The First Session on Review and Inquiry of Historiography of Contemporary Iranian Oral History

Harvard Oral History Project Is Criticized

Maryam Rajabi
Translated by Ruhollah Golmoradi


As reported by Iranian Oral history Website, the first meeting on review and inquiry of historiography of contemporary Iranian oral history focused on Harvard Oral History Project was held by political history department of Institute for Humanities and Cultural Studies in collaboration with Iranian Society of History and Research Institute of Archives of NLAI which its secretary was Faezeh Tavakoli, and lecturers were Mehdi Abolhasani Taraghi, Sirous Sa'advandian, Morteza Rasoolipour and a group of history researchers and experts in field of oral history in salon of Dr. Parham at Center for Documents and Archives of NLAI on Sunday, February 18, 2018.


Methodological critique

At the beginning of the session, Faezeh Tavakoli stated, "Harvard Oral History Project was began at Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, but main proposer was Mr. Ned Keenan, a Soviet expert, who saw many similarities between Soviet and Iranian revolutions; on the other hand, travel of hundreds of former Iranian officials to the West created an exceptional opportunity to collect information; therefore, suggested by him, Mr. Habib Lajevardi began interviewing with 135 people, albeit Lajevardi initially had considered about 150 people. Lajevardi did this very thoroughly and detailed during about three to four years (1981-1984) with his friends.

Our historiography from the beginning was in hands of secretaries and Stoics, and today is in hands of people who are completely obvious and direct depended to organizations and institutions that anyway contributed in the current government; but in oral history because it has come out of classical historiography and is in field of ​​interview, anyone who have a recorder and is supported by institutions and organizations can enter this area in terms of necessity of research, and interview individuals and classes. It is discussion of elites of this field, and I also wanted to emphasize issue of democracy of oral history in historiography, which is the best arena in field of job creation in history; because we now see that most people enter this discipline think that one day they must be a professor and teach, while people's approach to study of history is so low that we should even started to act through community centers and like minstrels who narrated Shahnameh in coffeehouses. We need to hold panels and think tanks in history, and employ some people to go and talk with the elders of their neighborhood and those who are elites of that neighborhood; that is, local development in field of democracy of oral history in historiography is very important.

Regarding Harvard oral history, which is on politicians and elites of Pahlavi dynasty, in terms of budget, Mr. Lajevardi has his own affiliations, and received almost $ 750,000 from three foundations during the 14 years that he compiled this project. Ford Foundation had funded nearly $ 50,000 for this project. Private companies of inhabitant Iranian in United States and Europe, who are in fact the same government affiliates and went there with Iranian people's dollars, funded the project and paid about $ 400,000 and National Endowment for the Humanities also contributed $ 300,000. This project has its own special importance and for the first time oral history field was introduced to us with work that Lajevardi did, and then in interior, many institutions and organizations started recording memories of many of characters and stratums who were dismissed during reign of the Pahlavi dynasty, such as clerics, workers classes, women, armies etc.



This meeting is the first meeting of series of sessions that will be held in the future. In this session, we have a review of published works in oral history. I mention a few points about Mr. Lajevardi project and refer the rest to my article that will be published in specialized oral history journal. If we analyze the project methodologically, I can say that he has gone forward with three types of information to gather this project: first, a picture of performance of political system of Iran during Pahlavi era, background, and latent reasons of the events and their significance political decisions, as well as a fuller profile of important political figures, but his priority was the elderly. This was an important point, and we now regard this in oral history projects too. To do any oral history project, it is best to interview older people and to complete this work until they are alive. Of course, some of people Mr. Lajevardi and his team had spoken with them stated we do not want to be immediately available our interviews, so some of those interviews are kept at Harvard University.

