Memoir Verification

Hamid Qazvini
Translated by Natalie Haghverdian


One important question concerning publication of oral history literature is the extent to which the narrator is to be trusted? Is it the obligation of the oral history scholar to verify the memories? Is the scholar allowed to argue with the narrator? Does such literature fit the criteria of an historical resource?


Why skepticism?

The important point in skepticism is that the memories belong to the past and new complementary information is received during years and some images are formed and all integrated together which compromises the accuracy of the narrator’s memory. Also, time weakens memory and the narrator might miss a very important segment of the memory or replace it with another subject. On the other hand, people are affected by policital and social developments which change their individual and general attitude towards the past and directly affects their narration.

It might raise the question if the narrator’s observation has been accurate or his/her understanding of the events fits the reality? Has he/she been in the center of the event or a bystander and if he/she has suffered visual impairment or his/her ability to detect and understand the environment has been impaired? Is the narrator’s judgment fair? For instance, the narration of two political prisoners concerning the prison environment or political competition among the followers of various trends vary significantly; in such cases who is to be trusted?

Moral characteristics and beliefs of individuals have direct impact on their narration. Some oral history projects have political, security and cultural and social sidelines which distracts the narrator from the reality and honesty.


A narration besides all

In response to the questions above it shall be stated that as some scholars consider a similar definition for history and the historian and believe that history comes to life through the historian and historical literature is what the historian has produced based on findings and individual perceptions of the event sin the past, then the narrators narration in oral history is one besides all.

However, the narration is an individual approach towards an incident and it is not essential to cover all aspects but it is a piece of a puzzle in history. Others might have a different account of the same incident. (As it is in written resources.) the audience might apply to evaluate its accuracy based on their knowledge of the narrator.


Evaluation methodology

Obviously in order to evaluate the narration, the following key points have to be taken into consideration:

1- Identity: The narrator has to be prominent with a clear identity to conduct research about him/her and evaluate his/her account.

2- Honesty: People known for their lies and exaggerations, affected by individual and collective interest are not to be trusted.

3- Rational consistency: when various components of a narrator lack consistency then its validity is tarnished.

4- Personal interest: Sometimes personal interests affect and dictate the narration. For instance when the narration is intended to provide an exaggerated feature of the narrator or others then its credibility is to be doubted.

5- Details: Precise and accurate recount of details are signs of honesty and proper memory.

6- Documentation: written resources or other memoirs which verify the narrator’s claims are other ways of credibility verification.  

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