Criticism of Published Oral History Interview

The Time between Interview and Compilation Must Be Reduced

Maryam Rajabi
Translated by Ruhollah Golmoradi


As reported by Iranian Oral History Website, session of book lunch and analyzing "Justice and Politics: Oral History Interview with Ahmad Sadr Haj Seyyed Javadi"[i] was held in Khaneh Ketab Institution's Saraye Ahle Ghalam on Monday, June 18, 1917. At this meeting, Ghorbanali Kenarroodi as the editor and Gholamreza Azizi and Ali Mohammad Tarafdari were present as critics of the book.


I wish editor to be the same interviewer

At the beginning of the meeting Kenarroodi said, "Oral History Project of this book began in April 2017. The two interviewers had done this and also implemented it. When I referred to original file for editing this book, some parts were illegible; that is, it had not been properly heard and typed; so I typed them again and carefully, and made corrections. If I want to review my work in terms of form, I have to say that I listened again to the audio files and filled empty spaces, relied on original file of the interview, and did not make any changes, unless where necessary, for example, I changed a word or phrase inside bracket, and sometimes I mentioned it in footnote so that reader to be sure that no essential changes have been made in the text. After rehearing, compiling the text and recension of the previous text, I completed compilation according to opinion of Research Council of NLAI of Islamic Republic of Iran and presented it for publication. This book was published in March 2018.

I have critique about type of questions that two interviewers have asked. Given that oral history can acquire many points from people about historic departments and transfer to our present audiences, it was a good new work that was done hardly, but if two interviewers do interviews at two times, naturally, some questions are similar and answers are also repeated, and for eliminating them I encountered with this challenge that If I removed them, hardships that had been done would be discarded, and this was far from fair. For this reason, I mentioned reason of presence of similar points in memories of this person.

The book is organized in 9 sessions of interview. Ahmad Sadr Haj Seyyed Javadi is one of characters who had covered a large part of our contemporary history because of his presence in political, social and cultural matters and from 1952 to 2006 or 2007 that this interview had been done, he had seen and experienced a widespread period of various events and currents in the country. He was an influential figure in administrative and judicial affairs of Iran, as well as one of founders of National Resistance Movement, and then Freedom Movement of Iran, who had thorough and extensive information about events before and after the revolution."

He continued, "about a critique that I had about the interviewers, I have to say that some questions are very routine, such as: birth date, place of birth, how to spend education course, and how to being familiar with different people, and etc.; and because of being two interviewers, many necessary questions have not been asked and I think the second interviewer thought the previous interviewer had asked the question, and the first interviewer said to himself that the next interviewer would ask this question. I wish editor was interviewer in order to penetrate hidden angles of interviewee because editor has not seen interviewee's movements, states and indications during interview. I believe that if interviewer to be editor too, oral history book could be presented better and better. I tried to mention all these points and objections in introduction of the book."


Ways to transform an oral history interview into a historical source

Then Gholamreza Azizi, director of Documents Research Institute of NLAI addressed structure of the book. "We have all kinds of interviews; from television, radio and sports interviews to interviews for recruitment and acceptation in an office, an interview given by a doctor with patient so that patient expresses his situation and an interview with defendants in police station. An interview that we conduct for compiling history and oral historiography is called oral history interview.

Over the past two years, of a thousand interviews that have been conducted by NLAI, number of those which were published by the organization itself, without loss of generality, has not reached twenty ones. This lag was posed years of years for oral history department of the organization and, in general, for the organization itself. These thousand interviews were conducted by 10 to 20 people. In this situation, if the 20 people wanted to do both interview and compilation, some would die during the project. This opportunity has to be taken as a good omen. Our department believes that compilation begins from an interview, not from when an interview is implemented because interviewer would be more careful when ask his/her questions. In next projects, it should be thought that the time between interview and editing should be reduced. Perhaps in this way we conclude more and better, because interviewee can review the work and do necessary corrections on it; so we conclude that if interviewer and editor to be one person, it is good in some aspects and in some ways has also some pests."

Azizi continued, "One thing we do in compilation is rationalization of the text. Rationalization of text of oral history interviews has not still a routine, rule, scale and gauge. Now there are three groups who do rationalization; one group who works alphabetically, which means they start based on names of individuals and opens a resource for each name. The second group is people who do rationalization for things they themselves do not know, and think what they know others also know. The third group is people who move in the middle, they rationalize where they can and walk away things they do not know. We have not yet defined any syllabus and rule for this work. Mr. Kenarroodi has followed the third group in this book; in some parts of the book, he describes almost all proper nouns in footnote. Proponents of this approach say that this method makes it easy for readers, but as a critic, I do not add any knowledge to science, we have not produced anything new, but we make comfortable work of reader and researcher; rather than they go and open book of Bagher Ameli, we open them instead. Opponents of this method say that by doing so, we increase volume of book. Mr. Doctor has walked away difficult names like moosiyo Monica, because he has not been able to find anything. I see this as an objection of interviewer because in interviews of oral history, interviewer can put himself in place of reader, and ask questions we cannot ask from other historical sources. Interviewer should ask narrator whenever he/she reaches an issue, an individual or an event during interview about them. Importance of this is that resources that we publish produce double value. This work and all oral history works which are publishing are a narrative that can be a source for future research. Oral history interviews, like all historical sources, must be criticized and verified from document that produced at time of event to travel literature and report, and their information also should be evaluated. Each book that is to be published as an oral history interview should also be measured."

