The sixth virtual meeting of oral history of Iran

Methods of Compiling and Writing Oral History – 2

Compiled by: Iranian Oral history Website
Translated by: Fazel Shirzad


Note: The 6th oral history meeting was held at the clubhouse and the historian's room on Saturday, January 15, 2021, under the direction of Dr. Mehdi Farahani Monfared and performed by Mrs. Musfa. In this meeting, Dr. Abolfazl Hassanabadi, Dr. Habibullah Esmaili, Dr. Seyed Mahmoud Sadat Bidgholi, Dr. Javad Abbasi, Dr. Mehdi Abolhasani Targhee, Ali Mohammad Zamani, Dr. Ashraf, and Dr. Nazila Khalkhali spoke about editing and compiling of oral history.

Next, the host of the program asked Dr. Habibullah Esmaili to continue the conversation.

Dr. Esmaili: I want to get away from theoretical discussions a little; because I believe that compilation is a practical discussion and I go directly to the core of the matter. The first assumption is that work in the field of oral history is primarily the production of historical data. The things that Dr. Hassanabadi and Dr. Sadat said about compilation is the next step. Although both dignitaries mentioned this sector of production, the example that Mr. Dr. Sadat gave of Mr. Kazemi's work or the points that Mr. Hasanabadi said about how far we are allowed to intervene, the first point is that we are involved in production.

When we are in the work of data production, we must be aware that entering oral history must have the requirements of historical work. Now, if other persons are working in this field and do not meet the requirements of historical work, I have nothing to do with them. For now, I think we should agree on the standard, then measure and see how close or far it is. Or even if, for example, we work by ourselves, how close we are to the standard we claim.

The first thing is that when we want to enter the work of data production, we must have a correct research plan and a problem and raise this issue based on the problem. Therefore, there is no point in saying anything. If a person wants to introduce himself, we can ask him about his class position and social base. If we ask about his or his family's records, it is for us to say what position this person is speaking from. It is as if we are already saying that if a person belongs to a certain social class, his attitude is different from a person who is in another group or stratum. This is the second point that without a research plan, without questions and problems, our questions will not be correct.

We should look at the narrator as a historical source and we should ask questions that will give us the necessary information. After observing these three assumptions, I believe that the text produced during the interview should be considered as a document; a document which, of course, is oral and will later become a written document. Speech in oral history is like a document. It means we are generating data about something. We also know that not only in oral history but in any historical text, when we talk about history, it is naturally an interpretation of history. That is, we should always keep this in mind to consider the element of interpretation of the story, the assumption hidden in the implicit.

Now, if we generate the data and convert the spoken text into text, do we need to change this text? What we were looking for until now and it was the result of a long conversation between me and Dr. Jafar Golshan Roghani and some friends such as Mr. Beheshtipour and friends of the editor etc. and we discussed it for maybe three or four months, we concluded that to make the text of oral history readable, we should at most convert the broken verbs into book verbs, observe the pronouns if it has not been followed a little, and if the narrator has said a word or a sentence that does not have a verb, s/he should change the verb in brackets.

Another point that some correctly pointed out is that a text is produced between the interviewer and the interviewee. Does the interviewee have the right to intervene in the text during the review? I have a very strict opinion on this issue. I believe, for example, about a field in the Ministry of Science that I once attended, if someone comes to speak, I will produce a speech at the moment I am speaking, but later my considerations or my conservatism may come into action. Even if the narrator adds something new to that speech, should be included in the footnote. This is a point that slightly moves our work towards making the work a little more historical. In my opinion, all the considerations that apply to all history books are also present here. I emphasize that we accept speech as a document.

After these considerations, we will enter the explanation stage, which of course, my friends are familiar with it, but let me repeat it. Of course, Dr. Sadat's objection is valid, because in Mr. Dehbashi's work, we did the explanations together with Dr. Jafar Gulshan, and we accept his responsibility with a high neck. Of course, both Mr. Morteza Rasolipour Aziz and Mr. Sadat, when we were talking privately, said: You overdid it. Maybe we have gone too far; But anyway, since we had already committed to each other to act in this way, so we did the same thing there. But if they ask me now, I will say yes, there was an excess in it. I admit that excessive exposition will confuse the reader and the person who refers to the book. We shouldn't have done it, but it was an experience anyway.

