The sixth virtual meeting of oral history of Iran

Methods of Compiling and Writing Oral History – 3

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. Musffa. 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.

In the continuation of the discussion, Mrs. Mosffa asked Dr. Esmaili to state the answer he considered for Mr. Sadat Bidgholi's criticism.

Dr. Esmaili: The use of oral history texts is a matter that belongs to the person doing the research. For example, let's assume that we want to quote from history. For today's readers or even for ourselves, it may be closed. When we write a work report or publish a book, we are the ones who have to make the text readable for our readers. Therefore, it is useful and we can use the oral history interview with the conditions that I have presented as historical data as a text, wherever we use it and it does not harm our research work.

Friends also said something about the border between memory and history. Since it was repeated two or three times, I will only say one thing. My understanding of the difference between memory and history is that in oral history, a historian or an expert familiar with the subject tries to extract information with a previous plan and with detailed questions and problems. This is very different from memory that someone tells to defend themselves. It is possible to do this in this text as well, but when we want to publish the text, we can do many other things in the margins.

The point and objections they said about the work of oral history do not return to me. This was an innovation made by Mr. Dehbashi himself and he named it Intersection. They argued that when someone tells something about an event, he may have a story in one story, and in ten years he may have a different story for any reason. For example, Mr. Dehbashi's opinion was that these two narrations may be different. But I accept this objection that has been disturbed now, although I am not responsible for it. Naturally, I can only say that what I did was on the sidelines, for which I and Dr. Golshan accept responsibility. Of course, I know that if they asked me, we would have been gentler than that.

Another point that I emphasize again is that if there is a narrative somewhere, we should not call it oral history. For example, it happened in the past or someone could do it. Now, for example, many works are not a problem. The world is a world of supply and demand. How dozens of historical texts have been produced in the past, but only one or two texts remain among dozens of texts. Naturally, weak works will be removed by themselves and good work will last. The same thing that Mr. Mohsen Kazemi did, although I believe that I wish the text of the interview would be published separately, I believe that it will be among the lasting works. The works of Ezzatshahi, Khanum Dabbagh, and Ahmed Ahmed's memoirs have been successful and he is doing a lot of work. This model is a method and they are working hard. In my opinion, the weak works are automatically removed from the field.

Unfortunately, government agencies think that a large number of interviews is a sign of strength. Once I was somewhere, one of these brothers who are in the military apparatus said, sir, we interviewed for four thousand hours about a certain operation. I said that I was present in that operation, even though I was only a member of the fighting force, and you can't talk about that whole story for 4000 hours. He had imagined that as many people from every rank as infantry, platoon leader, company leader, deputy, logistics, and anyone else would go and talk to him, things would get better. If it has no value. Because all the words sound the same. I believe that we are at the border stage of the difference between data production and research stage, that is, in the position of data production and historical information. Or we are researching historical information. If we separate these two authorities, many of our questions will be solved and the problem will be solved.

In the continuation of the program, Ms. Mosffa asked Mr. Ali Mohammad Zamani to speak.

Mr. Zamani: I have had the experience of dealing with oral history in the form of interviews in the field of Islamic revolution and war. I had three work experiences in the field of oral history, one of which was working with the Islamic Revolution Documentation Center and related to the history of the Islamic Revolution in one of the cities. The second is about the history of the war and the third is about the National Olympic Committee and the sport of wrestling. When it was discussed editing, I wanted to express the points that I faced in my experience, so that it might help the discussion process.

In the ship's history interview, our interviewees were at least one generation older than ourselves; both in terms of literature and the mentality in which they were raised. It was very different. We had a series of studies. Because we could read the wrestling news on a large scale through journals, documents, and documents that, for example, the National Olympic Committee had since the twenties, and then we could follow the progress of the sports fields and find the wrestling champions one by one in each period, each decade, coaches, head coaches, or the wrestler himself, his friends, his team, and the relevant officials in the committee or federation, but when we went to the wrestler himself, their tone was different and they had a different mentality.

