The Session "Reflection in Oral History"(III)

Let us take critique seriously and be vulnerable!

Maryam Rajabi
Translated by: Fazel Shirzad


According to Iranian oral history website, the first session titled "Reflection in Oral History" held at Dr. Parham Hall in National Library and Archives of Iran on Wednesday's evening, 27 February 2019. In the first part of the session, you read the words of Mohsen Kazemi, an oral history researcher and memoirs of Islamic Revolution, Mahmoud Sadat, a member of the faculty of Imam Khomeini Research Center, and Gholamreza Azizi, director of the Institute of Iranian National Library and Documents, and in the second part, you read the words of Abolfazl Hassanabadi, Director of Documents and Press Center of Astan Quds Razavi and Davood Zameni, the deputy director of the cultural and artistic affairs of the general directorate of provinces’ affairs and art council.


There is a need to get familiar with oral history methods

Mohammad Reza Roozbehani, a professor at Farhangian University, said: "I've read history and I'm interested in theater too. I do works in writing drama and research in the field of it. When I received the news from the oral history research meeting of Iranian theater after Islamic Revolution, I was pleased to cover my interests. The meeting was held in four sessions. Many theater elders were present. I participated in one or two sessions and followed the rest via news, but oral history was only thing that I felt it was absence in this meeting. I really regretted and followed up and wrote something and sent it magazine to be published.

My initial impression was that, with regard to the title of the meeting, I'd attend in there and see some of the professors who have worked on oral history of theater and have written a book and article, and their research has to be criticized and reported, or If there were friends who were not man of research, they came to present other studies on the oral history of theater. Because I knew some individuals such as Mr. Tajbakhsh Fanayan worked on the oral history of Iranian theater. Mr. Dawood Fathalibigi has also worked on Iranian dramatic arts and Ta'zieh[1] and has great information. It did not happen at all.

I sent an article to Drama magazine in which I wrote that there were seven goals supposed for this meeting. One, research works should be taken into consideration, but the intention of the agents at this conference was to conduct active interviews. It was very peculiar for me to conduct active interviews in the attendance of 50 or 60 guests; it was a wrong work and funny, and it is not in accordance with the technical and skillful technique of oral history works. I wrote about two to three pages about the work style of oral history as much as possible. Those meetings were in fact workshops that some of the professors and elders came to talk about general theater issues in the years after revolution. They also told a few memoirs, and they might have thought that those memories are part of oral history; they are handful of these memoirs. They said that the result of these meetings would be published as a book. I wonder what they want to publish. It's not all right to publish a few inconsiderate and raw memories. Who were the supporters of this meeting? The Department of the Dramatic Arts of Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, the International Theater Institute, the Dramatic Arts Center, Iranian Dramatic Society; in fact, all main centers that work with theater in this country were supporters of the meeting. Those who held the meeting and those who attended in the meetings did not know anything about oral history.

I don’t want to say that the Association of Oral History and friends working in this field will form a panel and oversee these works, because such works happened in our country a lot, and none of them comes to a conclusion. Of course, when these meetings is going to be conducted, friends who are interested in this field can attend in these meetings and at least give the friends a guideline. Mr. Dawood Fathalibigi is famous in Iranian traditional plays. He spoke, For example, with old black guys or with Saadi Afshar and wrote their memories. He went and talked with some traditional show groups that, for example, were in remote distance villages and recorded their memories. If he is a bit more familiar with oral history techniques, he will do some very valuable works on the oral history of Iranian theater. I made speech after the meeting and said that he was only person who was able to speak in this field and, of course, can scientifically be guided. "


Lack of legal and ethical regulations

Then, Mohammad Ghasemipour, director of the Office of Culture and Sustainability Studies of Art Center's, Provinces Affairs pointed to the plurality of custodians in relate to the support of oral history activities, said: "Oral history, regardless of academic topics and its science production feature, is costly and requires a custodian, employer and contractor to attract and support executor. The variety, diversity and incompatibility of them, and almost in some cases, being unrelated with history and science of history, is not a hidden and complex issue. Basically, any organization and any guild came and ordered work, preferred to be doer and contractor itself. During past twenty years, I have seen that even a car manufacturing company has once ordered to write a part of its history, and later it established Oral History Unit; it supposes that it is doing oral history work. This diversity and arrangement is practically evident, and it was clear in the words of friends that university did not have a decisive and serious effectiveness. The role of the university is undeniable.

