The 2nd online meeting of Oral History of Iran

Necessities of Theorizing in Iranian Oral History – 3

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 third part of the show is as follows:

In continuation of the meeting, Dr. Habibollah Esmaeeli was invited to continue the discussion:

Host: Mr. Dr. Esmaeeli is a graduate of history and a researcher in history of culture and oral history. He was former editor-in-chief of the book of the month of History and Geography and at present, he is the head of Imam Khomeini Museum and Library and has written different articles on cultural Iran and the theoretical discussions of history.

Dr. Esmaeeli: Regarding theorizing in oral history, I also agree with other respected people. But we have to clarify the issue a little more, and in order to make the discussion a little clearer, we have to see what we mean by theorizing in oral history. Thus, I may have to bring up other discussions concerning historical theory.

In a macro-division, some of these historical theories are extra-historical and others are intra-historical. Extra-historical means that, based on a quote from a philosopher, a historical sociologist, a sociologist, or an expert in the area of the science of politics, a causal relationship has been established between two or more phenomena, and carry out historical works accordingly. The works of Max Weber and many others, such as those who have proposed racial theory, the theory of progress, the theory of dialectical materialism, civilization, freedom, and that human societies must all move in a linear fashion, are in fact extra-historic theories.

Some theories are also intra-historic. For example, it is said that the Iranian civilization is not a river civilization and it is a qanat (subterranean canal) civilization. We should prove these with historical evidences. The most famous evidence of historical theory which is extra-historic is the theory of Ibn Khaldun known as “historic Asabiyya” which is in fact the bond of cohesion among humans in a group-forming community. Or in another example, we can mention the theory of “Historical Continuation or Disconnection in Iranian History”. With this approach, there is still a long way to reach this type of theories which are macro-narrative colloquially.

I do not recognize the theories of the first group and believe that they are non-historic; but regarding the second group, I say that since they rely on reliable historical data, we can deny or accept them and it may be possible to bring up another case related to it. With this description, we have yet to reach the topic of theorizing, but the point that exists is the same point that Dr. Nouraee considered the focus of the discussion on it. We must say what has happened to oral history? Do we interview repeatedly when we are involved in oral history? Or, in fact, we have a claim that, as a length, makes it possible to collect oral history data. Basically, in my opinion, at the present stage, the most important task of historians working in the field of oral history is to be able to collect historical data, and to use all the conventional methods of history in collecting historical data. They do comparing, matching, rejecting, forging, modifying, etc.

When we do the job of collecting historical data, we have to involve a claim inevitably; because otherwise, we either make a mess or get lost in the subject and we cannot get out of it at all to get the job done. In order to go one step further, I have to give an example and then enter another field. In my view, oral history should be valued because it has provided historians with a new method, window, field, or horizon for gathering historical information. So far, we have historical works written by official historians who are very famous both in the western history and in our own country; like the History of al-Tabari, History of Xenophon and in our time, the era of Kasraee which is non-governmental. This is a model and another area is what we are talking about in the documents, and it was assumed from the beginning that there is less bias in the documents. There is some historical data that is in the minds of historical actors. It is not possible to record these cases in official texts, nor in official government, administrative, personal, family, and other documents, and the opportunity that oral history provides for them is to come and fill this gap of historical data. However, they cannot be used inherently and must be usable with the help of other things. This is where theorizing makes sense.   

For instance, I work in an administrative section and record the oral history of the managerial experience of that section. When I wanted to do this, I struggled for a while to put myself in the shoes of a manager or a management group based on my work experience. I said what if someone wants to do managerial work? It promotes at least three elements in its managerial work as a subject. This definitely pays attention to the methods and regulations and laws. So my first question will be what you did in this area? Secondly, this person will definitely have a plan in creating the administrative mechanism of physical institutions. He builds and equips buildings; he also has an administrative mechanism. That is, he builds offices or builds an institution or creates something to be able to form an administrative organization. When he has done these two things, he must have a product that can be called an event, a book, or anything else. In fact, it is as if I have said by default that if someone wanted to manage and did not do these three things, he has not managed at all. So we say what the management is? Management means being active in these three areas. Now I go to these people who want to record their experience. I know that in order not to scatter information, I am careful to ask about the mechanism that this person has created, to ask about the administrative institutions and physical facilities that he has created, and to ask about the output of those two activities. Because eventually, the actors who work in this field are either law enforcers or are doing something and something must come out of it that will be the result of this story. I established a relationship of A and B between the relationship of management and actions.

