The 2nd online meeting of Oral History of Iran

Necessities of Theorizing in Iranian Oral History – 2

Sepideh Kholoosian
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. The second part of the show is as follows:


In continuation of the meeting, Dr. Faezeh Tavakoli was invited to continue the discussion:

Host: Mrs. Faezeh Tavakoli was the first ranked PhD student and at present she is compiling her dissertation. She is the author of the books “Theoretical Foundations of Oral History", and "Campaigner Women and Political Women during the Pahlavi Period” and recently she has authored a book titled "Oral History". Mrs. Tavakoli has a powerful hand in oral history and is the main executor of oral history in the Institute for Humanities and Cultural Studies. She has been invited to talk about the result of her studies and reviews on the necessities f theorizing in oral history. 

Tavakoli: I mostly consider oral history from the viewpoint of the issue of scientific method because I think it is too soon to talk about theorizing in oral history. In my studies in the area of oral history and scientific works related to this area, I have mostly focused on the ultra-analysis of the narrations which have been registered and recorded in the area of oral history. In the Institute for Humanities set up since 1360s (1980s) with the merger of 12 institutes and is considered an important research center in the area of humanities, I have interviewed more than 100 former heads, deputies and professors, and in analyzing issues such as the conditions of humanities in the country, and when its foundations were set up as well as the inefficacies we are now facing with in the area of humanities and the reasons behind it, some of these interviews demand an ultra-analysis discussion. It means that the issue of theorizing in oral history which is a new science is still a very big step. 

In this meeting, I have focused on the work I have done; namely in this discussion which I have worked on the methodology of oral history, I deal with it in a scientific method. I describe my research experiences in this area for the respected friends and audiences. In fact, as I have realized and worked, oral history is a type of qualitative research that is recorded and produced from a two-way interaction between the interviewer and the interviewee. In fact, in this historiography, dialogue takes precedence over writing, and all strata of society that have played a role in the historical, social, political and cultural developments of society can create historical data, whether image or sound, and this is the necessity of the contemporary technology and it is entirely different with classic historiography. The reason is that in that historiography, we relied on documents, but oral history is a revolution in contemporary history, because we can rely on the people interviewed as a given source and treasure and documentation as the text itself more than the information they give us from the past. We can obtain information form the humans who are both alive and we have their images and voices and send them easily to the contemporary information community through image and numerous media; but the issue of scientific method is brought up here namely if want deal oral history like other sciences, we have to consider three aspects which are Knowledge, Attitude, and Practice and they are called as KAP in short.   

From the viewpoint of knowledge, oral history is an interdisciplinary knowledge which enjoys sociology in addition to the science of history which has an interdisciplinary nature entirely, and psychology, linguistics and ultra-language discussions that I allocated one chapter of my book namely Body Language to it. This issue in interview can be applied to both the interviewer and the participant, and even in the fields of management, etc., we can become proficient in these sciences. For example, we can rely on motivational interviews and interpersonal relationships in the field of psychology, or we can examine the critical school from sociology in the discussion of entrepreneurship and innovation creativity or S.W.O.T (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats) of the organizations and their documentation, strengths and weaknesses, forward moves and future. From the viewpoint of attitude, there is a new tendency that can combine the contemporary events with traditional history-writing. However, it should be noted that the discussion is not only effective but also it is extremely incomplete, because it deals with only a series of documents. It is not only ineffective, but also extremely incomplete, because it deals with only a series of documents.

In the previous meeting, Dr. Monfared raised an issue and said that in my opinion, this discussion of the passing of time and historical developments is very important, in order for us to reach a specific citation, but according to the definition that I came to the conclusion in the field of history, the history is the study of society over time. If we want to consider the viewpoints of the late master Abbas Eqbal who said that some forty-fifty years had to pass a historical event so that we could rely on its documentation, I personally question this method and do not agree with it because the pace of developments is so fast and the area of data in the contemporary world on the web is so precipitate and fast-paced, that for example, more than three million new pages are generated daily on the web, and we can no longer review the developments and issues through that method of historiography.