I have spent most of my time on teaching the interview techniques of oral history in provincial centers over the past ten years, and I have thought and enter into this filed. Naturally, I have encountered with damages in various cities and provincial centers, and I want to speak about them a lot. I preferred to have a social and educational presence in capital because of the presence of pioneers and professors, but I went really to provincial centers and spent time and got acquainted and intimately connected with them. Now I feel that we are severely suffering from the lack of legal regulations for oral history workshop. Every day we see the dimness of moral issues. It was a time when the rulers, treaties and contracts were decisive, and today, as the state of morality is retreating and its role ineffectiveness, we have no legal regulations for oral history projects and works. Because there is no culture of critique, there is a lot of moral weakness for many works. Some parts and pieces of TV program related to oral history that was shown over the last two months are examples of our debates. There is no doubt that the segregated parts of interviews shown in documentaries and voiced by speech is not oral history. When we've segregated an interview from somewhere, and we're broadcasting it, it means we do every work everywhere as an oral history interview and project.

Of course, somewhere the care and attention is being made, such as a resistance has made by Mr. Hojjatoleslam Saeed Fakhrzadeh in the last two decades to maintain a legal and ethical regulation in the field of Art Center that is neither reflected or seen anywhere nor exemplified and may not be grateful somewhere. The works should be done at least with ethical and legal standards. In somewhere, these factors has been broken and I feel, in my field observations, it does not exist. Whatever I have heard and seen is a bit painful and mention them inevitably. We focus on communication in oral history and training interview. That is, we devote a significant part of art of interview to communication. I believe that some owners of memories are not owners of professional ethics in our society. Three to four instances of this case are in the questions raised by Mahmoud Sadat at the beginning of the meeting. I'm adding something in training course to tell women how to choose a male subject. Because what I say strongly influence in their spirits. There are people who do not have the capacity to engage in accurate social interaction. In general, I believe we should take the critique very seriously. We do not criticize many of the events.

As Dr. Roozbehani mentioned some words on oral history reflected by two to three limited media we have to reflect oral history work. It was clear from the news that there was meeting and he came and attended. Even the dissolution of his association was a question, it means he doesn't like absolutely retreat in business issues. The present time is being criticized. So why was the name of oral history arisen here? Indeed, the oral history newsletter can and is right to comment that there is a extreme distance from what is true and genuine.

I say the protest and hearing from people working in provincial centers. Because news in cyberspace can be transferred to all parts of the country. They say that why those, who speak behind tribune, believe our biggest problem is that the educators have not entered this debate. I know that, in many cities, people are working in this filed with good information and education. One or two people and media companions are in this meeting witnessed that during the Fajr Decade, I asked a question to someone who was speaking about oral history and its effective factors; I asked a question that was a bit long. In response to my question, the first sentence that was said derisively and ridiculously was that: "Well, you do not study, and this book get your ignorance into trouble!" How can I tell you books you did not read them but I read them? Wherever we go, sit on a corner anonymously and see that serious questions are raised. But answer is that either you do not have enough education or did not read the book; it means, it is personality destruction of questioner. We have to have a capacity to be criticized. it is very good to face with hard question."


A value for historical studies

Following the first session" Reflection in Oral History " and mentioned that the University of the Netherlands and the University of Florida also hold a master's degree in oral history Majid Tafreshi, scholar and documents researcher, said: "My memory of oral history is, wrongly, the Napoleon's book named " dear uncle" in which someone told the memoirs of war, and whenever he was telling memory, he tried to increase it and his assistant continued it as person attended in events. This is one of problems that we face in oral history today. When we began oral history as a science in Iran, we were involved in a fact that our academics, the serious people of our history, do not know oral history as real history. They said it was worthless and it should be a research and documentation. We have been passed through that stage for many years, and we have reached to a stage that there are people who, by using oral history as a means and because of their laziness and accessibility of oral history doing few interviews, claim that they are historians. If we take care not to be faced with these two trouble, we can reduce our problems. Of course, this has been a common case in the world too, and this is not something weird happened for us. But it was better that we did not go back to others. But it was better that we did not travel on the path that others had traveled.

