Oral History Requires Alignment with Documents

Alireza Kamri
Translated by: Fazel Shirzad


■We read the first part of Alireza Kamri's lecture on Documentation and Oral History. The second and final part of this lecture is mentioned here.[1]

8 / But, how can "memory" -in its various forms- be classified as historical field and modeling, because memory is not as credible as a document in historians, and it is in doubt. This is what the late Jahangir Ghaem Maghami emphasized in his book "An Introduction on the Recognition of Historical Documents" and mentioned a memory in the category of narrative and subjective sources. The late Dr. Abdolhossein Zarrinkoub[2] in the introduction of his book "The History of Post-Islamic Iran" has, in other words, also emphasized this dubious and hesitation. Other people have also mentioned this point.

Even in oral history, it is not uncommon for scholars to view oral history as a complement to document-based research. That is to say, oral history has been based on oral evidence, and it is true about memories too. Dr. Nurai said:" Oral history only fulfills part of the expectation for showing past". See the book The Aspects of Historical Islamic Revolution. Here we have to refer to a few references to understanding memory, (here written-memory and told-memory) if it is said or written by the memory-owner, that is, in fact, a representation of the perspective of memory’s owner encountering with the form of his authoritative narration, and at that time and context of memory ”. Thus, even when the memory is explicitly stated by the owner in the first place, it implies initially the owner's mind in the face of the subject / event. He then refers to the context and time and the conditions that motivated narrator to tell his memory. Discourse and language become narration, and every narration is full of signs. The combination of this mentality and language in the context of the discourse, of course, plays a role in the development of the text and the meaning. But in the end, that is, in the third step, the memory refers to the contents of narration being told and the event or story.

In this way, we can, through the acquisition and analysis of memories as a data, study the mentality of activists (witnesses, informants and major players) of historical events, these data primarily identify that mental and oral events, not necessarily objective and external ones. The core of memory is event (note the difference between an event and a fact) that is transferred to individuals; they narrate it. This narration of individuality can also encompass the dreams, revelations, and narratives of narrator and rapporteur; "cultural history" that is based on understanding reasons of activists’ hope and action drawn through the extraction of these data and findings.

when the memories of  narrator  transmitted, written and processed and published through institutions, the triple implications, as mentioned before, will be disrupted and the historical nature of the text is subject to dubious and interruption. In this process, which has now prevailed in memoir writing, we are dealing with enriching and reediting memories whose literary aspect is noteworthy; you know that literary text has self-referential value and function, and this situation distorts the historical aspect of this kind of memoir. In this state of dubious and interruption, memories are shifted to semi-literary and even literary genres, and located between poetry and fiction. The critique of this situation is based on historical models and citation-based ideas in memoirs, rather than the negation of memoirs in literary form. And, of course, the critique of this type of memory requires special criteria, and the subject of discussion here is not concerned with it. At the same time, these enriched literary memoirs are considered by historian in the process of conventional memoirs, in identifying and analyzing narration, not as evidence, but as implicit evidence and references. It is clear, as poetry and fiction are analyzed through textual analysis, such memoirs and narrations will be valuable in reference.

9 / Traditional classical scholars, however, who regard documents as a basic element in historical research, do not fundamentally pay much attention to mental and narrative out comes, and they often consider  the ignorance of narrator or the interests and situation of  memory’s owner as a reason for lack of acceptability vs. document. They have often commented correctly that the memoirs are "self-letter" and "defense" or memory’s owner. However, it is possible explore more precisely the acceptability of memory versus document; then, this question can be answered: "what can we do for memoirs to reach a dignity?" in this way, their status and dignity should be recognized. I will answer this question after raising other dubiousness in the memory.

