: An Appreciation
 William Moss (p: 99-107)
Oral Tradition and Historical Methodology
 Jan Vansina (p: 107-121)
A Note on Oral Tradition and Historical Evidence
 Ruth Finnegan (p: 121-126)
Oral History Project Design
 David Lance (p: 126-135)
Introduction to Tom Rivers
 Saul Benison (p: 135-143)
Theory, Method, and Oral History
 Peter Friedlander (p: 143-150)
Reflections on Ethics
 Amelia Fry (p: 150-161)

This part begins the significance of oral history and the level of its authenticity. Three pieces engage with the concept of oral history, its significance and, authenticity. Two papers deal with the difference between oral traditions and folklore traditions. (So far this issue has not been dealt with in Iran and there is much research to be done about it.) "Oral History Project Design" and "Theory, Method, and Oral History" engage with academic issues of oral history. The issue of ethics in oral history, which has been addressed in the last paper, is a significant issue and every oral historian should be familiar with it. Overall, this part attempts to make oral historians ready for the process of writing oral history through engaging the reader with the concepts of oral history, its issues and possible obstacles.

PART THREE ORAL HISTORY APPLIED: LOCAL, ETHNIC, FAMILY, AND WOMEN'S HISTORY
Preface to the Saga of Coe Ridge
Lynwood Montell (p: 173-175)
The Folklorist, the Oral Historian, and Local History
Larry Danielson (p: 175-187)
Oral History and the Writing of Ethnic History
Gray Y. Okihiro (p: 187-199)
What's So Special About Women? Women's Oral History
Sherna Gluck (p: 199-215)
Using Oral History for a Family History Project
Linda Shopes (p: 215-231)
The Search for Generational Memory
Tamara Hareven (p: 231-241)
Black History, Oral History, and Genealogy
Alex Haley (p: 241-275)

This part attempts to show the significance of oral history through offering academic arguments which emphasize on the interdisciplinary nature of oral history. This part engages with the mentioned issues from a practical point of view which can be very fruitful for the reader.

PART FOUR ORAL HISTORY AND RELATED DISCIPLINES: FOLKLORE, ANTHROPOLOGY, MEDIA, AND LIBRARIANSHIP
The Oral Historian and the Folklorist
 Richard Dorson (p: 281-283)
Oral History as Communicative Event
 Charles Joyner (p: 292-283)
The Anthropological Interview and the Life History
 Sidney Mintz (p: 292-298)
Radio and the Public Use of Oral History
 DAvid K. Dunaway (p: 298-306)
The Expanding Role of the Librarian in Oral History
 Willa K. Baum (p: 306-321)

This part deals with theoretical issues in oral history. This part and the previous one are complementary to one another. Together, they offer a very comprehensive overview on the interdisciplinary nature of oral history.  It would have been better if this chapter came before the previous one.

PART FIVE ORAL HISTORY AND REGIONAL STUDIES
Oral History in Mexico and the Caribbean
 Eugenia Meyer (p: 343-351)
The Development of Oral History in Britain
 Paul Thompson (p: 351-363)
Oral History in Germany
 Karin Hartewig (p: 363- 380)
Oral History in France
 Daniele Voldman (p: 380-391)
Oral History in Italy
 Alessandro Portelli (p: 391-417)
Oral History in Latin America
 Dora Schwarzstein (p: 417-425)
This part is dedicated to introducing the current of oral history in a few countries and regions. Some papers simply present the current of oral history while others whose authors are pioneers of oral history debates, have engaged with more' and theoretical issues. The example of the latter would be "Oral History in Britain" and "Oral History in Italy".
This collected volume is among the very best oral history reference books published ever. Significant issues such as oral history and oral traditions, oral history and folklore history and, the authenticity of oral documents are among issues which should be considered important in the current of oral history in Iran.

Abulfazl Hassanabadi
Oral history expert and PhD candidate in local oral history
Translated by: Jairan Gahan



 
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