I looked at seventh volume of this project. Shapour Bakhtiar, Ahmad Bani-Ahmad, Abolhasan Bani-Sadr, Abolhasan Behnia, Abdolrahman Boroumand, Naser Pakdaman and Issa Pejman were interviewed in the project. If Harvard's oral history to be criticized in terms of content, it's a massive job, since it's about twenty volumes now, and content review of this project may require a multi-year plan. In methodology analysis, we first of all know that oral history historiography is either subject-oriented or object-oriented. Harvard oral history has been advanced completely subject-oriented. In interview with people, they focused on finding and interviewing multiple subjects in field of politics and various institutions of that era. Questions they are posing do not at all have logical and structural order that is needed in typology of oral history questions. Typology of questions in oral history means that we want regular and categorized and at the same time semi-structured questions; that is, some questions are asked also between speeches of interviewee. We see that in interviews of Mr. Zia Sedghi, his friend, and Mr. Lajevardi, this issue has not been regarded; questions are very scattered and based on their own mentalities; for example, in the same seventh volume, two or three characters of National Front were interviewed, and in the meantime, there is also Bani-Sadr; there is no logical arrangement even between subjects. We believe in oral history that in each project, subjects are classified according to objects and that research work; while in Harvard oral history there is no logical order. It is also true for biography; for example, in an interview with Bakhtiar they say your autobiography is in book of "Ma fidelite" and they simply pass through this section; while this book is not available now, and on the other hand, in oral history interview, firstly biography, person genealogy, age, personality, family backgrounds and ... are very important.

In the works that has been done until now in field of oral history of the country, in most of domestic and foreign institutions, we see that only data has been collected and no narrative analysis has been carried out. In qualitative research which is method of oral history, organizations that have collected narratives should go toward analyzing narratives; if narrative analysis does not take place, we remain like a computer that information has been plumbed into it but is not used. We should, in any case, use part of this information which is relevant to ourselves. How can we use all of the data collected in form of memories? Oral practitioners should work with qualitative research method, participate in its workshops and become acquainted with the method, and of course advance narrative analysis.

Finally, when you convert oral and spoken narratives to text, you record sound, and the sound that comes on paper should be subject to written principles. Verb and subject must be replaced. That person has said "thing," you also have translated it "thing" and written it! We thought Harvard oral history was our first and final pattern; so we immediately have brought the same text in implementation of many of our interviews and cassettes, but this text has to be compiled, writing principles must be regarded and be corrected grammatically. In Harvard oral history books, there is dispersion, incoherence, and relationship between characters and hastiness in interviews. Because they were at a certain moment wanted to do interviews hastily."


Role of three elements of intent of question, space and time

In continuance of the session Sirous Sa'advandian said:" What I will say is purely of genres of landscape of a history reader and not more. First, I see oral history not history but only oral memories of a person among his life events and his/her spent path, and not more; it also insofar that according to mechanism of memory, recording memory and quality of remembrance and circumstances of will and intent of person to be combined in expression reality, unless history researcher of the field does what, for example, Kapuściński did occasionally; that is, combination of result of conversations, multiple and satiated conversations including details of events with variety of attendees and observers and those who have experienced the incident, as and so much that result of the mix is ​​ likely  an intact narrative, and maybe a comprehensive history, rather than exclusive, of an accident or an drawing portrait and allegory of life and translation of mood of an famous person of history context which is called  "portrait", for example, the late portrait of Emperor of Ethiopia.



But then, I have considered the effort of Harvard Oral History Group and many products of that respected measure proper, ultimately helpful and also deserved to be thanked. According to a number of factors and reasons such as number of those interviewed famous that loss of each one of them, without any exaggeration, was and is like burnout and being ashes of a library. So, thanks for them who before their death, that now many of them are buried, interviewed with them and the interviews remained so era to be preserved. Secondly, many of them perhaps weren't convinced to such an interview with insiders due to any cause and reason; so this is also a pleasure and is much valuable. Both international and inside narratives have also their own defects and needs that I don't address them, which are sometimes problem solving and sometimes hinder of goodness; so the same place of conversation, undoubtedly, has been, and is, highly efficient and effective in quality of any historical questions and answers.

Beyond space, two elements of language and intent of interviewers and interviewees are also reflected in product of conversations, and sometimes have diminished potential and possible advantages of conversations, and as if it has been inevitable. Because the interviews were in a time when question and answer were simultaneous to the incident, which water was not hot, but was boiling, and starling still sitting on a tree branch, and the people involved in their endless conflicts; for example, conversation with Bakhtiar, who, from the very beginning to the end is an increasingly dispute with Sanjabi. According to Rumi: "this tongue is the curtain over the gate of the soul." Intent of the interviewees also sometimes led to a lasting settling account with rivals, sometimes as insisted, statements that people made were interred the country as if it was a party flyer in proclaiming a position and work guidance. Every interviewee, willy-nilly, has no way only choosing an audience, and supposing a given audience, has not been little effective in this midst. Otherwise is also possible and sometimes intent of questioner goes out of his field of interest and leads mistakenly to controversy with interviewee; for example interview with Naser Pakdaman.