Even there, we did another thing, and for example, if Mr. Seyed Hossein Nasr had given an interview, we came and placed that interview in a different font next to the original interview text. Of course, this was Mr. Dehbashi's invention. I respect its copyright. But it was implemented and called "Intersection". That is, he included his previous statements in the text, which in my opinion would have been better if this work had been explained more in the footnotes.

When we assume that the text is a document, in the opinion of our friends who are experts in documentary work, we have a historical document that is from the Qajar period or the Pahlavi period or later, do we have the right to touch it? Should we change that text even if it is wrong? For example, let's assume that it is a contract written in a village by a mullah who may not have any proper literacy and numeracy, even though he may have used the local interpretations of that place. Am I allowed to translate this document into modern language? No. I am not allowed. In the margins of that document, I can do a thousand things to make that document readable, and in fact, that's what illustration "Check Shavad" is; but we do not have extremes either.

But when we passed all this, then we reach the stage where someone comes and conducts research based on these data. Then you will see that he can write a story. He can write screenplays. It can go to see dozens of other documents like historical research work. It can discard and reject or criticize the speech produced in this text. But at the stage where we are doing oral history work, we are not allowed to comment on that text. Unfortunately, we confuse these two issues.

There is another point that we have two macro-views, one is the view of continental philosophy and the other is achievable philosophy. One should think about this. Of course, this will prolong the discussion. Or he says specific proverbs of his own culture, I can't come to remove these from his speech and replace them with other words and expressions. Naturally, the speech of such a person should be different from the speech of an educated person who is also a person of taste and manners. Therefore, you should not engage in that speech.

I want to do research, I can do a thousand things. I can invent a dialogue by myself because I am writing a story; But when I do scientific work and oral history work, I am not allowed to do this. Our right is maximum one: literary editing to the extent of replacing broken verbs and pronouns, and two: making a logical and reasonable explanation in the margins of the text so as not to confuse our readers. Because we are generating data, the first condition of data generation is that we are researchers and experts in that field. We have acted based on the research plan. Let's have a proper account of the questions and problems. However, every research that has these days is presented as oral history, many of them are weak and we are really ashamed to call them oral history.

Mrs. Mosffa: I think that a framework for this meeting regarding the methods of compilation and writing of oral history has been set so far according to the explanations given by Dr. Hassanabadi, Mr. Sadat, and Dr. Esmaili, and so far, generalities have been formed. But regarding the conditions of the interviewer, the interviewee, and the references that were made in between the talks, I think it is necessary to explain more to reduce the ambiguities a little. I request the friends present in Rome, if they have any questions or additional information in this regard, please apply so that we can hear them.

Dr. Abbasi: I am not an oral history expert, but based on my recent experience in this discussion and the view I always have on oral history, I thought I would share a few points with my friends. The question I have is the difference between oral history, i.e. books that are published as oral history and include a series of interviews, for example, ten interviews with members of an organization and published under the title of oral history of that organization; whether these count as history or not, they are mostly memories. Now in any way they are used. I have nothing to do with the details that my friends said, how much they are manipulated or not, whether they are trustworthy or not. I have a problem with reading these dates. Because I think that these are not history but memories; these are the same statements that these people could have written themselves, now they have said these in the form of a guided interview focusing on certain topics and have been put together. From the perspective of history, my question is whether these are considered history or are more memories.

Another point is that the experience that I had recently in writing the history of the Faculty of Literature of Ferdowsi University of Mashhad is that we used ten to fifteen interviews of the seniors of the faculty. Friends also pointed out that when people speak conversationally in an interview, at all The sentence structure and these are completely different. Now Mr. Dr. Esmaili said that it may find very intimate aspects. Well, when you want to use them as a document in the text, what is the assignment? That is, should we bring the same literature? For example, one of the professors of the university is naturally relatively more refined, but even example, when I watched the interviews of faculty employees with professors or even some professors with each other, I saw that there is a lot of difference in expressions and conversations. Now, if we want to use it, should we bring the same different dialogues? That is, for example, let's say that so-and-so thinks about the role of the faculty in the revolution. Is this acceptable for the audience in terms of editing, writing, and producing the text, can it be changed? According to the conversations of friends, how much can it be changed?

