History Scholars to Maintain a Critical Approach

Approaches on Rationalization

Mohammad Mehdi Abdollahzadeh
Translated by Natalie Haghverdian


Looking at books published on various categories including “Oral History”, “Oral Memoirs”, “Memories” and their approach in rationalization, content volume used to rationalize and references made, we see significant differences all starting from ground zero. In some cases, the volume of footnotes and endnotes presented in the last chapter of the book exceed the main body of content! In case such approach has a scientific backbone then it’s good; however, there is hardly an affirmative reason.

It seems that such differences and extremes are the outcome of personal tact and hardly based on theoretical foundations based on which the author is composing the content.

Definition of “Rationalization” in oral memoirs refers to the documented materials extracted from credible resources concerning an individual, location, concepts, idioms, political and cultural movements, etc. which are included as footnotes or endnotes or annexes to assist the audience in better understanding the composed material and towards transparency.

Footnotes of rationalization might function as follows:

1. Demystify and introduces places, people, concepts or in general any term that might be ambiguous in the discretion of the editor.

2. To offer further elaboration on what the narrator has said.

3. Provision of material and documents as verification by the editor on the narration.

4. Provision of material and documents to repel the narrator.

5. To complete the material that according to the editor has not been fully addressed by the narrator.

6. To elaborate some of the terms used by the narrator; terms that according to the narrator are obvious and easy to comprehend while in the discretion of the editor the terms lack such clarity for the audience.

7. Elaborate, interpret and research on some of the material.

8. To resolve text content shortfalls.

9. To stylize terms that the interviewee has used them and the editor does not perceive them suitable for the prose of the content.


Positive & negative, implicit and explicit functions of rationalization might be:

1. Once the audience chooses a book to study or read and realizes the high volume of content stating the obvious or exceeding elaborations, subconsciously feels that the author has been unaware of its audience.

2. Extensive elaborations bore the audience and they might think that adding a semi-encyclopedia to the book was unnecessary.

3. Long footnotes indicate that the interviewer has not been competent enough and failed in his interview and in the process of editing the notes he had no choice but to include long footnotes.

4. The reader exposed to a large volume of footnotes or endnotes loses concentration in his study and the book appears to be boring.

5. Rationalization which becomes an encyclopedia forces the audience to think that it would have been more effective for the editor to present his studies in another article and not use the memoir as a tool to present his efforts and researches.

6. Extreme rationalization marginalizes the main content and attracts focus of the reader.


1. However, brief presentation of the gist content makes the audience believe that the editor is an organized, smart, careful and educated individual.

2. Proper and suitable rationalization makes a reference for further use of the audience.

3. Avoiding rationalization in vital cases in the footnotes, even if the main body of content carries sufficient interpretations, leads the mind of the reader towards a novel.

Must & Must Not(s) in Rationalization

Interviewer and the interviewee are the main pillars in oral history; however, in the process, the role of the interviewer is more vital than the interviewee. It is the interviewer that directs the interview through question; a comprehensive approach mitigates any complications in composing the material.[1]

Considering that interview is an oral communication between two individuals and the interviewer might make efforts to plan and direct the interview but each interviewee has his own reservations and might prevent discussion on some issues or aspects. Hence, each individual based on his personal preferences might have a lot not to say. It is to conclude that each individual has memories and experiences that might never be told.[2] However, an interviewer with cognitive and emotional skills will ask targeted questions in an effort to persuade the interviewee to elaborate on ambiguous material; especially when references on such materials are unavailable.[3] This is how an expert interviewer gets the most out of the interview and has limited need of rationalization while composing the content. Loss of the opportunity to get the information from people who have witnessed an incident or been part of the history is unfortunate.[4]

Verification of historical inputs is of high importance and oral history editors have to be careful. With time, memories are reconstructed and sometimes lose proper chronology in the mind of the narrator. In some cases, the narrator might, intentionally or unintentionally, exaggerate some aspects. Hence, in verification of the content, while it is critical to maintain the honesty and balanced character of the narrator, the editor shall in a reasonable and intangible manner evaluate the credibility of the content as recounted by the narrator and take measures towards rationalization.

The editor shall smartly consider implicit and explicit intentions of the narrator since in some cases the narrator might perceive his role as negative or attempt to exaggerate his role which might compromise the reality. This is where the editor shall reference credible content and respectfully express his doubts on the story of the narrator.[5]

Obviously, the editor does not share the same experience as the interviewee and direct observation technique is not practical; hence he shall apply to available resources and analyze available material to separate reality from fake and discriminate fraudulent aspects from the real story.[6]

Considering that in oral history has dominant oral character and might be affected by the perspective, psychological and emotional status of the narrator, it is not precise in presenting the incidents of the past and if the editor fails in his rationalization efforts the outcome will be forged history rather than oral history. This requires the scholars and researchers of oral history to maintain a critical approach.[7]



[1] Aghayi, Abbas, article; Must & Must Not(s) of Interview, from “Interview techniques in oral history”; series of articles of the fourth technical conference and oral history training workshop (2007), Soureh Mehr, 2008. P. 480.

[2] Rasoulipour, Morteza, oral history: Iranian perspective, interviewer: Arash Azerank, Book of the Week, No. 140, Autumn 2003. 

[3] Azizi, Qolamreza, Anatomy of Oral History, Zamaneh, No. 34, Summer 2005, p. 14.

[4] Fadayi Araghi, Qolamreza, Introduction to History Document Review, Samt, 1998, p. 107.

[5] Delavar, Ali, Research Methods in Psychology and Educational Sciences, Payam Noor publication, v. 14, pp. 152-157.

[6] Best, John, Research Methods in Educational & Behavioral Sciences, translator: Hassan Pasha Sharifi, Narges Taleghani, Rosht, v. 10, 2005, p 184.

[7] Razavi, Abolfazl, article: Inputs of interview, history or historiography, from: “Interview in Oral History: series of articles of the fourth technical conference and oral history training workshop (2007), Soureh Mehr, 2008, pp 97-101.

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