In short, anyway, interview, both inside and outside the country has its own disadvantages and also advantages but its advantages are in this field are far more than possible disadvantages, especially if we listen to the teaching of Imam Ali who said: wisdom is missing of believer. Gain wisdom, even though from hypocrites."


Oral history interview must be mutual
Then, Mehdi Abolhasani Taraghi said: "Although oral history has been used in Iran for about 40 years, it is still at the beginning of the path and suffers a lot of damages. Today, I want to use this platform and point out dangers and pathos that threaten oral history, so that, Inshallah, we can look more scientifically at this issue. When I set up my doctorate dissertation, internal and external institutes and plans were reviewed, and as well as Harvard. I studied four examples of Harvard project during my study and when I set up my thesis: memories of Ali Amini, memories of Mozzafar Baghai, memories of Abdolmajid Majidi, and memories of Dr. Haeri; respectively a politician, a scientist, a cleric, an economist, a technocrat and somehow a politician. Politician not a political Rajol (generally means statesman, but in some religious interpretation in Iran it is used just for men and not for women) in the sense we think. I also reviewed three external projects: the first Iranian Oral History Project of Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard, the second Columbia University Iranian Oral History Project conducted by Afkhami family, and the third oral history of Iranian Left at University of Berlin undertook by Dr. Hamid Ahmadi, But my issue was a pathologic discussion. We wanted to evaluate them and for problems that each of them has individually in order to present partially and then generally some solutions in that year. Unfortunately, until today, there have been some points in pathology of domestic institutions, and next year there will be an assembly that I hope some non-scientific methods that we have used to apply them to be localized through the conference.

Harvard also is an experimental project that has been formed in the early 1980s and given conditions outside of Iran, which is worthwhile too in its own part, but important thing is that each narrator, every subject, and each person is an opportunity and If this opportunity to be blown, its damage may be more than its profit for us; it is like a gemstone within soil that someone digs inexpertly, and damages it. Sometimes we say that you do not need to dig at all, let it stay in soil, but not to be hurt. This happened in case of Harvard; firstly, Mr. Lajevardi says at the beginning of the project that we have limited the project to political arena and only worked on political history of Iran, but when statistics are given and we evaluate, we see that only 53 percent of the project narrators are political; there are precisely 25% of ministers, 24% of lawyers and party members, 15% of military officers, 13% of writers, university professors and journalists, 6% of private sector owners, 6% of court members, 5% of judiciary officials, 4% of diplomats and 8% women. If we sum 24, 25, and 4, we would find out that 53% of narrators of this plan are political, so there is a clear contradiction at the beginning of the work; that is, while emphasizing that our goal and field was political history of Iran. , But 47% of its narrators have nothing to do with political world. The second point is that Lajevardi says that many of our interviews have not been planned previously; for example, Mr. Mozzafar Baghai had gone abroad in an opportunity, and Lajevardi said when we found him and did an interview, or Dr. Haeri educated and thought at Harvard and he advantaged the opportunity and did an interview, that is, many interviews were accidental, unplanned and deprived of the necessary scientific framework that should be designed and implemented anyway.

All interviews are person-centered, of course we have a narrator, but our recommendation of using oral history method is that to go ahead subject-oriented; that is, we must first define our subject and then select our narrators. We have to set up an interview based on title. Harvard Oral History interviews are entirely person-oriented and deprived of a logical order. On the other hand, has our contemporary history, for example, from 1921 to 1982, which is beginning of this project, been listed in terms of topic? This has not happened. We cannot evaluate and address all 60 years under a single topic. This section should be separated firstly and went ahead with planned but that has not been. Of course, people who were chosen as narrators were very good, either agent or supervisor, opportunities that have not been used in their best. It was an experience and then came to Iran. Perhaps ads that were made about this project were from various publications that published this in Iran. This was a new work, and dominant form was also oral history, and these were among privileges of the project. Questions and answers that had made in the interviews are available, and this is a positive point for Harvard, because we can enter the second stage, content analysis.