In the interview, we tried to build trust in a very free manner so that he could say whatever came to his mind about those sports events. When we were dealing with some sensitive political or social issues, we fully felt that even the wrestler might have some considerations of his own. It came back to the taste of the interviewees themselves, the interviewers who, for example, create an atmosphere where the interviewee trusts and expresses his words and even his pains. Even these were interesting because they had many pictures that they had taken with the king at that time. It was interesting to us that some of them had even distorted or destroyed these photos in their albums. When we told them to express their content very easily about that meeting and the events that happened, they refused.

In the interview, we tried to build trust in a very free manner so that he could say whatever came to his mind about those sports events. When we were dealing with some sensitive political or social issues, we fully felt that even the wrestler might have some considerations of his own. It came back to the taste of the interviewees themselves, the interviewers who, for example, create an atmosphere where the interviewee trusts and expresses his words and even his worries. Even these were interesting because they had many pictures that they had taken with the king at that time. It was interesting to us that some of them had even distorted or destroyed these photos in their albums. When we told them to express their content very easily about that meeting and the events that happened, they refused. Anyway, their talks were expressed and extracted and demanded as much as possible. But when we were going to compile this collection, the rules and regulations that usually exist in a government committee might have limited the editor based on how much he could present the produced text.

I fully experienced this in the discussion of the Islamic Revolution, and I saw that you faced a series of problems during the compilation of what you interviewed. It is clear that in terms of the subject of the work, oral history can go to issues that official history usually does not pay attention to, or if it does pay attention, it has the intention of distorting it. Those who had the role of eyewitnesses or were actors were activists, but they do not have an expressive language, and oral history goes to them. Ever since the cassette was invented and used so abundantly in the oral history debate, it seems that what is at the same stage as sound captures the nature of oral history as a document. But if this document is produced that is accompanied by audio and the interviewer is supposed to record many of those behavioral signs and body language of the interviewee, the situation of the interview or how the situation went in the interview and how the other party was satisfied with the interview. And all these are supposed to reflect; If these are distorted or replaced or changed in any way and for any reason, it will lose the character of being a document of oral history, and this is where it can be said that it should be looked at carefully and these changes should be avoided.

Ms. Mosffa: Mr. Dr. Esmaili, you missed a point; we will listen, and then we will be at the service of Mr. Dr. Abolhasani.

Dr. Esmaili: The point I forgot was that basically, oral history is teamwork; According to Mr. Zamani's words when he was working with Mr. Sabati on the oral history of sports. There was an invention that this type of team character was established. In such a way that if the person in charge of the project is a history expert, he must go and employ an individual sports expert. For example, we did the oral history of football, and we had a sports expert named Dr. Kasra Ayoubian, who is both a student of history and grew up in a football family, and now he reports on football. It means that they are completely in control of this field. They both know history and football. We came there and said that as a football fan, I may not be very knowledgeable about the subject, someone more knowledgeable than me should be with me, and luckily we found someone who knew both history and football. If we look at it this way, we will reduce some of the problems of oral history through teamwork.

The problem is that oral history in this country has not yet been cooked and we have come a long way by trial and error. There is still time to complete this issue; But, for example, ideas like this clarification that I presented or this teamwork that was strongly emphasized and was the result of collective wisdom; That one should be knowledgeable about that matter; It's all because the interviews he's doing are done with the right information. All the objections to the existing works are that they put a microphone in front of one person and according to friends, the interviewer was intimidated by the character of the interviewee, then three questions were asked in two hours, which is not helpful. In conversations, if things go astray, we interrupt the conversation of the other party. Especially me, who has no compliments with anyone, and I will return it to the field. For example, sometimes I raise a case of a violation that he has to answer. Another technique I use is that if the party avoids the question, I ask three questions, in the fourth question I ask the previous question in a different language. These are among the work experiences and this subconscious corrects the above words. These are techniques that come with experience, and this is very different from memoir work.