We need new technology. We need to collect, register and record the information on tape recorders and films and the so-called key players in the scene of society and developments, including the marginalized strata that have not really been named for centuries, such as women, workers, war veterans, the clergy, organizations, institutions, parties, various industries, including the insurance industry, the oil industry, etc., as well as various organizations, ministries, and the like especially with the developments we had in the past four decades after the revolution and special attitudes the people are facing with and are seeking to analyze the issues that why we reached these conditions and crises; where did the US sanctions start from? We must face with the politicians; we should interview them and analyze the issues and even investigate the SWOTs in the areas of the ministries. From this viewpoint, oral history creates an attitude and tendency which displays the history of the society at best and reexamines and dissects through using all the individuals who have taken part in historical phenomena and events multilaterally. 

It is a skill from the viewpoint of Practice and by learning this, we can reach a generation of our historical researchers who can be the source of organizational change, and the gap that exists between the old and new generations is filled through documenting organizations, discussing the project and business management process, and case studies related to entrepreneurship. The experiences of older generations in the field of, for instance various industries in the factories, production workshops and numerous businesses can be transferred to their own generations. Even in the issue of social riots that we have seen during the recent years in the society, I asked a number of young people with whom we were talking what your aim of coming to the streets is. You should find the roots of the issues and come up with a social movement that is emotional. The society wants security and the security forces enter, and naturally they want the security of the society to be maintained in a security situation and the dissident forces not to enter; so they are stopped and amid this, the sinner and innocent are completely harmed together. In any case, I suggested the issue of oral history as a special approach to them so that they could address it.

The point that is in the method and knowledge section is the discussion of tacit knowledge to which we can reach through oral history and even use them in the discussion of documenting organizations. Because this tacit knowledge that individuals have, it can be easily done in organizations and centers through interviews that exist. Because oral history is an important method, we are able to obtain the tacit knowledge of those managers and document their experiences which they do not put on paper at all, nor do they share them with anyone after they have been transferred from the relevant organization to another place. 

As a methodological discussion, the area in which I emphasize most is why we consider the oral history method to be a qualitative research method. Quantitative research is concerned with numbers and data and is referred to in positivist and experimental sciences, but oral history is an approach that can participate in extensive research through interviews, observation, and the like, and we can deal with this qualitative research method in the collection of its activities.

The philosophical basis for qualitative research is humanism and naturalism. The basis of humanism is to pay attention to the role and importance of human beings in qualitative research. According to this domain, man is an interpretive being who first understands the situation and then acts. This creature is actually like an organism organ that cannot be subjected to laboratory conditions. We can only challenge his mind through qualitative tools and share his problems and memories with him in order to penetrate his mind and experiences.

We have also talked many times about the difference between the area of oral history and that of memory-writing. Regarding a person who writes memoirs, some might say that I put my memories on paper, so you can refer to it, while the answer is clear; in memory-writing, the person himself refers to his own mental issues and those distant mental experiences, and puts down on paper a series of issues that he considers important, whereas in an active interview, which is the main method of oral history, the interviewer enters specific areas completely that have come and referred to quite purposefully according to his research project and the hypothesis he encountered. For instance, on the issue of oral history of the organization or the issue of its humanities or the condition if its university, some questions are raised, questions such as from where has it been set up, what have been their approaches, in what scientific debates and at what level are they now, to what extent were they able to theorize, to what extent were they able to give a theory, to the society and the relationship between society and the university and... 

At any rate, the qualitative research method provides the ground for different interpretations about an event to be emerged. Thus, it is necessary to use this method in oral history. The main purpose is to convey the same voice of the narrators who are in the context of historical events. But how this voice is conveyed is not what Mr. Hossein Dehbashi, for example, does. For instance, he comes and interviews a person and this person raises a very important point called, for example, the issue of Abadan's Rex Cinema. Then, he plays it as a footage on Instagram and people say, "So was this the story of Rex Cinema?" a very wrong judgment is carried out easily; judgment about one of the important developments on the eve of the Islamic Revolution with a very wrong approach and method, called raw brick, which he did not mean at all, that this raw brick is really raw that I have to go and interview a few other people about this Cinema Rex and its incident, and express their opinions that were present in the context of this incident, so that I can hear their narrations as well, and then validate those original narratives, and then, by validating these narrations, the main narration is given to the people in the form of that person who - if he wants to re-create the image of the person he emphasizes - can provide the most accurate narration with respect to other narrations.