In the field of oral history approach, we have two to three problems in Iran, which is very serious. I feel that oral history has become a business and a market. For some people, it turned into a shop to get money. Here, the content of  oral history- what it say and what it does not say, what approach should be used and how to express it and what it is, whether it should  be good, practical, and useful- is not taken into consideration. Oral history is not a means to find the important and inaccessible resources of historical research, it has been targeted itself and target has been a market. Those who work in oral history have been turned into a voice recorder put it in front of someone who has a bit of memory and to say whatever he wants. Some may not have significant memories, and some will use this targeted state. The obvious example of this targeted state is in the interview with Mr. Hossein Nasr with Mr Dehbashi, in which interviewee handle interviewer entirely. When you do not have insight and method, you fall in the trap of interviewee and s/he can handle you. If the interviewee does not have skills and facilities, the result will be wasted, or otherwise it will be recorded in his/her name in history. If oral history runs without insight, it can be led to disaster.

Another problem that concerns me in oral history, as other affairs of our historiography, is that now our oral history has become a means to stain the honor of some people and keep the honor of others. It has been a means to justify some beliefs and criticize other views. Some friends mentioned the segregation of oral history taken place in Iran, and I want to say that the segregation of oral history have not been begun from Iran. This segregation was begun in the BBC's oral history thirty years ago and done well. This exaggeration and fertility has been continued by Radio Farda[2] and Manoto. We initially wanted to cope with this destruction, and because we did not have the means and attraction of coping with it; instead of coping with the destruction, we are competing with it. That's what we did not began, but we continue it in the worst case. There are several oral history groups abroad; three of them are very famous: Harvard oral history, the Oral History of Iranian Studies Foundation (Mrs and Mr Afkhami) and leftist Oral History (Amir Ahmadi).

 Someone named Mr. Amir Taheri in Europe who was connected with Pahlavi regime and SAVAK[3] and became editor of the Keihan newspaper in young age. Outside of Iran, he was a journalist in Iranian and Western newspapers. He always had quarrels with Iran, he was monarchist but soften toward Iran in a brief period; he was doing many cultural projects at that time. He spoke in some media such as BBC and Iran International, and now he is the chairman of the most quarrelsome institution against Iran, east and Islam in the world, which Mr. Bultan was formerly its chairman. When you conceal his background, he becomes an educated journalist and an interviewer like his student and colleague who does not this background or conceal it. It's to mislead the addresses, and it is a problem inside of country, too. Sometimes you see that some people are in certain posts that if they reveal them, their entire content will be under question and try to conceal truth, and some things remain untold; Therefore, filtering the memories of people in oral history causes interviewer does not do interview well and mislead addresses, or if addresses finds out the truth, they may be discredited in oral history and question the efforts of others their value for historical studies will be lost. Researchers who believed oral history is not reliable and a good source for use in historical research, they find themselves right in this situation. On condition that oral history is single news and verified by other means, then oral history is a tool that is valuable per se, and it can be valuable for use in historical research, and I think that ignoring, denying or underestimating it is a foolish act; provided that the rites and protocols are observed."


The Session "Reflection in Oral History"(I)/ A talk on the real voice of oral history

The Session "Reflection in Oral History"(II)/ The position of oral history in the world and Iran


[1] This is a Iranian traditional play about the martyrdom of Hussein ibn Ali and the afflictions of his household

[2] Radio Farda is the Iranian branch of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty external broadcast service.

[3] it was the secret police, domestic security and intelligence service in Iran during the reign of the Pahlavi dynasty. It was established by Mohammad Reza Shah with the help of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the Israeli MOSSAD.

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