Ms. Mosaffa: Mr. Dr. Abolhasani, we are at your service; About the ways of compiling and writing oral history. Please let me know if there is an explanation for this.

Dr. Abolhasani: In the previous two meetings two weeks ago, I made a point and that was that the production method that we are considering now, according to the policies of that organization or employer that hired us as an oral worker, is what it is standard for oral history data, we can have three examples of text production. One was the so-called production of question and answer text, which I emphasize very much that the title of oral history is applied to this example. An example of one-hand narration is close to reminiscence, which is extracted from the same question and answer text. Another example that is more valuable and I emphasize it from a qualitative point of view, the oral history data after it has been verified and has reached the oral document stage from the witness and oral witness stage, we use it along with other documents and documents. I always emphasize more on the third case and in the work I do, I try to derive from this sample of work.

According to these three examples of oral history data production, their compilation and editing will certainly be different. In addition to the very detailed discussion that we entered in the field of epistemology and I also discussed it in detail in my thesis, regarding the fact that the discussion of editing and editing in oral history is different from other examples of historiography and historiography and it starts before the interview. It can be: before the interview, during the interview, and after the interview in the compilation stage. If we skip the epistemological discussion and focus on the part that is most important to the loved ones, that is, an interview or interviews have been conducted and now they want to be edited, as I told you, how do we want to extract the text? Is it in the form of questions and answers like the work of Harvard that we talked about earlier? Either we want to remove the questions in the form of a one-handed narration, or we want the third person singular or the narrator, or we want to produce a text in any way. Or if we want, it is historical research. All three of these cases are different in their compilation and editing and their other issues.

For example, the question raised by my dear sir Dr. Abbasi regarding direct quotation, in the first clause where we want to have a question and answer, is an example of those two. The interview we conduct will have one feature if it is audio, and another feature if it is video. For this text that we implement, we always say to archive two text samples. One is the spoken language and the other is the written language, which unfortunately does not meet this standard in many places, and the same spoken language is not preserved and respected, and they turn into a written language and standard language. In many places, I saw that they even write the report and summary of the interview, but the original interview is not there.

Now is a time when we are talking to an educated person, a culturally mature person, or a political figure, his spoken language is close to standard language and written language, and it is almost possible to publish the same spoken language with some modifications and technical issues in observe it; Let's apply signs and things like this. There is a time when it is not, the personality is such that the same speech language works better in society and attracts the audience. Like Shaaban Jafari's memoirs, which are questions and answers, Mrs. Homa Sarshar has preserved her spoken language and has tried to keep her tone and accent. Even where it may be incomprehensible to the reader and the audience, he should clarify the words.

In the same way, it can be applied in the same way for a one-hand and memory-like narrative and as the famous story tells, we can use both of these in the case of, for example, the oral history of warriors, the community of martyrs, and commanders. For example, they made memories in the Research Institute of Sacred Defense Sciences and Education, and the late Sardar Ardestani, the numerous sessions of memories and oral history data from Sardar Morteza Ghorbani, which they had extracted, contacted me and said that we are among the generals and commanders of the IRGC who During the war, we have many examples from different cities. From Isfahan, Sardar Rahim Safavi, Martyr Ahmad Kazemi, and Mr. Morteza are also victims. But these are different.

Mr. Morteza Ghorbani's personality is different from others and his speech language was such that, according to those friends, no matter how much we try, we cannot preserve his speech-language. If we convert it into a written language, it will have its special features. These issues are also evident in the oral history of the holy defense, and maybe if I write that speech from the words of a warrior or veteran and a fourteen-fifteen-year-old teenager at that time who went to war, in whatever rank he was in those combat units, maybe there, that spoken language will give a better answer and be more attractive. We see its examples in books; What books were memoirs and the memoirs were told and written by the people themselves, or were written by others, or were the result of an interview.

In the third type, we use the theme and content of the interview and data in its qualitative form and in historical research. In all three examples, let's use the standard language, and in the places where it is necessary, we will quote examples as evidence that the spoken language of each of these strata and classes is different from each other.