When you call an interview oral history, that is an interview that takes place focused on history. For example, in a time we talk to Najaf Daryabandari and topic is also concept of translation, and in some parts he also refers to history. Result of a conversation with Najaf Daryabandari is not something called history. When we say oral history interview, output of oral history method or oral history should be history. If it is in the sacred defense area, the sacred defense history should be come out, while we see in most of oral history works of the sacred defense, ethics, spirituality, and metaphysics is focused. Focus of history is collective memory and story, and where it becomes very private it loses its historical aspect, because its presentation does not help to clarify this part of our history. Mr. Lajevardi because of involving in field of trade unions and economic problems of Iran in 1940s and 1970s, and on the other hand, his family was an economic group, and later he worked in economic management field, when he speak with Abdolmajid Majidi, his literacy and much awareness on issues that have been addressed is good and convincible, but when he speaks with Mozzafar Baghai, he failed. The failure means that interviewer is overcome by interviewee and the failure has different reasons. One is personality of interviewee. When I am amateur and face with someone who is in a much higher rank than me in terms of work, work experience, and executive work, this superiority, creates a mentality that cause I cannot express myself as what I should be during interviewer. interviewee is aware of subject or period that we want to interview, and Mozzafar Baghai is on agent and actor of events of nationalization of oil industry, government of Dr. Mossadegh, and this is where Habib Lajevardi has completely overcome by him; from the very beginning of Baghai's talks, except for a few short questions, the narrator is completely free and narrates just memory. This is very evident in works of Harvard. 30 pages is at least one hour of interview, and interviewer only asks three times a short question, and rest of the time he says, "Yes !, Yes! And wow!" In some parts where Zia Sedghi or Mr. Lajevardi says: "Wow!" as if this is a new story for them, and as if the subject is weird for them and they don't have any knowledge about it! Knowledge and information of an interviewer who does not know chronology or historical order of events is clear, and interviewer can easily misdirect him. Mozzafar Baghai is a special person during nationalization of oil industry, and at that time we had story of assassination of Afshartous, head of constabulary of Mossadegh's administration that this book easily passes through; that is, Mr. Habib Lajevardi, or have knowledge and awareness on sensibility of the subject and did not very persist on interviewee or he doesn't know about the issue, both of them I think both excuses are poor excuse. Zia Sadghi asks in page 17 about Sardar Sepah (Reza Shah), and in the last pages he again asks on Sardar Sepah; that is he forgets the matter and asks it again at the third meeting.

In an oral history interview, we're not going to interrogate anyone, we're not also supposed to sit and interviewee just recounts memory, this is no longer oral history. Oral history interview should be mutual. This damage is seen in all works, in one case more and another one less. Zia Sedghi doesn't know anything about political history of Iran and asks about how to choose a Marja at that time, a matter that was his own concern! And he ignored many issues. Of course, Harvard oral history gives us information, although superficial, with all its structural flaws, in order to illuminate a part of complexities of our contemporary political and economic history. In editing and rationalization books, which are an important part of the publication, it was worked differently; some books have rationalization, and some do not have, and role of editor is less."


We are in first steps
Morteza Rasoolipour was the other speaker of the first meeting of review of historiography of contemporary oral history of Iran, stated: "I have to give a point in advance; it's impossible to comment on and judge about interviews of Harvard oral history project generally and uniform. If I comment, I think it's a problem and incorrect comment. I think it's better to talk about the works case by case. Anyway, someone have spoken with 134 people in a collection, spent time, and some of these interviews were very long and some were short; in a 15 minute conversation there is no room for comment on them, and we might be unfair. Dr. Abolhasan Taraghi had good reflections, but in my opinion, one has to talk about works that have been done outside of Iran with a gentler manner, while his talk was correct and, if they had opportunity would solve many of these problems.