Another point that I often quote indirectly is in using oral history interviews, for example, I wrote that so-and-so's opinion about this event is that the role of leftist groups was more colorful. Now, the statement that he made may have said that the left groups were showing off a lot, the left groups were trying to show themselves or the left groups were like that, it has a special expression. Is there anything wrong with using people's statements in interviews as indirect quotations or not? We use this a lot in our use of historical texts and documents, and most of our writing is an indirect quotation.

Mrs. Mosffa: Thank you. The questions were very good and practical. In the meantime, I will raise my question and so to speak, add to your questions. Maybe it is related to your first question. Does an oral history worker necessarily have to be a historian? Or do they have just a distant relationship with each other and it should not necessarily be a historian?

Dr. Sadat: I would like to say two things about Dr. Ismaili's statements. He said something also true, it was that in the work of oral history, we sometimes think that good literature is preferred over bad literature. That is, if we talked about an incident with a university professor and a truck driver, the words of the university professor, who spoke very clearly, are superior to the words of the driver, which may contain nasty ones, but reflected something to us. This work is wrong. That is, it depends on the angle from which the narrator is an eyewitness of the event and what part of the event he narrates. Perhaps that person may be standing somewhere in the field of the event, where he saw the event much better. The truck driver who sees the incident from above can have a better description of the incident than the university professor who is passing by. Therefore, we cannot say that because he expressed his style and literature and it is not refined style and literature, then his statements have no value or have less value.

The second point about Dr. Esmaili's speech is that the amount of obsession he raised about the work of oral history is somewhat damaging to the output. They consider oral history to be two parts. One part is that we are bound by the text and publish something, after that if someone wants to make a story and memory from this text of questions and answers and oral history, then go and do it later. If this is the case, I will now give an example. In those seven volumes of Mr. Dehbashi's work that Mr. Esmaili collaborated with, you have brought some of his talks from other places and added them to the text in Mr. Nasr's talks, how does it look at all? Or concerning the memories of Akbar Etemad when you came, how are the memories that Mr. Akbar Etemad previously shared with Rahavard magazine abroad and you came here and asked him about an article and went and transferred the similar article to here from another place?

Ms. Mosffa then asked Dr. Ashraf to continue her question.

Dr. Ashraf: Regarding the discussion that Mr. Dr. Esmaili said, I do not see a very clear line between oral history and memories. Although I think that oral history has been around for a few decades, in other words, in the past, we could also consider memories as a type of oral history, and in other words, there is a difference between oral history and memoirs. This is my question to Dr. Monfard. What is the border that separates memories from oral history? Don't you think that the relationship between oral history and memories, public and private, is absolute and memories are a part of oral history? However, in my opinion, in the discussion of memoirs, the criterion is the person who writes his memoirs, which has a motive behind it. The party may write memoirs only for the sake of his acquittal. Or write at the suggestion of an organization. At all, it may be written in a one-sided way and with a specific purpose. But in my opinion, in the discussion of oral history, the criterion here is the interviewer, who is going with one goal, and in a way, maybe we can consider this the difference between oral history and memories, the criterion and standard and the one who gives the line is the interviewer. The fact is that it is very difficult to distinguish between memoirs and oral history, and these two things get confusing. I would be very grateful if the professors could differentiate between the two for the listeners.

Ms. Musfa: Thank you, Mr. Ashraf. I think that Dr. Monfared must have planned this topic as memories in oral history in a series of meetings, and we will have an independent meeting in this regard where we will examine the differences and similarities between oral history and memories. Mr. Dr. Sadat Bidgoli! We will continue to hear your words.

Dr. Sadat: Currently, the discussion of oral history of organizations, banks, institutions, etc. is very important and they deal with this a lot. This is very gratifying. I would like to tell you that we have no country in the West Asian region that has done so much work in the field of oral history, but most of them are not oral history. There is a difference between oral history and collective memory that remains from an organization and is said by the members of that organization. That is, we must be able to distinguish these two from each other.

