Training of oral history

Guiding the interview process toward the main direction and in line with final goal

Golestan Jafarian
Translated by M. B. Khoshnevisan


In the continuation of the collection of articles in the field of training in interviews with the articles "Good start", "Ethics in interviews", "Personality in interviews" and "Application of photos in interviews", we now deal with the guiding of the  interview process toward the main direction and in line with the final goal.It is highly likely that for reasons such as the interviewer acting passively or asking inappropriate questions, the interviewer will gradually deviate from the main path and the interviewer loses the main direction during the conversation. According to an unwritten contract, the interviewer is in charge of conducting the interview. Because - in the first place - he is an applicant, then the narrator's answers must meet his needs and be in line with the main purpose of the interview. The interviewer should be able to respectfully point out to the narrator this very important point, which is that the interview is different from the speech of a preacher. During the conversation, it is very likely that for reasons such as the interviewer acting passively or asking inappropriate questions, the interviewer will gradually deviate from the main path and the guidance command will slip out of the interviewer's hands. According to an unwritten contract, the interviewer is in charge of conducting the interview. Because - in the first place - he or she is an applicant, then the narrator's answers must meet his needs and be in line with the main purpose of the interview. The interviewer should be able to respectfully point out to the narrator this very important point that the interview is different from the speech of a preacher.

For instance, we have a structured interview about a special martyr named "Hamid". The narrator, who was a comrade with Hamid, talks about him for 10 minutes, but then he starts talking about the operation that took place during this time. If this operation is not tied to Hamid's story, we should not continue talking about it, because all the information about the operation is available in atlases and books and does not need to be retold. So here it is necessary for the interviewer to intervene: "Was Hamid present in this operation? If yes, please tell us about Hamid's role." In other words, if the purpose of the interview is "walnut" but the narrator is talking about "almonds", it is the interviewer's duty to be attentive in the first place and to recognize this deviation from the subject and then to overcome the limitations caused by the difference of age or position and respectfully remind the narrator and return him to the main rail: "These memories are very valuable. We can talk about them at another time. Now let’s return to our subject ..."

After this general introduction, we will go on to describe the most common situations that can derail the interviewer and drag the interviewer down from the position of direction finder. In addition to description, efforts have been made to provide solutions to control and confront these harms.

1-Personal analyses of narrator

Analysis refers to a person's opinions about various events, which in most cases are completely personal and do not have the ability to be socialized. Analyses change decade to decade with the requirements of the time and are aligned with the current interests of the individual. For example, in the first nine months of the war, Bani Sadr was the commander-in-chief. As the photos and historical evidence show, everyone has been happy and welcomed wherever he has gone, but today no one says in an interview, "I was a supporter of Bani Sadr, and when he came to the front in 1359 (1981), I went to greet him." Many say, "We knew from the beginning that this person was in wrong direction ..."[1]

Moreover, the job of oral history is to describe and demonstrate, not to judge and analyze. Analysis must be formed in the mind of the reader. The memory-writer describes: "People lived like this during the war and they coped with lack of water, lack of electricity, homelessness, and so on. They chose to go to war while they could study." He has nothing more to say. He does not analyze: "Look, today we have electricity and we do not appreciate it, we waste water and ..." The readers are eager to know about the narrator's memories, not his personal analyses.

Thus, it can be said that analysis in a conversation - except in exceptional cases - is not a matter of concern and has no value of transcription and transmission to others. As the narrator moves toward analysis, a warning should sound in the interviewer's mind, intervene in the conversation process, and return the narrator to the main topic. The risk of lengthy analyses in interviews with the commanders and senior officials is greater than with ordinary people - such as a housewife. Sometimes in interviews with these people, major socio-political analyses are seen that even have no historical value and are fully omitted when editing.

2-Differnec of opinion

Sometimes the interviewer and the narrator may have difference of opinion or taste on issues. Discussing these differences should not detract the interview from the main purpose.

In the first place, it is the duty of the employer or the client to consider and observe the ideological and behavioral proportions between the narrator and the interviewer. For instance, if a person who an inappropriate hijab is sent for talking to the families of the martyrs, they will probably react. Therefore, it is better for the employer to pay attention to this issue from the very beginning and send someone for an interview who does not have much cultural-ideological difference with the narrator. But some of the more detailed ideological issues that are not usually reflected in the appearance and behavior of people may cause differences between the narrator and the interviewer during the work. In such a situation, the interviewer should consider that the conversation is not a meeting for arguing or supporting a particular point of view. The narrator is not supposed to be convinced and become like-minded with him or her. So arguing is forbidden. The interviewer should be completely dominant and continue to ask questions by considering the main goal of the interview and without mocking the other party's beliefs or promoting his or her personal point of view so that the type of the narrator's beliefs is revealed.


Sometimes the narrator talks about a subject in which the interviewer has similar information or experiences. Here, it is very important that the interviewer does not fall into the trap of comparison and does not divert the conversation from its main purpose. For instance, the narrator explains: "I had an air rifle before the war. I was very good at aiming at home ..." The interviewer replies:" By the way, I also won the first district darts tournament, I also got a certificate of appreciation, next week I will bring you the sports magazine where my photo is going to be published ... ". The interviewer not only should not fall into the trap of comparison, but it is better to take his or her conversation guard as if he or she knows nothing about the subject in order to persuade the narrator and describe his or her experience in full. This is while interviewers often do not ask questions about what they know. This is one of the plagues of parent-child conversation. The male parent is sure that his child knows a lot, so he talks a lot. For example, he says: "Your uncle came that day and we went together ..." Here, the child knows how many uncles he has and what the male parent means, but he has to overcome these and ask: "How many brothers / wife’s brothers do you have?" "Which one came?" It is true that this information is in the mind of the interviewer, but if it is not questioned, it will not be transcribed and as a result will not appear on paper, so if in the future someone other than the interviewer himself wants to edit the text, the lack of this information will be felt.

4-Thinking of the next question

Another thing that may distract the interviewer from the narrator's conversation and thus prevent him from reacting in a timely manner and keeping the conversation on track is to think about the next question while the narrator is answering. The interviewer should not absolutely think of the next question when the narrator is answering. He or she must be attentive and focused on the answers in order to be curious, to be able to recognize the ambiguities in the narrator's conversation and to react in a timely and appropriate manner. A creative person is someone who listens carefully, takes notes while listening and when the narrator remains silent, he or she makes a decision in a few seconds with high confidence and asks the next question based on what he or she has heard. Consider the following example.

The interviewer asks, "How was your schooling?"

"My school situation was not interesting and I was doing mischief", answers the narrator. “Everyone said you were a warrior. But well, it was like this, as I could pull myself out of the troubled water. I was not a good student."

Interviewer: "Were you working before you were sent to the front?"

Here it seems that the interviewer has not listened to the narrator's answer well because in the second question, he or she leaves the subject of the lesson and school completely while the narrator's answer to this question is not very clear and convincing. Here it was better to ask the second question in a way that would encourage the narrator to talk more or even reminisce about his school days. For example: "I do not understand exactly what troubled water means? That means you did not study? So how were your exams?"[2]


[1] Sometimes a person's analysis is related to the same time of memory and in connection with it. For instance, the narrator explains, "I went to my mother and told her." Then he or she says his or her own analysis: "Mom, what you are doing has no result." Here, the analysis becomes important and becomes part of the memory.

[2] Taken from the Oral History Training Workshop taught by Mohammad Ghasemi Pour in Tabriz; Aban 1396 (November 2017).


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