When discussion of oral history was raised, I remember that as one of the earliest works of Harvard University Oral History, an interview with Dr. Ali Amini was published. An interview with Iraj Eskandari had been already published and we had some backgrounds. Then work of Mr. Hossein Ferdoust memories was released; pieces of third and fourth parts of the first volume of the book were also an interview with Mr. Ferdoust. In domestic works there was also an interview that was done by our dear friend, Mr. Mohammad Turkaman in Paris during November and December 1978 and published it; when Mr. [Imam] Khomeini was in Paris and many of his friends including Hajj Mehdi Araghi who was one of political and religious figures, visited there. Those who were studying or lived in Paris did the effort and talked with Hajj Mehdi Araghi for 12 meetings. These talks lasted until morning. It was a great work, and Rasa Publication published this book titled "Untold Words". We had nothing other work except for "Enghelabe Iran Be Revayate Radio Bbc", that it included also a series of talks with engineer Bazargan, a number of statesmen and militants about the revolution and nationalization of oil industry. Many of critiques of Mr. Abolhasan Taraghi about Harvard project is in some extent underplay because internal works may not be grabbed. This is a general problem and we are not far from it. If we accept that value of any container is in its containing, Harvard Oral History Project has a hefty and great weight, at least in terms of people who have been interviewed and overall, political aspect of these interviews is heavier. It is true that oral history, especially in post-1360s (1980s) has been more active in the midst of middle classes of society, but it should be regarded that the region is a politically full-turbulent region, and society has a political problem, it has experienced revolution and normally, most of conversations are political. This is a general discussion, and Harvard University interviews are no exception too. For example, if we want to separate political figures from military ones, it is not clear that this would be a correct distinction. You see that political load of the interviews, even if with the late Dr. Mehdi Haeri, are highlighted. This is our concern, and Mr. Lajevardi has been involved with this issue too. We must note that our current problem, our generation and generations that expressed themselves over the past 100 years is that they have had their own requests, and these demands have not been realized. This is also told much today. That's why I see very minimally and positively toward activities of oral history, and that's why I say: It's true that we have been doing these activities for nearly three decades, but we are in the first steps and we have to work a lot. From this point of view, I also think that path of reform is not a radical and revolutionary path, and we have to comment step by step, positively and friendly on available works. Overall, I see works which are done overseas with every color and intentions positive, and this is my personal opinion.

In terms of cost in oral history, in Iran, we have paid more expensive to obtain information that we may not value them. If you look at oral history works in Iran in terms of volume and quantitatively, they are not comparable to works which have been done abroad, and our review sessions have been much less, we should see these all together. My words really do not deny Mr. Abolhasan Taraghi speeches and I know that those words were all out of compassion. I also have a lot of critiques about Harvard oral history works, both in terms of form and content. Contrary to Mr. Lajevardi words who said that he translated works exactly and literally in order not to be intervened and manipulated, I'm not agree and I believe that the dialogue should be adjusted. In the same year of 1994 or 1995, I wrote a critique on one work of Mr. Lajevardi and he replied that it was true. I said that in an interview with an 80-year old man, three sessions of conversations is repetition of the first session; this is either because of politeness or fear, but what is audience offense so that read a hundred pages of repeated memories? If you put these memories in front of the narrator, he would complain you about the point. The most important objection that one can make to these works is that at what extent the interviews have been presented to the narrator and published after his consent. As we approach today, we see that some of our friends also have made the mistake and have published interview without permission of the narrator. In 2014, four books were published by NLAI. I told Mr. Hossein Dehbashi in one of these interviews with Mr. Hossein Nasr -Hamed Zare conversation with Mr. Hossein Nasr on issues 49 or 50 of Mehrnameh – you wrote that note. I told him you no longer can talk with such persons, for your esteem would be totally questioned. When Mr. Nasr says that I'm not satisfied, and that's not what I meant, printing it is against professional ethics.

Series of works which have been done outside of Iran should be addressed with a more friendly view. Because foreign works had advantage of being precedent, they took the first steps, and positive works have been done too. Totally their works were good, as well as the fact that interviewers hadn't any knowledge in some subjects, and it is necessary for each interview that interviewer study about it; for example, Mr. Zia Sedghi did not have any knowledge about religious issues and texts. I have a lot of objections, but despite these flaws, I always keep a place to guide, that is, at the end, you have to say: we are waiting for your better works and you will see how the word works. I wrote an article about Amir Teymur Kalali and Amir Teymur is someone whom I was familiar about his memories and manuscripts. When Mr. Lajevardi read that article in 1992 or 1973, he referred to my article in his book. We have to do this give-and-take. We must realize that by addressing these issues, they have concerned about Iran, and clarification of the cases is an issue for them; many points would also be made clear in these talks."


In continuance of the session, Seyyed Mahmoud Sadat, one of audiences and history researcher, said: "on words of Dr. Abolhasan Taraghi, I must say that Mr. Lajevardi background is defensible. The next point is that these mistakes you say are on output that we see in Iran and a publisher has published or on those recorded voices from the interview that we can listen at Harvard University website? Other point is that how much of these theoretical and value topics in field of oral history have been existed when the project was published? It was published in accordance with requirements of that same time, and if this had not been done, we would now have nothing. With the situation we now have in field of oral history, if we go back thirty years ago, and evaluate the work that has been published that time with current standards, it is a matter of reflection and thinking."