For example, if the performance of the CEO of a bank is investigated by an informed person of that bank with a detailed and regular question package with complete information, in a two-way conversation and a conversation that is really the result of that oral history, the text that is produced because it is the result of the statements of two It is unique and not just the narrator's statements and the narrator's statements have been challenged. Can we call this thing that is being produced oral history? But if a person sits empty-handed in front of a person who is higher in terms of status, can it be called oral history? Because many of these works that are being done are either ordered from outside or are done by the public relations of those organizations. Many of these texts that are produced are not oral histories. Many of them are not done by people who read history. Therefore, they are not familiar with this field and its output is finally a collective memory that was produced in that organization anyway.

 Please, if Mr. Ismaili has any answer regarding the work of Dr. Seyed Hossein Nasr, give me an answer. Because I think that all the obsessions that Dr. Esmaili has spent so that we put everything on the hook, do not match with the work that has come out. I think that in the first stage, they wanted to make four book covers with the same page size. After that, they wanted three volumes of the book again. After that, it should be clear as well. Therefore, I think that because they finally trusted Akbar for an hour, an hour and a half interview, they went and found his statements in other places so that a book of the same caliber could be produced. I do not consider this work as oral history. That is, maybe Mr. Dr. Esmaili will say, for example, we have gone and left the statements from other places. Mr. Dr. Esmaili! If you identify with this conversation that took place with Mr. Nasr in space by a person in discourse, how much are we allowed to take the same statements from another place, in another space, from a magazine that was printed, and put them in this book? Doesn't this undermine the standard of oral history work to which you are so bound? Of course, I shouldn't ask you these things. But my question is for Mr. Dehbashi, but since you said that you did the work of explanation there, I am asking you. Maybe you can help and answer us in this regard. The question has been raised about whether oral history is the work of a historian or the work of another individual. It should be said that it should not necessarily be the work of a historian. I have seen examples of works done in the field of war history, some books on war history and oral history of war, which were written by the late Mr. Ardestani. He was a person who was very familiar with that field of work and the questions he asked the interviewee or the narrator. I see that when the narrator fails to answer those questions because he was a person who was present in that operation and is completely familiar with this issue, he can challenge that person. But another person, even if a history scholar wants to raise questions about this issue or wants to advance the interview, I don't think he can get a proper and standard output; Even if he goes to read all those materials, and flip through all those newspapers.

The talk we have with friends is that if you want to have a really good and quality interview, one of the tips is to flip through the newspapers of that period. Because this makes the events fit in your mind chronologically, and if the interviewee tells an event back and forth, you can correct this in the same meeting. In my opinion, the verification of the interview starts from the interview session, not from the fact that later we want to show off the mistakes of the interviewee in a footnote and say that the narrator made this mistake or that there was this slip in his speech. Experience has also shown that in those types of oral history works where the interviewer and writer are the same people, the output is generally more standard output than the work where the interview was done by one person and editing by another person.

Dr. Abbasi: How much can we use indirect quotation when using interviews in writing history? For example, in the same way, and to the extent that we use indirect quotations taken from documents and sources, is it the same in using these oral sources, or should direct quotations be used more to maintain credibility?

Dr. Sadat: It depends on what it is about. If the topic is really sensitive, it is better to use a direct quote. But if the subject is not sensitive, the text produced by the oral history is a source, and as in the use of sources, we can use both direct and indirect quotations, oral history is nothing else.

Dr. Abbasi: Mr. Sadat, my other question was that the diversity of people's speech in oral conversations, for example, about an incident, as you said, a driver, an employee, a university professor, or a religious scholar may have spoken. When we want to compile them in a text next to each other, does this difference of speech not cause any problem to the settings of the text and the audience who wants to read it? Does this mean that diversity is not an obstacle in any way? Suppose we want to quote directly from all these different people.

Dr. Sadat: That's right. In some subjects, it is recommended that if you want to get an interview, get the interview together. For example, if you want to interview workers about an incident, it is better to have many people participating in that interview session. Because these people complete each other's statements. When we talk to some of these people who are from the same language, it is not a problem, but I don't understand what you are saying that we want people whose literature is very different. I can't give your answer. I would really like other friends to tell me if they have a solution for this, so I can learn too. I can't answer that for you.


■ To be continued…


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