A Discussion about Some Theoretical Topics of Oral History Oral History;

Complement History

Interviewed and Compiled by Zarifeh Kazemi
Translated by Ruhollah Golmoradi


Dr. Morteza Dehghannejad, a faculty member and professor in Department of History at the University of Isfahan, is active in field of history, especially contemporary economic history. We sought his opinion on several theoretical topics in oral history, which are as follows.

What is your definition of oral history?

I consider oral history to be history of silent social groups that in themselves are incapable of expressing their experiences, opinions, and memories. So oral history interviewer approached them to cause these silent groups to talk. In this way, we benefit from the facts that exist within and under skin of society. Of course, sometimes oral history is a forest, a forest that does not speak itself; The oral history practitioner must write history of the forest and river with information he/she collects. In fact, it tells the story of the forest. But trees of the forest do not speak, and it is the researcher who collects information, talks about how it was here and why it is not now. So oral history can include everything.

Should oral history be in form of Q&A or narrative? which one is better? Why?

This can be criticized; oral history has a code. Marxists, socialists, and labor movements have long paid attention to this. They designed a structure for it and determined the questionnaires to ask which questions and when to ask, where to enter people's lives and where not, what not to be asked, and how to prepare its report. Therefore, it cannot be said that it has been created in Iran. Since a few decades ago up to now, oral history in the West has become modern, and although in Iran there has been also some works in the form of memories, but oral history is different.

Oral history is perhaps history of those who do not have a tribune; social groups that are not connected to the media have no place to give information. They do not come to us but we go to them, for example the soldiers on the front. The narrative of the war is written by generals. But in any case, the soldiers were also on the front; Who wants to hear from the soldiers? For this reason, we go to them as a supplementary history for recording information of the operations. That is, an oral history can never be a complete history in itself. The government also gives an official history for a manager. The driver of that manager also has information that can be collected. That is why it is called complementary history. Oral history itself is not documented in itself; rather, it should be used alongside documents, papers and evidence.

Sometimes there are problems with the narrator. Generally speaking, the biggest problem with narration and memory is that the narrator says what she/he likes. He/she doesn't say what he/she has to say. But when we ask as an interviewer, we ask questions. Of course, sometimes interviewee may not to answer interviewer, but given his/her reaction, the interviewer can understand that he was present at a certain incident or was a member of a certain tribe. However, in the interview, the person is evaluated more than when he or she writes memoir. Once he she narrates him/herself, if there wasn’t a questioner to ask the narrator, the facts wouldn’t be proved as it expected. Therefore, the interviewer obtains necessary information from the narrator and with questions he/she asks.

Do you consider oral history as a science or a method? Why?

It is science of methodology. It is actually completing historical or documentary information. Oral history, if conducted scientifically and methodologically, can answer our questions. But sometimes it is written in the form of memoirs and travelogues, etc., which in my opinion may not be very scientific; because we say that science actually has a method that is method is inductive and sometimes deductive. It is different in natural sciences or the humanities. Where there is a method, and a program, I think that is scientific. But we also have unscientific methods and confiding in. I do not call oral history confiding in because it is not based on scientific rules. When its method is not correct, it cannot lead us to what we want.

If you have a post and charge in field of oral history, or have taken a measure for it, please tell us.

In the history department of University of Isfahan, we sought to have a master's or doctoral degree in oral history, but reality is that oral history is a complementary history and is practiced as a skill through workshops and book publishing. That's why we gave up on this decision. But there are some institutions that are numerous, such as Hozeh Honari in Tehran, which seeks to introduce and collect oral history of Iran.

Thank you for the time you devoted to our questions.

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