At the end Azizi said, "Oral history works can usually be published in a number of ways. One way is that an interview to be presented totally.  In second way, oral history interview is considered as a document, and purpose of document doesn't mean it is precise and without doubt, but only one narrative which we use it; as well as all these narratives are used to compile history of an event. Usually, for those who use a subject-oriented oral history, the method is that several persons are interviewed in related to one issue, and all interviews are used in compilation of a work. Or interviews presented together, like a book that was printed thirty years ago titled "Goharshad" and it was a collection of memories that existed about Goharshad. Or oral history interview is used as one of your historiography resources and is cited along with other sources.

This book is an oral history interview that has been published completely. Now editors whether do documentation, that is interview is published as it is done, or change interview into a text and produces a new narrative of original narrative. For example, if at third meeting of interview, interviewee says something that is related to his biography and should be presented in the first volume according to historical sequence, it would be put in its place. Editor of the book has used documentation method. In this book, reader does not understand at what date each interview was conducted. Interviews are chaptered and I cannot understand each matter was at which session of interview and at what date. All of this is for the third person who wants to use this text as a document and a narrative to be accepted. Logic and resources of the book's illustrations, except for newspapers, are unknown: that what source was used for photos or why they brought someone's photo and did not present someone else's photo. With all this luckily images are related to text of the book."


Oral history also has a kind of view

Ali Mohammad Tarafdari also said about content of the book, "Basically, any data that has historical value, in any form that is recorded, is useful and effective; because in this way its possible destruction to be prevented and, on the other hand, it is important to record it for posterity. Our country is a country of epidemies. One thing suddenly becomes an epidemy and covers throughout the country. Oral history is the same. Once its epidemy arrived in Iran and now oral history is worked at each center. Of course I do not opposite this. Disadvantage of these epidemies is that as if it makes some things to be forgotten and get lost. For example, one serious events in Iran is issue of Kashf-e hijab (unveiling), which I have not seen any center has addressed it and they haven't addressed as late as that I think everyone who witnessed this event died or old too enough to remember something. Sometimes these epidemies cause some serious issues not to be seen."

He continued, "Mr. Kenarroodi took only one audio file and reconstructed an image in his mind. The best compiler of a work is interviewer because she/he has been present at meetings and has seen a number of things. The best thing for making available what we compiled for all is electronic release, because circulation of electronic publishing is very high, it speeds up and reduces costs.

I believe memories and oral history, or any other name that we call, are in nature carrier of a kind of view. We all have heard the point that historian should be neutral, and I really do not think that this absolute neutrality is possible. In realm of history, neutrality is also a standpoint. Modern historiography is melded almost with ideology of nationalism throughout the World. We cannot name a historian in Iran that has not been a nationalist somehow. Nationalism prevents researcher mentality to be impartial. A history that nation of Iran narrates is from its point of view, and a history that nation of Afghanistan narrates is also from its view.

About content of the book, I should say that the first point is early life of late Haj Seyyed javadi; that a period in which he lived were other people too, and these symmetrical and simultaneous developments of people is one of the most interesting points that involuntary overlap. Someone has a narrative of school, other person also about other position. Points that are valuable to our time in terms of document and maybe never have been recorded, and no one has thought that these issues or events could have occurred, are found among these contents."

At the end, Tarafdari said: "In the book, there were points about origin of aristocracy and children of religious elders which were interesting. The narrator depicts political atmosphere of student circles of 1330s (SH), and tells about developments in judiciary and influence of political developments on judiciary because of his job, a lawyer. All of these were of strengths of the book. Photos of the book are not ungraceful and, on the other hand, every book that is illustrated attracts reader mentally. It just seems to me that there have been given an explanation of how they were collected."

In response to raised critiques, Kenarroodi said, "chapters were based on number of interview sessions that lasted nine sessions. On date of the interviews, which were only repeated, I just mentioned in introduction that the interviews had been conducted in his house in Elahieh in 2006 and 2007. About references, I tried to consider general audience to get information about characters they do not know. Memoires and oral history are of two different kinds; in oral history interviewer plays a significant role, but in memoires memory owner is more important. In oral history, interviewer can challenge narrator and talk about issues that compel interviewee to answer; actually he/she points at historic nodes and guides person, but in memoires, everyone has interests and tastes and can say tell some things and ignore some."

[i] Main entry: Sadr Haj Seyyed Javadi, Ahmad. 1917- , interviewee

Title and author: Justice and Politics: oral history interview with Ahmad Sadr Haj Seyyed Javadi, ed. by Ghorbanali Kenarroodi, observer, interviewers Hasan Mehrabi, Reza Mokhtari Esfahani, interviewee Ahmadreza Haj Seyyed Javadi.

Publication: Tehran: NLAI, 2017

External characteristics: 328 pp.: pictorial, photo.

Series: Oral History.

Number of Visits: 377


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