The 2nd online meeting of Oral History of Iran

Necessities of Theorizing in Iran’s Oral History – 1

Edited by Sepideh Kholousian
Compiled by Iranian Oral History Website
Translated by M. B. Khoshnevisan


Morteza Nouraee, Abolfazl Hasanabadi and Faezeh Tavakoli participated in the second meeting out of the series of meetings on oral history of Iran held online on 27th of Azar 1400 (December 18, 2021) hosted by Mrs. Mosafa. In the meeting set up in the History Hallway of the Clubhouse, they talked about the necessities of theorizing in oral history.

Host: Following the series of meetings started about oral history in Tarikhgar Club, Dr. Hasanabadi in the first meeting held last week spoke in details about the necessities of rethinking in oral history of Iran. He reviewed briefly the course of the emergence of oral history from the beginning till now, and looked over the inflicted damages and weak and strong points of this area. Another topic which will be discussed in the meeting is the necessities of theorizing in the oral history of Iran with about which the respected professors Dr. Nouraee, Mrs. Tavakoli and Mr. Hasanabadi Mojadad discuss. We are with Mr. Dr. Nouraee, the professor of the History Group of Isfahan University, a member of the Board of Directors of Iranian Oral History and the author of Oral History and Its Status in Contemporary Historiography of Iran.

Dr. Morteza Nouraee: I have categorized an introduction and four topics and have a conclusion. The first introduction is the necessity of the emergence of oral history in the first topic, which has been proposed as a technical engine in methodology, which is due to the widening of the contemporary period. We say idiomatically that the width of contemporary history is longer than the entire length of history. Thus, this widening came into existence after the foundation of the Second World War. During the human life, we could not meet the needs with the modern historical model that entered the field of historiography in the mid-nineteenth century because a kind of historical obstruction had taken place. For this reason, in the Middle Ages (i.e. the middle of the twentieth century from the mid-forties to the mid-sixties) we have been faced with a wave of added histories; that is, histories in which an adjective has been added to the history such as women's history, workers' history, oral history and local history and as such. Some twenty four histories were emerged which were different with the methodologies of seventies.

So, the first point is that the emergence of oral history and the likes of which is a response to the necessity of the history’s obstruction. That is, the history was moving in a direction that could not be recorded with the diversity and multiplicity of the lost worlds and it was not possible to answer the question of the history of immigration, the massive movement of the population during the World War II and the vast events that took place, only through the model of modern historiography. So various procedures, especially oral history, which was based on the invention of portable tape recorder came into existence. Thus, in fact, we had an oral tradition, but from the intention that they were able to refer to the sayings because it could be registered and recorded, it turned into oral history, and this is the difference between oral history and oral tradition.

With this introduction, the title of the meeting “Necessity of Theorizing in Oral History” is a difficult term or title. Oral history which formally began as a coherent project in American universities and later elsewhere in the 1940s (1947), did not exist until the 1970s, in the sense we understand from theorization and theorizing. In the 1970s, Paul Thomson wrote the first official book, “The Voice of the Past”, which is a very rich book that can still be read today. This is the first generation to theorize oral history in method. In the first generation, which begins in the seventies, the main topic is to deal with events, that is, they interview about the event itself, and we witness the variety of interviews and the types of questions in them. So, the first generation is seeking to register and record angles of the event itself that is not found in the documents. Thus, they are event-oriented. It became a school that continues to this day.

But since 1990s, the discussions started in oral history and the theory that was presented and became widespread was the one which believed in interpretation. For instance, in conducting an interview with someone who himself has participated in a sacred defense operation or an event or has heard about it actively or semi-actively, the thing we want to know is that what you wanted and what happened. It means that it is interpretation-oriented. In other words, in 1990s, in addition to quantity and quality, they also wanted to review what they wanted and what happened. For instance, during the Islamic Revolution, they compiled a dissertation that was oriented on talking and questions and answers about what they wanted and what happened to the high school students of the 50s which they switched in 60s. That is, the students at that time were between 18 and 20 years old. For this reason, we sought the most important factors in interpreting the text that is in the narrator's mind. But more interestingly, the third orientation that took place at the turn of the century was not the result of a theorist's thought; rather, it is a combination of the practices of oral historians of science and, consequently, some in Iran. In the third orientation, we are not separate from the first and second ones, but far from the creations of events. That is, not only is it not recorded from the point of view of official historians, it is not even recorded informally in newspapers or documents, and the margins of the subject are more influential in interpretation. Thus, although an event or incident may be oriented, it tends to be more current-oriented.

Or, for example, they review the life an organization such as Bank Melli or the Bar Association and various arts whose what and why becomes a tool to understand the core of that event or current better. So it goes from being realistic to being current-oriented. That is, the procedure becomes broader and more precise. So these three periods do not mean that this period has ended and another period has begun; rather, it means that these are complementary to each other. We now do all three procedures ourselves in the projects. That is, we act in combination; but with the domination on this point that we, in the realm of the subject matter, the circumstances are important to us in order to clarify the subject matter.

The second point, which is the second pivot, and I try to speak in terms of terminology, is this: Oral history is not independent in nature and is accompanied by documents. In oral history - if you allow me - because I conducted interviews during the years 1370 to 1373 (1991-1994) in the Bashagard region of Iran in Bandar Abbas; the interviews we conducted with various ethnic groups in the area and I wrote about the sociology of the area. So, we believe that oral history is the history of the future. Oral history is not a recorded and settled one. According to a foreign person, "This is not what I said." Thus, everyone in the interview may say that I did not say or did not mean that. It has not been settled from this point of view. It is a history that is necessarily written for historians who want to better understand history in the future. Oral history was born because the volume of events went beyond the pen. So wherever oral historians find it necessary, they use the microphones of a tape recorder. This is an aid to writing. So, later on, it's the historians who use these.