There are people among us, including women, whose backs are crushed under the burden of poverty and extreme pressure because they can no longer bring food to the household table in full because of high prices. Incidentally, in an interview with the New York Times about the impact of sanctions on Iranian women, I explicitly stated that when Mrs. Ebadi comes, unfortunately, as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and suggest the issue of sanctions against Iran, sanctions against her own country, without knowing from the other side under what pressure our women are inside the country and how they should put the empty pot of water over the oven and mix and put it in front of their children, that rural woman, that Baluch woman or a woman that she can no longer consume the necessary protein on her own - whether she is pregnant or not - and what will happen to the future of those babies who are born malnourished; I tell you the issues in examples that to what extent the oral history interviews can change the fate of humans in the area of historical discussions.

On the other hand, regarding the approach of Mr. Dr. Farahani who spoke about the state nature of these interviews, I should say that they do not have a state nature necessarily. On the contrary, if in the government, I come and record the currents of the Vice President for Women, I would be interviewing very bluntly and transparently in a way that in some places women would be upset by my questions. I interviewed Mrs. Dr. Ebtekar, Mrs. Dr. Mowlaverdi, Mrs. Dr. Zahra Shojaee and others very transparently and clearly. I am not at all looking for the money they are going to give me, and I even remember that I was asked by the Ministry of Intelligence of the IRGC and they asked me a series of questions: Does Mrs. Ebtekar really work in the field of women? Or how is the gender bill of government offices? They were young people who wanted to find out a series of points from their own intelligence perspective; but I said very clearly that yes, I have the documents and this book will be published and you, like other people, will be informed about it. I said this very clearly.

This depends on the historian. If the historian wants to act in a state manner, yes, he can be like the historians who wrote the classic history. We had court historians and mercenary historians who wrote history with special approaches. If you look at the area of the Constitutional history, you see that Nazemoleslam Kermani comes and speaks and writes a book about the Constitutional history. About this event, Mr. Kasravi also writes about the event, Mr. Adamiyat writes too, so does Mashallah Ajoodani. But see, at present, according to the definitions made by the post moderns about history in which I believe to some extent as the student of you professors, the history is no longer the same past necessarily. An event has happened and finished in the past. We are facing with the historiography of the historians who have their own special ideology and methodology, and the approach of the books we are facing with is not historiography and is not really a history. Instead, we say that an incident has been another thing which the historiography has written another model.

At any rate, the concepts and meanings that are actually formed in the formation of social interactions play an essential role and are one of the goals of qualitative study. The success of qualitative research also depends on the skill of the researcher and creating a relationship that he or she can have with others such as observing their principles, gaining the trust of others, maintaining good relations, respecting the norms of the society, mutual relations, etc., which are of great importance in the success of qualitative research and can face them. In the qualitative research method, we actually want to find out the inner experiences of their minds that we want to extract from their social world as a meaning and the first characteristic of which is finding the answer to what, why, or how. That is, in fact, instead of quantifying the problem of how many people you were and what you were doing, and such statistical debates that we encounter in historical research in the classical field, we want to understand the quality of the issue.

Host: Mrs. Tavakoli, in view of these concerns about pathology and the harms that exist in oral history, which were discussed in detail at the history meeting, do you have any critique of theorizing in line with the opinions of Dr. Nouraee? Or do you agree with the issue of theorizing? In the current situation in the field of oral history, do we see the process of theorizing and does this process exist or not?

Tavakoli: In the issue of oral history, in fact yes; that step must eventuate. Oral history research should follow the hypotheses we put forward, because of which we entered interviews in our particular field of research, and then came up with a theory, and then discovered a theory, it should lead to that step, but it depends on the circumstances too. I say that what I have found in experience is that I am not at the level to theorize, but in the discussion of humanities, for example, I have done well the oral history project of the institute. I come and extract the analysis of the analyses among the interviews. That is, when I receive the analysis and a series of theories of the professors who work in the field of humanities, I take it beyond the analysis and give this ultra-analysis to the current head of the department. I transfer these experiences to the current head of the department in view of the experiences of previous presidents, previous deputies or former professors had during their studies and research in the field of humanities and the policies and strategies. But we are not at a level that we call it theorizing, we do not really face the discussion of theorizing even at the level of the classic history itself, let alone in the field of oral history.

