Principle of Issue Based Approach in Oral History

Morteza Nourayi (PhD)
Translated by Natalie Haghverdian


Please perceive this note as a reminder. The spring of oral history has started in our country and it is pleasing to see too many interested actors in the field. It is however recommended to offer rich material and content to deepen studies and avoid waste of financial resources.


Oral history is question and issue based. In other words, oral history builds on questions and asking questions based on which interviews are designed. Hence, the interviewer and the interviewee are in constant interaction on the subject matter through the whole interview to develop outcomes from the question based discussions. Engineering the interview to fit the questions within the framework of the issue is the expertise and art of the interviewer. In light of this very fact, the basic concept emerging increasingly and involving all human sciences must be defined.

Once questions are multifaceted (Crystalized) and considered from various and different aspects and dimensions they become issues. In other words when a question takes various dimensions and becomes multifaceted then it has the criteria to be perceived as an issue. Indeed the questions is whether a question has the potential of an issue. In that case, obviously, it is might not be possible to provide answers at all levels and in all aspects but in a research process, consideration of all aspects and focus on one dimension demonstrates competence and scientific awareness. It is not possible to address all aspects of a question in the form on an issue in one single research; however, negligence of other aspects might result in defected or unjustified answers. A scholar mentions all the aspects of an issue but engineers the interview with the focus on the intended dimension.

Conversion of a question to an issue is the art of the interviewer. In fact crystallization of the questions and bringing them to fit the frame of an issue is an effort which in fact the expert oral historians engineer the project towards. Accordingly, this key question might be classified in two level: Is issue based approach is sectional? Or cross-sectional?

  1. Internal aspect: crystallization or geometric construct consideration of a question (spacing=networking); is this question an issue? In such consideration all various aspects of a question comes into sight and space is created to obtain answers for all. Indeed, it doesn’t mean that the scholar is to answer all the aspect of an issue. Under such circumstances, questions, subject to time and ambiance of the project come to the light to be answered and are sometimes highlighted or discouraged. However, their presence walks towards comprehensive answers.
  2. External aspect (outcome: part of the whole): its status in parallel sciences and borders of neighbors; in this structural approach the capacity and nature of this science and relevance of the questions is discussed. In the philosophy of oral history three key issues exist: 1. Recording the generalities of events, 2. Recording scenes and interpretations of the events, 3. A response to the news distribution and necessity of recording the news in the ever changing contemporary world. Hence, it is not mere historiography; it stands in the fine line of history and contemporary time and beyond that it defines the relations of the external aspect.

In the issue based approach the key point is that: the issue in hand, in the continuum of research is altered and challenged with emerging hypothesis or contradicting questions for which its nature and existence is investigated in various aspects. In other words, issue based approach is a path in which in every phase of the project questions are raised which require high competence by the scholar. The fact that where is he standing? Which questions is he going to answer?

For instance, every institution or organization such as banks, universities or National Oil Organization as the owner of oral history project might be an issue. In issue based approach, all internal factors forming the general network might be considered and the researcher might consider a few specific factors in his proposal which are more attentive by the project owner. In general, every institution or organization, in its social life is in transaction is affected and affects others. Banks are financial institution but involved with the family unit, the subordinate administrative system and the major system (ministry), external systems (market), etc. Opening these scenes is not intended to sophisticate and complicate the research but every study in the structure of the main construct occupies a certain level of status which is important to consider the whole construct in designing the research outline. Otherwise, what is the importance of recording the oral history of the National Oil Organization? As we know, the country owes a major proportion of its modernization to this entity; nurseries, kindergartens, parks, state residences, etc. are all various individual and subject based aspects of this organization and it is impossible to conduct an interview and neglect the fact of modernization. Such attentive considerations is an issue based approach.[1]


[1] Note of Morteza Nourayi, Professor of History of Isfahan University & Head of Iranian Local History Association which was written on 5 March 2018 in Sofia University, Bulgaria and submitted to Oral History Association.

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