Opportunities and Challenges for Women’s Activity in the Field of Oral History

Maryam Asadi Jaafari
Translated by: Zahra Hosseinian


According to Iranian Oral History Website, interviewer women in the field of oral history of the Islamic Revolution and the Holy Defense has taken their place among Hozeh Honari, Islamic Revolution Documentation Center, Foundation for the Preservation of the Works and Publication of the Sacred Defense Values, Holy Defense Documents and Research Center, Ravayat-e-Fath Institute and Publication, and other practitioners in this area for years. Some of them are recording the oral history of Shahid’s family, warriors, doctors, rescue workers, women, POWs, and revolutionary fighters in the cities, and others have gone further and recorded the oral history of commanders and the ups and downs of battles. The unique characteristics of women, such as their meticulous look and their particular look at war, is a capacity which should be considered worthwhile. But, women who are involved in oral history, struggle with problems and limitations, some of which was mentioned by "Fatemeh Dehghannayeri".

Beginning writing as a short story writer and after completing oral history training courses, she wrote Citizen of the Sky: Memoirs of Pilot, Brigadier General Mahmoud Ansari. About the compilation of this book she says: "The subject of writing, whether in the field of novel, fiction, or oral history, should be of interest to the author. If the author has no interest in the subject, then it doesn’t work out well. I was interested in recording the memoir of Pilot Ansari, so, during the recording of the interviews, I did extensive research on the role of the Air Force in the Sacred Defense. For example, I leafed through aviation magazines and collected information and was in contact with other pilots. The interview took two years, and during this period, I came to the conclusion that the mutual respect between the narrator, the interviewer, and the editor of the work is of particular importance."

The author of The Dream of Flight: Memories of Mohammad Ali Falaki, describes the challenges facing a woman entering the field of recording oral memories of sacred defense: "One of the limitations for women interviewers in the field of war is the time and place of interview. The interview can be done at times when the narrators are free and not worry and anxious. These times vary for individuals and should be arranged by the administrators in order to be able to conduct the interview, observing the existed constraints. Another problem is the gender of the narrators. When the interviewer is a woman, the narrators may think that the interviewer has no information! While a professional interviewer researches and discusses the subject of the meeting before the interview time. Even if the interviewer has complete information about some issues, should ask the narrator to narrate them in order the events to be recorded in the narrator's language. Because the editors cannot add anything of their own to the content. But sometimes the questions worry the narrators: how a person who doesn't even have the basic information is going to record their oral history. Therefore, they are reluctant to continue the interview; while it is not so and asking such questions is necessary. If a woman interviewer asks for the password of an operation, it's not because she doesn't have enough information; rather, she asks aiming it is narrated by the narrator. The next problem is supervising the project by administrators. The narrators should not be restricted and should be able to speak easily. They should talking without censorship or expediency, especially on an important subject like war. It has been almost forty years since the beginning of the war, and the unspoken should finally to be said. Soon, many of the narrators will no longer be among us, and many issues will remain unsaid."

Mentioning the benefits of interviewer women in the field of war memories, the author of The Flight Doctor: The Memories of Dr. Mohammad Taghi Khorsandi Ashtiani, points out: "Women are meticulous, and since they don’t often participate in the war, raise more questions. Women also have more leisure time than men and can work better. On the other hand, part of the oral history of the war is devoted to women. The wife of a warrior who was in the front line, supported the family behind the front line, and her memories are certainly part of the oral history of the war. Interviewing with such subjects would be better done by women, and a woman is more successful in it. Apart from the fact that women can work well in this area, they also see the emotional details better and are better hearer, and perhaps the narrator can communicate emotional issues more easily with a woman."

At the end, Dehghannayeri recalls the problems related to the economic and moral rights of oral history works: "I’ve worked with public or private organizations in the field of Holy Defense. Another problem that seems to me to be unaffected by gender, and that most writers face it, is that some administrators find themselves in possession of everything; from the audios of interviews to publishing books, and even preventing book reprints. Even if a book is requested by the readers, they would rather spend the cost of reprinting for publishing a new book. Even the editors' moral rights are not respected. Copying the works is done freely. Another point is that in oral history contracts, the term of contract for completing the projects do not correspond with the oral history requirements. The administrator usually determined a certain term for completing the project. But in most projects, the work continues for months after the appointed time has elapsed. Researchers plan for their project based on the contract, and when it takes long time, they cannot conduct several projects simultaneously. Because the subject and time and place of events are different. So the author's subsistence is affected by this, and the researchers could not obtain their livelihood through the concluded contract."

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