Faezeh Tavakoli answered, "Definitely it must be evaluated with the same standards, because we have conducted methodology of the work and studied and at least we want those who are in the country don't make it their pattern. Mehdi Abolhasan Taraghi also stated, "Some of the objections are on his own work on the website and some on what has been published by publisher. Next point is that Mr. Lajevardi says that he started the project as proposed by one of Harvard masters. Mechanism of oral history work was not at all a new and weird thing for Westerners and professors of Harvard University, whether he has started based on their proposition, that he started the same, or has proceeded through their plan, that he has done it too. That is why our expectation is much more. He didn't consider standards in his era and we who are also now somehow familiar with these standards and do different works. Another points that I thought Harvard University position has been gone down but I see it is still a model for us. It is good to know that among three works at abroad, Harvard is the most weak. Columbia has been successful because of being subject-oriented and its sample with Mr. Alinaghi Alikhani is great and controversy. Hamid Ahmadi also in work of Left history has started from Constitution era to our time, his work is periodized and narrators are categorized and it is clear that every narrator is related to which part. He addresses archive of Soviet era and it is very different with someone who appears without any knowledge in front of every person. We don't consider Harvard work as an example of an oral history work which its output is history. Audio file of the interviews is not available in Harvard website but their digital format is available and digital copy is the same literally and exactly translation. One other fault of the project is that there is a four years gap between 2 and 3 or 3 and 4 appointments with and this is a technical defect. This an important point that meetings to be held regular and even one principle is that if you interview today and you go tomorrow again, recollect a summary of the previous visit. If there is a four years gap between meetings of interview, it also for someone who is nearly at old age, is a technically hurting issues. Once I wanted to interview with Seyyed Reza Farid Zanjani. After much commuting, I realized that he came to Qom countryside, answered Esteftas (religious order of a clergyman for something) and returned. Situation was in a way that I had to accept it. During a time he went for pray and when he returned, in the same 10 to 20 minutes opportunity I tried to regard scientific criteria. However, Mr. Lajevardi either had to work before starting contributing with Harvard Department or he had to study in order to present a work based on scientific criteria and there is no excuse for it. 

In continuance of the Q&A, Shafigheh Nicknafs, one of audience in the conference and of experts and writers of oral history stated, "Harvard project was an opportunity that took place in a period of history and it used this opportunity very well. Once the revolution happened, and therefore some left Iran. There, a university started a work, its budget was determined, and the work is very wonderful in its own part. What was done in America that time, our politicians are doing it today. About that Harvard is a model for us, I have to say not that we are unfamiliar with Harvard project, but that man always returns, and see precedents of others, and evaluate what an organization had done, but that do exactly work of that organization, it is not true. In my opinion, oral history is not something we can definitely model, because we do not work with raw materials, we work with human resources, and each of these people we work with has a special way. Overall, in my opinion, we cannot contain highly oral history in defined frameworks. I agree that questions must be pre-designed and a logical order to be established, but notwithstanding all these, and not able to establish a human relationship, we can never do interview."

Amir Hossein Farshad, an activist in field of oral history, also stated, "Two points about Harvard Oral History Project were not raised at this meeting: that Westerners are sensitive to their money, and they are not like us who spend money very comfortable and are very insensitive. If we do oral history inside our country is to promote our culture and transfer our experiences to the current and future generations, but why does a university or any other center like Harvard spend that amount of money? I do not want to have delusion of conspiracy, but historical period in which the project was conducted was in the 1980s, and most of interviewees were Pahlavi II statesmen. In 1983 or 1984 someone is interviewed who had been an official in Pahlavi regime two or three years ago. The first thing he does is that he put aside self-censorship and distorts many events. In Mr. Dehbashi project, we see that 30 years have passed since the revolution, and people can easily talk and criticize, but in that project, there is someone who after three years still hopes to reversion of the regime and to recapture his post and chair. Harvard Oral History Project is important in this regard that it did something and if that hadn't been conducted, many people had died without getting their information. It shouldn't be say that the whole project is void and wrong, I have read Sharif-Emami part and history of Iran's railways can be extracted from his words. In my opinion, we have to look at this project cautiously, and if anyone has an illusion of conspiracy, and regards it as a threat, he/she must change the threat to an opportunity through a particular engagement."