But the third pivot is that if one wants to get into the discussion of theorizing today, the discussion of method is brought up more. We have three basic pivots in method, and four basic pivots in oral history. One is the discussion of the interview and its derivatives and contradictions, and the other is the extraction of this interview, which is very delicate and extensive. Another point is to produce a basic narrative out of it. So to think about these three pivots, we have a thinking oriented toward compilation. Like a screenwriter who designs a package of questions from the beginning, implements it in an interview, extracts the result, and based on that, he or she wants to formulate a story or narrative as the basis of a historical narrative; which we later name the book, writing or article as oral history. Therefore, this is the place of residence of people who want to reflect on a theory or theory. This is a region for refining, producing, extracting, interviewing, compiling and producing a basic narrative. Therefore, the types of narrators and the forms of interviews, etc. are examined. The main concern here is that the oral history in the area that I am presenting is in the realm of interdisciplinary theory and being interdisciplinary and the thinking of interdisciplinary have come out of different disciplines. Thus, in the recent decade, we were able to use the brand of theory in qualitative studies of oral history in method namely the issue that sociologists have used in the last 10-15 years to find a fundamental theory for extracting a basic narrative. The initiative of the historians and sociologists played a major role in bringing to history the procedure that was common in sociology and using it as a qualitative study.

The next pivot is that oral history is a kind of pragmatic rather than theoretical history, that is, it is a way of generalizing history. If we, the academic historians take side of the issue, our concern is that our communities, or our society in Iran, need historical health. That is, both we must have a level of historical information, and on the other hand, the history that wants to have information must be gently enriched. For the past enrichment, whether in the form of history or oral history, I personally believe that there should be an MPT. If it goes beyond that to a special extent, it reaches the stage of explosion or becomes either ideological or political and turns into something else that is not at least history. So note that in this discussion and in the story of oral history, we have come to the conclusion that oral history is a subject for generalizing the understanding of the past for the same things we want to teach in elementary and high schools and elsewhere. Therefore, what was the motto of the 70s and 90s - Just do it - for anyone to hold a microphone was a start, but the production levels are certainly an individual. The more knowledge he has, the more he produces, but keep in mind that the same person who gathers information to some extent from the theory of another person who is an expert must also be an expert. In compiling, we need to tell that person not to do this as long as you have not learned. This is part of what I brought up as the Lost Worlds.

The first orientation which had three pivots in the first period of oral history in the realm of the lost worlds is as follows: the history of women, the history of the workers, the history of the illiterates, or the history of the unlearned. That is, the oral history in the areas of technical work was focused on these three pivots in the 50s and 60s. So in the fourth pivot, everyone understands what I say and everyone should do it ranging from the neighborhood and the family to the technical and professional areas and the projects that also have a fee. I believe that as much as there should be historical participation, that is, people should participate in the recording of history and register themselves and their community, there should be as much historical participation and some contribution to the historical health of the community.

Thus, in the post-modern world that we live, the conception of democracy is something that should be found in freethinking existed in the past. This past is free   when we want to take pictures from any direction and bring it to the present ‌. This is called freedom and democratization of history. To do this, we have to record all aspects. So we use a microphone. Place the microphone in the villages or elsewhere and record. If we come to the field of theorizing, we make the work terrible and difficult, and take many unpaid out of this so-called circle of historiography, while today in many parts of the world, many are engaged in oral work and oral history.

So it seems that if we can give oral historians the minimum levels to enter the field of theorizing, these levels are for productions, not for beginnings; For this reason, in the first stage, what I have said is a sign of refusal. But in the stage of production or basic narration, we say that everyone who records should transcribe and then in basic narration, this is the historian who as I said, is the essence of history accompanied by. For example, oral history is like a grape whose standing depends on its trellis while the standing of the pine tree or other trees depends on their own. Therefore, the essence of oral history depends on the guilds, from this viewpoint, it is an unsettled history.

The variety of topics in this section in the area of oral history is very high, and any position ranging from family and local history to other histories can be oral history. All added histories such as women's history, war history, history of culture, religion and other histories are needed to be interviewed. Therefore, we use a microphone, but in the discussion of the length of interview, we say Immediate History which is an accessible one. Therefore, our assumption in the existing view among the postmodern historians is that the same virus is also part of history while the modern traditional historians considered a generation to cross an event.

As I said, in the discussion of theorizing, we turned into a condensation of a procedure. For example, in the 80s, when we started work in Iran seriously, numerous works were carried out and meetings were held in universities, other institutions and Oral History Association, and Iran is engaged in oral history till today. Different courses have been set up and this is very rejoicing, although all of them have not been at one level. If we did not want to split the hair, oral history remained in the same institute or university that was very scientific. Thus, this is the essence of oral history, which is flexi and peep everywhere and can help everywhere in order to be a mirror to the past. In my view, at first place, do not forget that oral history is interdisciplinary, and secondly, if a theory is supposed to arise, we should use interdisciplinary methods in the process and outcome of oral history on related issues whether it is political, social, economic, women, or ethic minorities and so on, and now, in my opinion, this is an innovation. As I said, we used the brand of theory in qualitative studies both appropriately and effectively.


To be continued…


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