We also did this in the area of sports. We said when football entered Iran, we had different kinds of sports and sports were not our problem. It seemed to me to look at the effect of the football situation in three parts. If we could look at these three sections, then that is what we saw in the management area, but in a different way. I said let's see first what effects football has created in the society? That the stadiums were righted, the fans righted, sport dailies righted, they made bets, they fought, the police got involved, it became political somewhere, or some of the teams were considered political; For example, it was said before the revolution that some people were, for example, non-governmental or others were governmental. Secondly, in order for the country's administrative organization to be able to manage this phenomenon, it has been forced to talk about its economy and politics, and to think about its preparations, and most importantly, what kind of people were those in this field? For instance, we came to the conclusion that basically before the revolution, football - basically here is the dominant aspect, please do not consider it absolute - was a middle-class sport and sports were not seen in the lower classes. The lower classes were more present among the spectators, but because it made it possible to change social status - I use the sociological hypothesis based on the interdisciplinary nature of the discussion - it has also provided the grounds for other classes to enter. That is, in addition to the middle classes, it has also involved the lower classes.

But if you want to bring up the discussion in a larger form, whether it is extra-historic or intra-historic, it seems that there is a problem here for oral history and at present, it is not possible. The point mentioned by Dr. Nouraee correctly which I also emphasize on it is that the oral history sources are living ones inevitably; so when you go to find them, you have to pay attention that firstly they have the possibility to express them correctly and secondly, they have good memory.  However, we suffer from this chronic condition less than everybody. The first role - that is, exactly the same classification that we make in historical sources - did they themselves witness the story? Or were they listeners? Are they first-hand or second-hand? These are acquired in a way through intelligence and experience, and one gradually understands who is doing what. Do you have to be able to discern in the minds of these people whether they are covering up a subject or for example using historical honesty? Is love and hate present in their words or not?

Do living sources lead us to the situation of the current history unavoidably? It means we have no other way. It extends to our time. Or how much useful time do we have for an active person if we for example consider him or her an active person?  One decade? Two decades? We cannot consider more than this. Of course, these two decades are the decades after which this person is able to express the subject. Thus, oral history imposes some necessities to man that you are very close to your time and you both as a researcher and a narrator may have ideological contradiction or alignment with each other in some places. Or somewhere as a narrator, you may underestimate one place or highlight another.

If we look at the issue with these necessities and requirements, I will summarize my words in three sentences. The first is that without having a claim, it is not possible to do the job of oral history. Second, if he wants to work in that field without the background knowledge and information, he will not be able to do it again; third, that claim must always be available to him as an information-gathering tour, and he must never forget the line of his first claim.


In continuation of the show, given Dr. Abolfazl Hasanabadi could not succeed to take part in the meeting, he sent an audio file for the members played as follows:

Abolfazl Hasanabadi: Considering that a thematic topic was to be discussed about the necessity of theorizing in the oral history of Iran, I would like to make a few points as a discussion topic of this meeting and try to summarize some of the topics that I had in mind. Why theorizing is necessary in oral history, and whether it is really necessary in the current state of oral history, is a serious debate in Iran. We have witnessed the spread of oral history in the world since the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s, and we have at least six periods of the spread of oral history in the world. It is clear that after a period of initial formation and its growth and development, after a period of continuous communication with society and sociologists and researchers, which of course in some periods these formations and developments took place simultaneously, at one point, oral history thought it had to answer questions about its nature. That is, after the political dimension, we entered the social dimension, and then, we saw that the museums, archival centers, and schools were used by the public.

Then, this serious question was raised that oral history should give a serious answer to serious questions about its nature, purpose, as well as its development and function by oral historians, because from one period onwards, a series of oral histories suffered from a kind of introversion and questioning. This was in response to external questions asked from oral history. Concerning its importance, its function, its validity, its responsiveness, and the types and forms of use of oral history, etc., oral historians thought that serious and new answers should be given to the question of whether it is at all possible for us to theorize in oral history and how necessary this issue can be? Now, in Iran, after a 40-year period, a period of deep activity of at least 20 years and its expansion in our society the importance of which should not be discussed, we are currently at a point where the question must be asked again to what extent it is possible to theorize in oral history and whether it is necessary at all or not? It seems that in the discussion of oral history, we have a serious need to review the function.