Then Mohammad Ghasemipour, director of Office for Resistance Studies and Culture of provinces of Hozeh Honari, said: "I want to say a point in completing Mr. Farshad words. Intention and purpose of employer and client of oral history projects is certain today, as Mr. Farshad said, they do not enter a work without a prejudice and intent. Wherever this happens, employer and type of order naturally shadow the work. Start of Harvard project was in 1979, and it did not enter even1980 and its main reason is surprising of American political, economic, and academic system against the Islamic Revolution. Lack of prediction of Islamic Revolution is an academic blow to them, because when they fail in diplomacy, they look at university and say: Why did not you say? And university could not have predicted rise of Islamic revolution. On January 01, 1978, President Jimmy Carter preferred to have Christian New Year's Eve in Iran, which is contrary to tradition of White House, because presidents are in White House on night of New Year's Eve and talk to their people from there. We all know what happened in Tehran in January 1979 and the king was escaping. Behind Carter's historic comment of January 01, 1979 that says, "Today Iran is Stable Island of the Middle East," university, diplomacy and quarterly of Foreign Relations Council lie in which a thousand elites analyze for what the president will say. These are not hidden at all, and they easily said that Harvard have been missioned, check and see why did the revolution happen in Iran? The most accessible people were also those who had just fled and had not passed more than a year from their migration. The issue is so important that you know that Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was ill, but French writer and interviewer came and sit next to him and prepare "Answer to History". If you look at "Answer to History," you see that the king is hastily to answer to history, and some of these interviews were published when the king was alive. In my opinion, this is a very extensive and effective point that we are Iranians and are concerned about our country and history, and we are criticizing with our own standards. Naturally, at that time, they did not have most of knowledge, but they just wanted to know why the revolution happened; that is to say those factors. Americans never hide, and in December 1978 they came to the conclusion that this king is not worthy of support, that is, they do not support and cope with the next government. I did not see all of these interviews, but the same number which was translated into Persian and referred to them in sources are mainly talk about economic sector; that is, there is a common punch line among all of them that everyone says I did not bribery, I was not a thief, but Would you like to tell you about that matter?! Mr. Majidi saw himself completely virtuous and cleared of everything, but he did not shrink to tell actions of others. If they are put together like a puzzle, then we see that as they want, reject systematic corruption and say it hadn't been, but they say ask about anyone you want! I narrate for you, and he says exactly number and statistic! The project is valuable for us in this sense, and I accept also weaknesses that friends have mentioned and critique of Mr. Abolhasan Taraghi. In terms of content, my evidence is the fact that all take this journal of US Foreign Relations Council because it gives us a perspective. They used Harvard interviews from the same 1983 or 1984, and analysts used it to see what would be path of Islamic Revolution. I believe that now our most important social affair is fight against economic corruption, embezzlement, etc., and we could track it in the interviews in which we are prone to bring such situation, because we became friend fast, trust fast, and insider would be very sure for us soon."

Rasoolipour replied: "points that Mr. Farshad and Mr. Ghasemipour stated are a kind of guessing intent and debates which have been produced beyond this text. That American diplomacy system budgets based on what needs, because they want to explain the revolution, because they are confused and ... all of this are true, but now here, our discussion is on the produced text that to what extent is consistent with historical standards and with traditions of research in historiography. You can tell about budget, conspiracy, what time the project was started in any text that you evaluate. Ironically, based on my personal experience, I try to write an introduction to each conversation to clarify atmosphere of dialogue for a better understanding of reader. This is good, but what you are saying is a general issue; it's true also for internal interviews, and this does not help us. A work can be done with a treacherous intention and be methodical, and another one can be done with a healthy intent but it is non-methodological, and both can be investigated. The point that Mr. Farshad said; that we must see these works with caution is absolutely correct. Principally oral history is a complementary resource, since documents cannot explain their own peripheral issues; for example, SAVAK's chief feels hostile to someone and he frames him up in SAVAK, and you know that a lot of documents have been published about this person and others cite the writing, oral history helps to see those documents more clear. But if you want to see oral history texts independent of the documents, you would proceed wrong and you may be engage with some problems. Regarding systematic view that Mr. Ghasemipour said; those outside Iran, not because they are among the former regime's dependents, but even those who live in different environments, are far from being superficial, and the systematic view in the texts prepared at abroad is more than what is made up inside. US diplomacy system was surprised by the Islamic Revolution, because they misdirected CIA, the king deceived them, SAVAK was a powerful system and the king had asked US that CIA to have no role in our political affairs, and that's why America became surprised by the situation in Iran; ironically, we better extract this information from sources that others have published. With all flaws, we have to neglect and read cautiously, but we must read it all and disadvantage of our friends in oral history is that they less read books."

