Oral History Potentials

Mohammad Jamshidi*
Translated by: Zahra Hosseinian


Borrowing the words of Alessandro Portelli, the eminent oral historian, it can be said that the ghost of oral history has pervaded Iran. This raises the question of how this field of research has been able to penetrate all over our country so quickly. The spread of oral history may be seen in relation to the oral tradition rooted in the culture of our nation, but at this point, I do not want to talk about why the spread of oral history. My discussion here is about the potential of oral history.

In recent decades, oral history has been used only as a "recording the memories" of people present at an event, when we go to the witnesses of a particular event, collect their memoirs, and then publish them with special compiling. In the meantime, other potentials of oral history have been marginalized. For stance, in oral history projects, we have moved less to groups that had successful experience in one field, in order to hear their successful experiences, transcribe them, and then interpret and analyze the text. Applying this capacity for oral history means that the researcher does not simply become a person who just record the memories. In this type of oral history, the researcher plays a heavier role and is forced to know some specialized areas. He should, for example, look at how a group deals with a problem, what are their strategies for solving it, and what are the consequences of their actions. Now the result question may be raised. The answer is that through these concernedly and purposeful questions we seek to arrive at a theory. In other words, we can set an example for others, that is, if another group was in a similar situation to know how to react. In fact, we have produced less of a "pattern" of oral history narratives.

Oral history, in the way it has been described, will have very brilliant results: first, this field is linked to other academic disciplines interestingly. Actually, disciplines such as sociology, cultural studies, women's studies, etc. can use oral history as a method of data collection and go to their target groups. Sociologists, for instance, can gather the experience of marginalized groups and extract their views on various issues. From this perspective, oral history allows us to hear the narrative of marginalized groups, which we may never have seen up close. Also, disciplines such as women's studies can more seriously pursue narratives of the experience of women in society, whose voices have been rarely heard.

Another result is that oral history breaks away from current passivity and stereotypes, and over time we will see creativity and innovation in using oral history. A sociologist can use it to analyze memories; how people remember the past, and how shared memories create identity for a group. A psychologist can deal with the oral history of emotions and feelings; something similar to what Svetlana Alexievich did, focusing more on the narrators' emotions. Narrative researcher can study the narrative structure of different groups and point out its differences and similarities so that we understand that even the narratives of different groups are different. A researcher in the field of cultural studies can highlight the narratives of marginalized groups by questioning the dominant narratives, and ultimately, a committed historian will engage in a historiography in which everyone has an equal share and the voices of all people are heard.


*Master student in sociology


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