Application of subject-oriented oral history in local historiography

M. M. Abdullahzadeh
Translated by M. B. Khoshnevisan


Oral history as an interdisciplinary science is available for the individuals who are experts in history. The result of the precious works and valuable thoughts of prominent scholars in today’s world in the subject of oral history is a road map which makes possible effective planning and action around this science.

At present, thanks to two important events of the Islamic revolution and the Sacred Defense in our country, a significant number of individuals around this vast country are determined to play a role in recording and registering the events related to the two. The oral history experts can seize this opportunity to promote their products in this area qualitatively and quantitatively.

The content of oral history has been divided into “individual-oriented” and “subject-oriented” in a general view, and they have talked about the significance, method and applications of oral history. They, however attach higher honor and status in a general view for subject-oriented oral history.

The writer of the article has compiled the following items using the research literature available for him and the experiences resulted from four projects[1] which probably can be considered as local subject-oriented oral history.


Significance of subject-oriented oral history

Regarding the significance of passing through carrying out individual-oriented researches and researches with subject-oriented titles, Malaee Tavani says, "We are still in the first stages, namely production of data and obtaining news from oral data. Conduction and writing interviews are our oral history which is the beginning stage of Islamic historiography. If we continue with this method, we may provide much data but do not reach a favorable point. Thus, oral historiography should be shifted from the state of "individual-oriented" to "subject-oriented". It means that a subject should be selected and different narrators are interviewed. Then, we should collect and combine, presenting a correct narration form the discussed event. A cause and effect relationship should be established in oral historiography and cognition can be obtained from it.[2]

Morteza Nouraee has also quoted, "Single-oriented projects are in fact an emphasis on a single reading over close past. Paying attention to the point that history is not an individual experience and oral history should be a bridge for passing from individual experience toward the collective one show the application of the fundamental method. No hypothesis and consequently no theory are not reliable on individual experience in social life. Therefore, in order to get out of the current standoff in Iranian oral history, the thinking that only special individuals have witnessed an event and are limited to individual should be set aside. Oral history research should not remain in the stalemate of a centrist witness, something that oral history has borne fruit basically in escaping from it namely decentralization.[3]

Also, Hassan Abadi and Dehqan Nejad quoting from Haliwax have said that although the individuals' memories are worthy individually, this is the collective memories which can recall the active past and build the today's identity of the society.[4] 

One of the applications of subject-oriented oral history is in oral history with local subjects, because when we talk about local oral history, particular subject or subjects which have happened in an area is noticed. In this connection, Hassan Abadi said, "The relation between local history and oral history is very widespread. Local history is of great importance in oral history and in the discussion of history and oral history, the most important area is local history. A large volume of information is usually collected in local history. The information includes customs, celebrations, joys, sufferings and sorrows, because it is related to the historical identity of a locality.[5]


Selection of narrators

Biography is part of the life or activity of an individual in individual-oriented plans and in subject-oriented plans, the narrators are under consideration. The best option for carrying out an individual-oriented project is to use “housecleaning” system. It means that the interviewer tries to pose appropriate questions and to guide the interview’s session in a way the interviewee remembers and recalls the memoirs related with the subject of the interview more and more. But in subject-oriented projects, the ‘snowball” system is considered.[6]

When an oral history researcher designs a plan for carrying out an oral history project, one of the topics that occupy his or her mind is how he or she can design a method to select the narrators in order to collect the necessary data faster and less costly. In order to solve this problem, the snowball method is proposed and introduced in a qualitative research which has been welcomed by the researchers.           

 About whether the application of the sample group in selecting narrators is appropriate, Tavakoli has quoted Adib, “The questions posed during the qualitative research of oral history for its researchers is who can be a rich resource of information for studying? Who should be talked with? What should be observed so that we reach to a clear understanding of the phenomenon? New questions are also posed in continuation of the study: With whom can we talk so that he or she approves or corrects and deepen what we have realized? In this regard, Burns Grove believes, “In qualitative research, the individuals who participates in a research are not called an individual or a sample but a participant or an informant, because no intervention happens on these individuals, but they take part in studying actively and this caused their life and social interactions are realized better. Patton has called this type of sampling as purposeful or theoretical, because the individuals are selected for studying who have experienced the considered phenomenon or have special experiences and viewpoints about it.[7]

The snowball method which sometimes is called network or chain method is a suitable, efficient and cheap method for accessing to the individuals who otherwise was difficult to find them. In this method, the researcher wants the first samples selected usually in a simple method to introduce other individuals who have experiences and viewpoints in the field of research for participation in studying if they know any other ones. In this method, while less time is spent, they can establish relations with the researcher easier due to the acquaintance of new individuals with the first one.[8] 