A: Our system of thought / culture relies heavily on quotes / anecdotes / myths / tales/ stories - or what historians have called those pre-modern narrations. In this regard. The words "History" and "Story" are constructed and co-rooted. This issue has recently been re-discussed in narrative discussions. B: In cognitive science, it has been noted that memory can be changed in a shorter time than one hour, the problem of memory policy and memory discourse have been caused many discussions raised.        C: The nature of Persian language is narrative and literary, and this question and dispute is still the subject of debate whether the History of Bayhaqī  [3], in particular the story of Hassanak,  Vazir, is a  history or literature. I made this statement many years ago at a meeting held in the Written Heritage Office. I heard from a well-known professor in Mashhad that he quoted from the late Abdolhadi Haeri saying that the history of literature belongs to literature rather than history. It should be noted, in the field of Islamic historiography of this time, how much the difference between method and narration are among scholar such as the late Rahnama (in the history of the Prophet), the late Ayati (in the history of Islam), and Dr. Zarrin Kub (in the Islamic records- the morning of slam) and the late Dr. Shahidi (In the analytical history of the morning of Islam) and the late Dr. Ziab Khoi. In the same narrative field of history, you cannot ignore the distance between the late Zabihullah Mansouri and the late Khosrow Motazed with the late Abdolhadi Haeri. D: Notice that wherever we have failed or did not wish to observe and study the historical reality clearly, the idea of fatalism and literature has opened the way for us. Our situation at the end of the Sasanian Empire[4] era is referred to in the preface to the physician named Barzuyieh in the book Kalilah and Demena[5], comparing it with what Ferdowsi[6] has written about it in his poetry. In these wars, between Iran and Russia, Fath Ali Khan Saba finally wrote a poem that is remarkable. It was said that our failure in preliminary Valfajr operation, and also Ramadan operation, which was done after successful operations of Beit al-Moqadas and Fatah al-Mobin, was due to our pride in the success of previous operations. In the events of recent months you will see signs of attention to the meta-real world that they show us in literary language. E: I have repeatedly explained in my writings and words the involvement of mind in the formation of memory, and that events in the passage of the mind and language will be tuned into a narration, thereby narrations are made through events; But here it is necessary to point out the relation between trauma (impact) and the mind and memory, just as a body heals itself becuase the impact of an object and even bleeding (the repair of the human body and body is quite evident in surgery; Although it is a gradual restoration) the mind also heals the trauma of memory- the memory here is not necessarily favorite memories, I  means memoirs we do not want to keep in mind- and transform, or even forget them. The question of killing memory has not yet been considered in studying on memory. The issue of trauma, memory and the mind is beyond the illusion of memory. I have encountered with those who are most exposed to memory. They told stories and memories that did not and do not belong to them; they were not going to tell lie deliberately, but they have the illusion of memory. This is similar with the story of Mula Nasr al-Din[7], who rumored that someone was giving porridge to people; while he found people were going to receive the porridge with pots in their hand; he took a pot and joined them. These anecdotes and story need an analytical and symbolic study. E: There has been a talk recently about the use of Deep Fake technique, namely fake technology based on artificial intelligence and the replacement of virtual speech and behavior, which breaks the boundary between right and false, virtual and real, and take the attribution of images and sounds into a serious risk. This is beyond the story of the memory manipulation I mentioned. Now consider the words of Edward Said (which is an example of some of the critics of memory), mentioned in the book "History - Trauma - Memory": "The art of memory [Notice that memory is considered as an art], rather than an objective thing, it is a neutral thing in the outer world and waiting for a person to take possession of it and keep it in its memory; it is a tool for ordinary people and institutions to exploit and abuse."

10/ according to mentioned doubts and uncertainty, we should answer this question: " how we can use of memory as a basis document or complementary and confirmation for documents in historical studies? This issue will be come off if the memories are used in process of studying on history; therefore, the memory well be developed from personal memories to "the testimony of witness". That is why, the words and expressions of agents and activists are used in the methods of research and gaining information as "the testimony of witnesses". In oral history and memory, the basic text is based on memory of narrator and utterer, because historian take the process of compiling memory and in mind and language into consideration. That is why, oral historians begins a dialogue with the narrator and the owner of narration to discover their "mind" before and simultaneously knowing the narrator's memoir / memoirs. For this reason, conversation or interview in oral history is not just about asking and getting answer, this type of dialogue and conversation actually begins with a discovery of the interviewee's mind and is intended to extract information, discover and transmit through the primary inquisition. Of course, the word" inquisition" is socially and politically associated with violence and torture to receive word from someone , but here " inquisition" means receiving words from someone through discussion and conversation. This is a method that we need to understand the nature of history and to be master on the conversational techniques and requirements. It should be noted that, a judge, for example, don’t consider to social positions and posts of addresses in other to discover truth and event; he won't be persuaded and affected by the words of accused person and even agent. Here, the narrator’s beautiful style of speaking is not only important and valuable, but also it can be injurious for discovering the truth, judge wants to listen the description of event in a direct, explicit words without ambiguity. Taking the accused to the place where a crime is occurred to reform and assimilate the event and reach maximum accessibility to fact of an event. Remember the story of Mr.Najafi( former mayor of Tehran and last minister of Iran's pedagogical system) when he killed his wife and what judge did  to discover the fact of event.