In my view, we can do a great job if we now can record the oral history of any organization, center or even individual figure according to other documents. In fact, oral history is an approach that can complement other historical information. I mean, alongside that, the documents are important, the discussion of the validation of the interviews is also important, and alongside these, we should be able to reach a series of results in each of the research areas, but I know very soon that a theory will come out of it, and this requires a series of strong team works.

At present, in the field of oral history, either some of our professors are in the field of theory or some are in the field of practice non-academically. Of course, I also recommend my small book judged under the supervision of Dr. Nouraee and Mr. Hassanabadi, to the community of oral historians and oral researchers who are working in various fields in all cities. This is really a good source for job creation and entrepreneurship as well as for the people across the country. To some extent, the book has been able to present some of the methods, step-by-step interviews, and principles of questioning. But I consider the issue of theorizing for oral history very soon.

We can only focus on the organizational areas and the centers that work on each oral history team, and since I do not want to talk too much and my friends get bored, I can say that my own opinion on oral history in the field of theoretical discussion is too early. It can only be done within the scope of any organization. For instance, in the field of insurance research, the discussion of the elites whom they wanted to introduce to the next generations and that the index of influence of the audience in the field of insurance, which is a very important industry and after the stock market and oil can be very profitable for the country. It is very important to introduce the elites to them. Well, this theorizing in the field of the elite regarding Dr. Mahmoud Salehi, who also happens to be in Najafabad and built a house of culture there, I can only interview him as an elite and introduce what he did in the field of insurance, but to come and say about him, because he did this and that, this theory comes out of the interview with him, no. I personally do not see this at the level of my ability. 

Host: Thanks a lot Mrs. Dr. Tavakoli. Mr. Monfared is here and in this part of the meeting, he is going to talk about the issue. In continuation, we will also be with Mr. Esameeli.

Mofared: you're welcome. Thank you very much for all the friends who spoke. I do not have a specific word. Only in one or two parts, they mentioned to me that I want to correct. Last week, I never quoted anything from Mr. Abbas Eqbal. Certainly I do not consider Mr. Abbas Eqbal a methodologist, but in all the books on historical methodology, if you look - because I have taught this field for years anyway - time is one of the elements and factors in history, and the claim that oral history wants to produce historical sources for the future, and it was mentioned in the last meeting, emphasizes on the point that time is the main element of history.

There is also a general view about oral history and governments without being a personal discussion basically and going back to the present time and the current government. That when you have a phenomenon that needs investment, support, and financial backing, that support can usually be provided by the governments, and we see that most of the existing oral history institutions - you friends and professors can tell what percentage - are the ones which are founded and supported from within the government and sovereignty. This suggests that it can in fact be part of the pathology of oral history without wanting to exaggerate or judge people.


To be continued …


Number of Visits: 2523


Full Name:

Is oral history the words of people who have not been seen?

Some are of the view that oral history is useful because it is the words of people who have not been seen. It is meant by people who have not been seen, those who have not had any title or position. If we look at oral history from this point of view, it will be objected why the oral memories of famous people such as revolutionary leaders or war commanders are compiled.

Daily Notes of a Mother

Memories of Ashraf-al Sadat Sistani
They bring Javad's body in front of the house. His mother comes forward and says to lay him down and recite Ziarat Warith. His uncle recites Ziarat and then tells take him to the mosque which is in the middle of the street and pray the funeral prayer (Ṣalāt al-Janāzah) so that those who do not know what the funeral prayer is to learn it.

A Critique on Oral history of War Commanders

“Answering Historical Questions and Ambiguities Instead of Individual-Organizational Identification”
“Oral history of Commanders” is reviewed with the assumption that in the field of war historiography, applying this method is narrated in an advancing “new” way, with the aim of war historiography, emphasizing role of commanders in creation of its situations and details.
A cut from memoirs of Jalil Taeffi

Escaping with camera

We were in the garden of one of my friends in "Siss" on 26th of Dey 1357 (January 16, 1979). We had gone for fun. It was there that we heard the news of Shah's escape from the local people. They said that the radio had announced. As soon as I heard this news, I took a donkey and went on its back.