Mrs. Mosaffa: Mr. Dr. Hassan Abadi, in this section, if you have any explanation regarding the continuation of the discussion that is being discussed, please provide an explanation.

Dr. Hasanabadi: There are two or three issues that I think we should fundamentally solve in oral history. It is a type of attitude and view that in some of the topics that have come up now is a result of those main topics. It is a look at oral history. Oral history as a tool and method is a discussion, and oral history is an output of another discussion. We must separate these two. That is, the problem we have now is between oral history as a field of tools or a scientific method for doing work, with oral history as the output of content, and this has an effect on oral history. There must be a boundary between these two areas that are very influential in our final view of oral history.

The second argument is that there is a difference between oral history and the clarification of history. Some of the things that are done under oral history are not oral history, they are telling history. It means clarifying history. This work is also used in the world. Oral history is a method at all. Perhaps one of the works that we can mention under the one that is more known in Iran is Mr. Motazad's discussion. Mr. Motazad does not do oral history; He is telling the history orally. Indeed, some of those who claim oral history is working on making history oral and do not make any distinction between the two, and this is one of the issues we are stuck in now.

The third issue is the discussion of oral history to archive or oral history with the intention of compilation. These two are completely different issues. We have a serious difference in oral history with a fundamental method difference, whether you do oral history with the intention of compilation or intending to archive. Many institutions do oral history with the intention of compilation. Like the Islamic Revolution Documentation Center or even the art department, it leaves the work to be printed. The output is intended for it. When you do the work with the intention of editing, it is very different from the topics. The amount of information captured varies. The importance of structuring interviews is different.

However, at one time you are not doing the work with the intention of editing, but to archive. In oral history, very different data may be taken, 50% of which may not be used at all in the editing output. It does not fit within the working areas of that center or organization, but it has value for the future. In doing oral history, we have to look to the future. We should not use oral history casually. One of the topics where oral history may be used now is the discussion of a book that may be published, but you may use a lot of other oral history data in the future that will not be included in the book now, or will not be included in the current period. . It may not apply at all. It may not be the time to bring it up at all. Therefore, the way of looking at oral history should be different.

We have conducted many interviews in Astan Quds Razavi, some of whom cannot use the present tense at all. The interviewee himself said to use it after my death or the person himself feels that he has no ability. This discussion of the archival view of oral history leads to another discussion called output in oral history. The wrong view we have is that in the world, authenticity in oral history is based on speech and not on writing. Originality is adherence to the content, not the text. Since we see all the outputs of oral history as the same books that have been printed, we call this oral history and we are fighting over this. Because of this, the view of oral history deviates from the original, and the originality of oral history is questioned. In the world, the authenticity of oral history depends on speech, and in many books that are published in the world, the text of the interview may be attached in the form of a CD. That is, in addition to a printed book, for example, one hour, two hours, three hours, or a one-volume, two-volume book, the interview itself is also attached, which allows the reader to have the ability to listen at the same time, and the differences to see.

If in oral history, originality is based on speech, writing is no longer debatable, and we don't have many of these fights at all. Basically, when it is a specific audience or a general audience, editing in oral history is different. When your audience is a child, teenager, or young person, your audience is the university, local and native, your editing should be different. Mr. Yahosseini and I discussed this a lot. Because what I was talking about was that, when you are working on the oral history of an army from Bushehr and the oral history of an army from Isfahan, it should be different. Their expression, speech, joke, and conversation are completely different from each other and this issue should be seen in oral history. These are not mentioned in the documents; their place is in oral history. However, because we bring our originality to the text and output, then all the fights come, they are put together in this direction and we say, why didn't it come in the same way? Why didn't the questions come? Why are there questions? Why is the text attractive? Why is the text not attractive? We should have another understanding of oral history. Another authenticity should be given to oral history.