Characteristics of local oral history

  • When our localities, villages and towns own oral history with the subjects of the revolution and scared defense, it is possible to use them in education of history in the schools, because learning indigenous and local history can be an introduction for learning national history. This type of priority is observed in some of the countries. For instance, the results of research in England and Wales show that the policies of education in the two countries back local history, in this way that sequence of historical studies should be as follows according to the education laws: local history, national history, European history, history of the world and local areas and gatherings should be studied comprehensively. One of the advantages of the research for education of local history is the persuasion of students to research, analyze and report their observations which lead to advancement and development of the logical thinking of the students. The teaching of history in the United Kingdom is also more relevant to people and their lives, and they respond to local needs of people. In addition, in teaching history, especially local history, all aspects of life, such as political, social, cultural and religious dimensions, are considered.[9]

In this connection, Abolfazl Hassan Abadi says, "Since everyone has a story for his/her own, every generation has also its own special history. Oral history is a method for taking the students to the heart of history or bringing history to their daily life. This approach helps build intergenerational interactions. This method of teaching makes history a tangible form for students. Oral history provides a new image of social history and helps students’ present different conceptions of history. This style suggests a new approach to connecting students with the community.[10]

  • One of the functions of oral history is the validation of the findings of each historian. In this case, Rasoul Jafarian says, "The truth is that oral sources, like many other sources, need to be edited and modified. There must be some ways to clean them. In criticizing historical news, we consider the comparison between the news of a subject as an appropriate solution for evaluation. This should also be done for oral history. They have to interview a number of people who are involved for assessing an event, and to achieve the truth to some extent through comparison between them. Creation of an integration between what is said in the interviews as an oral history with the documents which have remained from the event is of great importance. The documents should always be put along with oral history. What has come in the history should always be put alongside oral history so that they can be compared better.[11]


  • There is a common sense in the individuals that they are somehow interested in their birthplace and locality. This interest prompts the people of each region to cooperate with a researcher who wants to interview about the events happened in their area and use the documents and historical evidence related to it. In this case, Hassan Abadi has quoted from Evangls that one of the important issues in regional research is the interest of the people in their past, and attachment to the environment and having the sense of nostalgia towards it which is shared in local, regional, and then national sense.[12]


  • The individual who is going to do something about the local subject history, in addition to being eligible as an oral historian, should have necessary knowledge and skills in the following cases:


  1. Having relative acquaintance with the culture, norms, values and beliefs of the people of the region and respecting them.
  2. Recognizing the respected and influential individuals of the area.
  3. Lodging in the considered area even for a short time and spending times with local people
  4.  Visiting the sites respected by the people and taking part in their religious and political ceremonies.
  5. Having appropriate clothing and makeup with the least difference with locals
  6. Allocating enough time to recognize the area of its people before starting the interview
  7. Getting familiar with the area's written history and important local events available in the written history or in the people's memoirs.
  8. Showing impartiality in dealing with political or ethnic groups, if there is any
  9. Avoiding any behavior that degrades dignity before the people as historians
  10. Giving practical promises about publishing the collected materials.


[1] A – Damghan's Jihad Sazandeg in Scared Defense, interview with 50 people of the Jihad, Aminan Publications, 2014

B- Epic makers in white: The health center of Semnan Province during the Scared Defense, interview with 90 workers of the center, Sarir Publications, 2017

C- Oral memoirs of Islamic revolution's struggles in Damghan's Roudbar, interview with 27 campaigners, Sooreh Mehr Publications, 2017

D-Miqan in revolution, interview with some 50 active villagers, completed in 2017 and under publication.

[2] Malaee Tavani, Gholamreza, “Reviewing status of oral history in historical researches”

[3] Nouraee Morteza, An introduction to philosophy of oral history, Treasury of Documents, 2003, issues 49 and 50, page 67

[4] Hassan Abadi, Abolfazl and Dehqan Nejad, Methodology and subject-finding of urban studies in oral history: Collection of articles, Article of oral history of collective memories and urban identity, 2008. Astan-e qods Razavi Publications, page 50

[5] Hassan Abadi, Abolfazl, the 11th Expert Meeting of Iranian Oral History titled “The National Conference of Compilation in Oral History”

[6] Nouraee Morteza, the 6th workshop of oral history in the Martyr Foundation of Hamedan Province

[7] Tavakoli, Faezeh, Approaches and methodology of oral history in historical researches

[8] Ibid

[9] Qaderi, Mustafa, et al, Teaching of local history in the curriculum of history from the perspective of history teachers and high school students (The case study of Kohkilloyeh and Boyer Ahmad Province), the scientific research journal of Education and Evaluation of Islamic Azad University, tenth term, issue 37, spring 2017

[10] Hassan Abadi, Abolfazl, Oral history in schools

[11] Jafarian, Rasoul, What is oral history? An interview with Rasoul Jafarian

[12] Hassan Abadi, Abolfazl quoting from Evangls, Importance of oral history in local researches

Number of Visits: 646


Full Name:
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