Then history researcher, Rahim Nikbakht told: "An issue is background of oral history in Iran, which Vahid magazine (Seifollah Vahidnia) did works on Imperial 2500-years anniversary festivals, and interviewed with statesmen of Pahlavi era during Pahlavi's time that they should not be ignored. In my opinion, what Harvard began was continuance of interviews of Pahlavi statesmen before overthrow of Pahlavi dynasty; at the same time, we cannot reject the first work that is so coherent. This is a worthwhile work at its time. On the other hand, neither opinion of Professor Rasoolipour could be ignored nor critiques of other dear friends on this project. In these projects, there has already definitely existed a goal, program and organization. Another important point in oral history is that there are no necessary documents and papers and they haven't considered that necessary speed for compilation and conducting in order to regard documents and papers. Part of this lack of attention is deterministic, but with regard to existed documents relating to interviewed characters and documents that the narrators themselves have had, we see that a large number of these documents and photos are available in foreign libraries. Another point is that purpose of interview has not been a controversial discussion, and sympathy with interviewees has continued. Finally, I read the latest interrogation case of Mozzafar Baghai, who was in the archives of Islamic Revolution Document Center, and I found out that they had learned a great point; that Mozzafar Baghai replied to some extent that the interrogator was aware, that is Baghai did not talked a word more than the interrogator consciousness. While we know Mozzafar Baghai was present in various events. So whether the interviewers were aware or not, they were confronted with experts and elites of the issue, and certainly they didn’t give any information further than interviewer awareness. Given the path we see of the persons in the books, the interviewer is looking for the interviewee, rather than being a questioner and can discover vague points."

Then Masih Javaherdehi, an oral history expert, stated, "we are only collecting history in oral history of Iran and making history; that is, if we have addressed in making history and modernizing history of Islamic Revolution in oral history, which is one of research methods of history, we were very successful; while Westerners address historize and modernizing history. It's good to collect history, but just doing it in our oral history is a pest and it causes many of our clarification and solutions to be eliminated, and creates self-censorship in dissemination and discourse. So we have to enter cautiously. I suggest review projects like Harvard project fairly, and update it with theorization, because some of us interview based on Mr. Lajevardi work that do not have oral history value. If we view just based on Harvard approach, it is false because we do not know historizing or do not want to do it. If we want to historize, we can easily do it through documents, writings, audiovisual documents and more."

The first session of review and inquiry of historiography of contemporary Iranian oral history focused on Harvard Oral History Project was held at hall of Dr. Parham in NLAI on February 18, 2018.

Number of Visits: 246


Full Name:
Memory Telling of Zahra Almasian, Veteran Lady of the Holy Defense

Relief in Khorramshahr and Abadan

The first young years of Zahra Almasian coincided with victory of Islamic Revolution and beginning of the imposed war by Saddam Army against Iran. She began working in several fields in Abadan in early days of invasion of Iraqi Baathist in Iran. But as Khorramshahr situation became critical, which was at high risk more than Abadan, she goes to Khorramshahr for relief, and after several days of activity under heavy fire of the enemy, she is injured there.

Research Literature & Oral History

We are constantly dealing with oral history texts that, if included in the historiography circle, their genealogies are missing. Perhaps under appreciation of the most important part of the writing, which is a major contribution to the endurance and validity of the text, has been neglected. Negligence and hurriedness, have caused a lot of work not to be desirable. To this end, we try to recall in this succinct series, the literature of research in accrediting the text.
Three books included memories:

"The Seeds of Pomegranate", "You Are Iranian; Are not You?", "Thirteen in Seven"

By reading this book, you will be familiar with books "The seeds of pomegranate", "You are Iranian, Are not you?" and "Thirteen in seven". These books include memories about Saddams army imposed war against Islamic Republic of Iran.
First chapter of oral history films of Isfahan Bazar unveiled

Accompaniment of oral and visual history

According to the website of Iranian Oral History, “the ceremony for unveiling the first chapter of the collection of oral history films of Isfahan Bazar” attended by a number of veterans of the bazar and organized by Assar Khaneh Shahi Museum (the Center for Studies of Isfahans Public Culture) was held in the Conference Hall of the Central Library of the city of Isfahan on Sunday 29th of April 2018.