The major factor of invulnerability in historical studies is to provide the validity and efficiency of document, and witness's expressions and words. What I said doesn't mean that the interviewers are accused in the process of studying and researching in memory, and they have to confess in court, but it should be emphasized that memories in the process of receiving information from the individual to a desirable testimony, historical document, and reaching to a level as same as documents, require this type of analysis and reflection; it should be considered that this narration is type of "news", and rather than "a composition", and the news are both truth and falsehood, clear and ambiguity. Judgment and narration are started from here, and then they reach to validity and capability of narrators and their words and expressions. I end my speech with a question or problem to think about it; why do we the need for authenticity in memories, the memoirs of revolution, and especially the sacred defense / war, and has been gradually highlighted and little attention has been paid to it, and what are the consequences of delay in producing the texts?

Peace, mercy and blessings of God be upon you all!


[1] This article is a lecture by Alireza Kamri at the Meeting of Astan Quds Razavi’s Documentation Center in Mashhad on February 5th, 2020.

[2] He was a scholar of Iranian literature, history of literature, Persian culture and history.

[3]It is a history book written by Abul-Fazl Bayhaqi, in Persian, in the 11th century CE. Much of this extensive work is lost, but its remains is the most important source on the history of the Ghaznavid Empire. The work is of literary value as well due to its unique style of narration.

[4] It is, officially known as the Empire of Iranians, also called the Neo-Persian Empire by historians, was the last kingdom of the Persian Empire before the spread of Islam. Named after the House of Sasan, it ruled from 224 to 651 AD. 

[5] It is a book containing a collection of fables. It was translated into Arabic in the Abbasid age specifically in the second hijri century by Abdullah ibn al-Muqaffa using his own writing style

[6] Abul-Qâsem Ferdowsi Tusi was a Persian poet and the author of Shahnameh, which is one of the world's longest epic poems created by a single poet, and the national epic of Greater Iran.

[7] Nasreddin or Nasreddin Hodja or Mullah Nasreddin Hooja was a Seljuq satirist, born in Hortu Village in Sivrihisar, Eskişehir Province, present-day Turkey and died in 13th century in Akşehir, near Konya, a capital of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum, in today's Turkey.

Number of Visits: 149


Full Name:
The first night of memory in New Year (1399) was held online

The Story of a Warrior and Physician from the War

Three hundred and twelfth Night of Memory and first assembly of narrative memories of war in 2020, by recounting memories of a soldier and author of "The Songs of a Juggler" and one of the doctors was held during the holy defense. According to the website of oral history, the Three hundred and twelfth Night of Memorys program was held online on April 23, 2020 on Aparat website.
The News of Month; April 2020

"Oral history in cyberspace"

According to Iranian Oral History website, "The News of Month" is the title of a series of reports on this website. These reports take a look at news related to the subject of site in the written and cyber media. In the following, you will read the news about April 2020.

Corona and "Corona Daily Notes"

In these days, it has been seen and heard that some groups and institutions have invited the victims of Corona Virus (including patients, patients’ observers and self- quarantined people) to write a memoir about this event. This invitation and the attempt to fulfill it, of course, includes the benefits and effects that we preferably don’t mention them here. However, it is worth noting that everything now being written in the face of this ...

Oral History Requires Alignment with Documents

Even in oral history, it is not uncommon for scholars to view oral history as a complement to document-based research. That is to say, oral history has been based on oral evidence, and it is true about memories too. Dr. Nurai said:" Oral history only fulfills part of the expectation for showing past". See the book The Aspects of Historical Islamic Revolution. Here we have to refer to a few references to ...