The discussion that Mr. Dr. Abbasi said is basically about the same thing. Can we, for example, have an oral history? Or someone who compiles them? Each of these has its time containers. We do not have anything in the world as an oral history historian in this sense in Iran. Some people conduct interviews with the intention of editing, and from the beginning, the interviewer and the editor are the same. His look is also different. At all, they seek to do something with a specific goal. Do we, for example, conclude from Dr. Esmaili's performance that he is an oral history historian and has done an oral history of football? Or one of the friends who did the ship we can tell him is the historian of the oral history of the ship? Not. There has been purposefulness in the work. A project is defined. They went forward in a structure and did their work.

It is because there is no such thing as a standard in the compilation of oral history in the world. I searched a lot. I was looking for it when I wrote my book. Recently, I also wrote an article that Mr. Sadat published two or three years ago under the title: "Methodology of Compilation in the Oral History of the Islamic Revolution"[1] I was looking for this issue. We cannot be satisfied with a written structure in oral history. Both the audience is important and the organizational policy is important. It is also important to determine the type of output. In general, if we consider all these, the output of oral history may be different. There is no problem with any of them. The basic framework of the work must be clear. If you accept that oral history is based on the ethnology and local character of an area, you should stick to that in your work. As it is in some works of Mr. Yahosseini. Or some works of war history have been like this.

As Dr. Abolhasani said, if you accept that the oral history of the language has a standard and the text has authenticity in it, then you should move forward. The problem is that we don't have the right goal and perception. In a text, we see all kinds of editing methods, and then the reader gets completely confused. Mr. Mohsen Kazemi has not worked on originality in any of his works. We talked and discussed a lot, even about his last work painting the coffee house[2], his pen always has a rich narrator's thinking. His pen is completely clear in the text. This is a kind of look at oral history. But in my opinion, the amount of interviews that Mr. Mohsen Kazemi has conducted over the past six to seven years, and he did not use half of them in his oral history, is more important than this. This is an oral history in progress. It is a style. Whether we object to it or not. If we solve this, that means if this thinking is solved, then many issues under it will be solved separately.

We must think at a higher level. We must look at oral history and expectations differently, and take the types of oral history use one step higher. Text in oral history or writing in oral history is one of the uses of oral history, which unfortunately has become the most important form of using oral history in oral history and has overcome the archive in oral history and is overshadowing oral history. For example, what Dr. Abbasi did in the oral history of the Faculty of Literature or the oral history of the Faculty of Engineering, which is also good work, is a form of research in oral history. Or the work that Mr. Noee did in the oral history of the Mashhad city train[3] or the oral history of the Gas Refinery of Nazbiran[4]. This is a type of use of oral history. That is, the output is compiled on a structural basis and documents are used between them. The principle was also the subject. It is not based on oral history and memories at all. Originally, it was supposed to be a research topic and oral history was also used in it.

We must have a fundamental view in this field. My suggestion is that, God willing, friends should see the use of oral history in this matter, first the originality of the speech, then the writing. Basically, oral history is used in radio in the world. It is used in documentation. We have all kinds of uses and, God willing, we hope that the society that uses oral history will consider this issue. Of course, many friends are not oral historians in that sense, but the society that uses oral history.


To be continued…


Methods of Compiling and Writing Oral History – 1

Methods of Compiling and Writing Oral History – 2


[1] Hassanabadi, A., (2016). An Introduction to the Methodology of Compilation in the Oral History of the Islamic Revolution of Iran, History of the Revolution, 1(1)), pp. 28-9.

[2] Kazemi. M., (2018). Cafe painting (memoirs of Kazem Darabi, accused in Mykonos court), by Mohsen, Tehran, Surah Mehr,

[3] Rajaei, S.J. Nazhu, G., Mazinani, S.A., & Hamidzadeh, J. (2016)On the Rail of Service: The Oral History of an Urban Train Line in Mashhad, Kitab Shafa.

[4]. Mezinani, S.A., Nakhi, G., Eisaei, M., & Raeesal Sadat, S.A.( 2019).  Oral history of Shahid Hasheminejad Gas Refining Company (Khangiran) 1397-1384, Shia Heritage Inscription.

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