Challenges of the Oral History Researcher in an Interview with the Author of the Book "the Precious Patience"

Interviewed and compiled by: Oral History Website
Translated by: Fazel Shirzad


Note: One of the selected works in the final ceremony of the 13th Jalal Al-Ahmad Literary Award was the book "the Precious Patience", the memoirs of Gohar al-Sharia Dastgheib, written by Tayebeh Pazouki and published by Surah Mehr Publications in 2019. This book, which has been selected from 474 other books in the documentary section, deals with the memoirs of Ms. Dastgheib, a political activist and representative of the people of Tehran in the first, second, and third terms of the Islamic Consultative Assembly.


On this occasion, we conducted an exclusive interview with Tayebeh Pazouki, the author of this book, on the Iranian Oral History Website which you can read below.

■How was the compilation of Ms. Gohar al-Sharia Dastgheib's memoirs suggested to you?

In 2009, I was in charge of the archive of the Oral History Unit of the Literature Office of the Islamic Revolution. Previously, I collaborated with the Contemporary Iranian Culture Unit in the field of research and writing an article. Some time ago, I was working in the Oral History Archive when Hojjatoleslam Saeed Fakhrzadeh (the then director of the Oral History Unit) suggested that I compile the memoirs of Ms. Gohar al-Sharia Dastgheib. Besides, active participation in specialized meetings to review published works in the field of the oral history of the Islamic Revolution led Mr. Hedayatullah Behboodi (then director of the Literature Office of the Islamic Revolution) to suggest that I take a step in compiling memoirs.

■What period of Ms. Dastgheib's memoirs includes her life?

This work contains her memories from birth to the victory of the Islamic Revolution. In this book, the readers gets acquainted step by step with the formation of Ms. Dastgheib's political and cultural personality, during which a picture of the historical events of a 40-year period is engraved in readers' mind, including the following: Social and political issues of the 1940s (the beginning of World War II and its aftermath); Socio-political issues of the 1950s (nationalization of the oil industry and the atmosphere after the coup of August 19, 1943); Socio-political issues of the 1960s (beginning of the Islamic movement led by Imam Khomeini and the impact of cultural and political bases such as Hedayat Mosque and Hosseinieh Ershad and the Islamic Association of Physicians and Engineers, etc. in improving public awareness) Social and political issues of the 1970's (Familiarity with political militant groups with armed policies, internal organizational developments in the Mojahedin Khalq Organization and important events of 1978 and 1979 that eventually lead to the victory of the Islamic Revolution).

■How were the interviews with the narrator conducted?

The initial interviews included an overview of Ms. Dastgheib's life from birth to early 1976. Since these interviews were ended incompletely and these interviews were also full of ambiguities and wrongs, there was a need for additional interviews. Supplementary interviews, after repeated follow-ups, began on 27 October 2013 and ended on 19 April 2014. Of course, during this period, there was a 7-month break between interview sessions due to the death of one of the children and the narrator's mental anguish. After this unfortunate incident, he underwent eye surgery twice and spent some time recovering. They had a heart attack once and were hospitalized for some time.

■What behavioral characteristics did he have when you talked to him that encouraged you to keep working?

What encouraged me to continue working during the interview sessions was Ms. Dastgheib's good mood, her sobriety and patience in answering questions, her honesty and unpretentiousness in expressing her memories, and her avoidance of exaggeration and self-centeredness. The observance of fairness on the rights of people with whom she  had a relationship and who was now either dead or no longer in contact with them was another of Ms. Dastgheib's personality traits that made it pleasant for me to talk to her.

What did you do to document and adapt the conversations to the available documents?

To document the narrator's words, I referred to written sources (books and publications), cyberspace, the archive of oral history, and the archive of contemporary Iranian culture. I also examined more than 800 sheets of documents left by SAVAK regarding the narrator and his wife and daughter. In addition to all this, I went to Shiraz to get acquainted with his birthplace and the places he mentioned. Being in that space helped me to better prepare questions for the interviewee based on shortcomings and ambiguities. In fact, in different ways, I tried to make the narrator's (interviewee) mind sensitive and involved with the events of those years to remember what he has in mind.

■What challenges did you face while doing this?

The oral history researcher faces different challenges in accomplishing each project; It takes time, perseverance, and hard work to get in touch and get the narrator satisfied. Usually, the sense of cooperation and trust that is required to conduct a good interview does not develop from the beginning and takes some time. Most narrators are unaware of the need to record oral memoirs and are skeptical about doing so. Therefore, we must resolve this doubt in some way. Sometimes it is necessary to convince them that doing so is a continuation of what they have accepted in the past and paid for. Sometimes it is necessary to encourage them intellectually enough to conclude that doing so is a mission for them.

Sometimes, because the narrator does not differentiate between a press conference and an oral history, She does not cooperate. In this case, the purpose of the oral history interview should be stated to him, which is to question and remove historical ambiguities for the present and future generations. You should also explain to him how to conduct an oral history interview, which is in the form of a dialogue between the parties.

The political situation of the day is sometimes an obstacle to conducting an interview. Because the narrator is reluctant to cause problems for herself and her family. In these cases, even if the narrator is willing to cooperate, it will affect the quality of the interview. Sometimes some narrators consider their activities insignificant and worry that they will not have answers to the questions of today's young generation by expressing their memories. However, to face such challenges, the researcher of oral history must be patient, interested in the work, and aware of the necessity and importance of doing it. I also faced some of the challenges, as I mentioned, in this work.

■What are the salient features of this book concerning similar works?

This work has several features that distinguish it from other sources published in the field of memoirs of women fighters in the Islamic Revolution. First, this book contains a great deal of historical information and data. Secondly, this work represents a cultural narrative of the history of the revolution; at a time when the dominant political discourse in society has been armed politics.

Why was it necessary to include additional narratives at the end of the book?

Bringing two supplementary narratives (which is an interview with Ms. Dastgheib's brother-in-law and her daughter) was important because, first, they were both involved in some sort of struggle and spent time in prison, and this book was perhaps the only opportunity to mention them. Secondly, their memoirs complement the narrator's utterances. In any case, I think it is interesting for the readers to know what happened to the narrator's relatives after their arrest. This information is necessary even for those who want to use this book as a basis for making a film or movie.


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