The connection between history and the philosophy of history is debated in detail, because that you do historiography and write history is different from looking at history philosophically. Now it can be discussed and reviewed that if we need philosophy in history and we can provide a framework for events and the theory and view of historical issues, have we reached this status and point proportional to today to be able to have a fundamental review of thinking and functioning for oral history? Since oral history has been considered as a structure, tool, method, especially an efficient method and an area for interdisciplinary studies, it can be used in different areas among which we can refer to the areas of social sciences, local history, industry, organizational history, organizational memory, the management of organizational knowledge. When it is also reviewed in the functional area which is very different, it is shown that the oral history of management of tools has been used in very different areas; in a way that one side of it from the humanities reaches to medical sciences and the other side from industry reaches to the management area.

But there is a serious question among all these interdisciplinary functions in oral history, and that is whether oral history does not need a separate identity to be able to give it a structure, an identity, and a personality that can be separated? Why is it important? As the world came to this conclusion at least 20 years ago, oral history must answer some of the questions and ifs or buts or answers the question of the ability, repetition, validity, authenticity, and validity of content in research; it should find a separate identity beyond; regardless of what oral history is used for. It remains to be seen how it is done, and these are all general discussions of oral history.

We have to go one step further. Oral history goes beyond interviewing, archiving, and information gathering and accessibility. For answering these questions, oral history needs an identity in order to be able to respond to the historians' doubts regarding its validity; or respond to the question how it wants to use its identity beyond interdisciplinary studies. At present, we in oral history of Iran are in a position that in view of the vastness of its use in the history of administrations and organization, history of war, history of revolution, local history, urban history, etc. need to redefine oral history and define its structure and importance. We can then use it as a valid model and a more specific structure in historical research and give it a kind of identity. Oral history should be able to provide specific frameworks to be used in specific outputs and can be used in more specific research. This approach requires us to look at oral history one step further, despite the general function of oral history in various fields.

The issue of relationship between memory and oral history, or the relationship between the mind and intersubjective narratives, is all very serious in the discussion of the maximum or minimum view of oral history. At present, we need to have a minimum view toward oral history. In a series of discussion, we can use the subject of family history or even local history in neighborhoods and villages. But alongside the minimum view, we also need to have a maximum view toward part of the society. This is important from the viewpoint that we should be able to have a maximum perspective on giving an identity to oral history in Iran, beyond all current uses of oral history in the country. Just as the issue of qualitative oral history is hot in the world right now, so is the issue of quantitative oral history and the re-participation in the use of oral history for the past.

On the issue of using oral history, all subjects should lead to using oral history consciously. We should use oral history consciously and must reach to the conscious use of oral history in passing the discussion of unconscious use. If a historian is supposed to use oral history, he or she should realize its limits, structure, importance and position consciously and then goes for it. However, this does not deny use of oral history by us. At present, oral history has found public dimensions in Iran and everybody considers himself an oral historian which of course nobody disagrees; because we all oral historians are happy that oral history has spread in Iran so much; but there is also this concern that oral history must be promoted one step further and we should think of it. It must find its identity one step higher that I hope on the issue of the involvement of oral history in universities and its structuring even in specialized areas of oral history of Iran, it reaches to a level where it is possible to present it purposefully, just as the discussion of lack of theorizing in oral history has created some serious weaknesses in our minds. For instance, we have few specialized articles concerning oral history. There is also a problem in purposeful way of presentation. At present, many oral history projects have been carried out in Iran. for example, more than 50 projects have been carried out only in Astan Quds Razavi but we are weak in purposeful presentation of information and extraction of information; thus, we have not thought of one step higher and have not created this possibility. Don't we say that there capable people in this field who must be involved? While using the experiences of oral history experts on the issue of oral history, I hope we take basic steps in this field in Iran.

                                                                                                 To be continued …                 

Number of Visits: 1943


2022-02-21   08:56:05
Ali Shiri
wonderful article
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.