The 7th virtual meeting of Iranian oral history

Principles, Frameworks, and Standards of Conducting Oral History – 3

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


Note: The 7th oral history meeting was held at the Clubhouse and Tarikhgar Rome on Saturday, December 23, 2021, under the management and hosting of Dr. Mehdi Farahani Monfared and performed by Mrs. Mosffa. In this meeting, Dr. Abolfazl Hassanabadi, Morteza Rasoulipour, Dr. Habibullah Esmaili, and Dr. Mehdi Abolhasani Targhee spoke about the issue of oral history standards in theory and practice.


Dr. Farahani Monfared: My question to Dr. Hassanabadi is that when you talk about the standards of oral history, do you mostly mean the view related to the guidelines and regulations for conducting oral history or do you refer to two other levels, i.e., methodology and epistemology?

Dr. Hassanabadi: For a while, we have been in contact with the public oral history community, one side of which is the university and the other side is the researcher, one side may be the school and the other side is the oral history association, we have the same view. It is another time that we want to raise the standards in using oral history, and that is another discussion.

We need a first step. That is, in the first step, we should advance the general standards for the oral history community, and in the second step, we should talk about standardization, micro-standardization, as it is established in many centers in the world. After the oral history association standard, many centers designed a separate standard for themselves. Currently, many centers in America and Europe have separate standards for themselves, and they have localized and made them much more specialized even in the field of implementation and compilation, but we must respect that whole. We are still in the general discussion now, we have to do it first.

Now the steps are reversed. Each field has established standards for itself; Like Astan Quds, the National Library and the Institute of Contemporary History of Iran, which have compiled standards, but the general standards remain. Westerners first developed the general standard, then entered into the partial standards. But we developed partial standards first, and we don't have general standards yet.

The general standard should be developed first and then in the field of using oral history sources in order to express the way of using historical research, we should define those standards individually and separately. Even for the discussion of the archive and its different stages, separate standards may be defined, but in my opinion, the whole should be done first, then specialized standards and specialized guidelines should be designed according to the needs of each field; as has happened in America. For example, now the ground forces of the US Army have their own standard. In Iran, for example, in the field of sacred defense, Mr. Azizi prepared a work manual and published it last year. In those general cases, an agreement should be made. There is a need a manifesto that everyone who wants to work adheres to and accepts it.

Rasoulipour: I believe that we should clarify our task with basics. Our problem is that oral history interns still do not have a clear understanding of oral history. Some think that oral history has a separate concept from history and they came and said things that I don't think are true. If history in its general sense is the effort of man to reach the real thing, which is the simplest definition of history in my opinion, (history means knowing the real thing), then if we accept this definition, I claim that oral history seeks to is to achieve the reality in the light of the mechanism called dialogue. This conversation is the basic issue of oral history. It means that a correct understanding of any subject becomes possible by exchanging ideas and as a result of dialogue and discussion. Some who are familiar with Plato's works know that the collection of works of this great thinker is based on dialogue. This shows a fact that thinking basically has a characteristic of conversation, but on the condition that conversation is not only a formal exchange and is viewed as a way of thinking. If we do not pay attention to such a thing, we have abandoned the basic point of oral history which is based on dialogue and exchange of ideas.

The person who is superior to us, to the collection of oral history interns, is the late Mr. Saifullah Vahidnia, who published Vahid's Memoirs magazine for 18 years. The memories of many men, of course, was not an oral history, but it collected a lot of information about men. Some of these, like the memoirs of the late Sadr al-Ashraf, were published independently and had good information. We must specify our task to obtain information, there is no agreement in the understanding of the past period. That is, we have a problem in the methods of obtaining narration and there is no theoretical consensus.

In any case, we can divide the set of oral history activities into five categories: One is to find out who you are talking to. Who cares to talk to him? The second is the design of questions. That we should consider the pre-planned questions or start the conversation impromptu. The third is the interview and its techniques. What is really a successful conversation? How much and how is time managed in an interview? How much of our conversations have followed the goal? Is it mandatory to have a purpose in the interview at all, or is the interview done in any situation, for any purpose? Otherwise, I sit with my friends and we talk, we don't call them interviews. How compatible are the contents obtained through dialogue? How paradoxical is that? How recent is the information from the interview and how much has it been able to fill in the gaps in the written documents? Has it been able to add a new insight to us in the historical and social issue or is it repetitive material? How much of the information gathered was based on personal observations? How much is based on that person's perceptions and insights and how much is the result of the person's judgments?

In every conversation you see these three issues. People's statements are not out of these three states: either they are the result of their observations, or they are the result of perceptions and insights, or they represent their judgments on a subject. To what extent have the interviewer's affiliations and intellectual tendencies influenced the narrator's response? How impartial has it been?

In a conversation, to what extent is the logic of communication between topics observed in a conversation. These are what I mean by standards, otherwise, I don't think we have much problem in those discussions that are related to the ethical and legal frameworks and standards between the interviewer and the interviewee. In general, if a definition or framework is determined in the oral history association, we can use them, but it will not solve our problem. My problem is how much our interview is based on the standards of research according to the common traditions in historical research. This is the issue that hurts us.

If we criticize these works, it is based on how bold you see the presence of the interviewer? Mr. Lajordi interviewed Mr. Jaghar Sharif Emami. Some parts of Sharif Imami's life history are very important. How much information has he been able to extract? It is necessary to know the issues of history in general form and to have thinking, which we do not have.

We are also caught in this problem in the documents. For example, a few years ago, one of our dear friends in the National Documents Organization published a book titled documents related to Gorgan and Bojnoord. The compiler has put SAVAK documents in front of him and according to the historical sequence, he has sorted and published the documents. He also wrote an introduction. All of them are SAVAK documents, but the basis of the case is problematic; Because this researcher and the person compiling the work did not realize that the documents cannot explain their surrounding issues.

The collection of documents published in this book gives you a very negative judgment about Major General Mansour Mozaian, who was the Shah's special representative in that region regarding land distribution. But he did not realize the fact that the reports published against Major General Mozaian and included in the book were caused by a special enmity that Nematullah Nasiri, the head of SAVAK, and General Fardoost, the head of the Special Intelligence Bureau, had with Mozaian. Later, when you come to study the notes and documents related to Mezin, you will understand that this is an important character, he is not willing to give ground to these. Many times they asked for land and he did not give it. Therefore, they made a case for him in SAVAK, and these cases have been brought to the attention of our dear friend Nazanin Mohaghegh, and he has presented a bad face to Major General Mansour Mozaian in this matter. My problem is that this researcher who collects these documents, shouldn't he have an understanding on what basis he is putting these documents together? What does he want to publish?

These problems exist. That is, on this basis, I say that the large volume of works published in oral history is worthless, because the people who took steps in this field were people who did not know enough about the subject. If I am talking about the standard, I will repeat that my problem is this part of the case, and otherwise, I have no problem at all with what Dr. Hassanabadi puts forward. It is a management issue. Discussion is actually a form that does not have the ability to make us want to address the content of a work. When I talk about, for example, the subject search section (they say that the value and weight of each interview depends on the subject), how much effort has been put into it? Does the intended person have sufficient knowledge of the subject? How many questions are counted? To what extent has the interview and its techniques been observed?

In the discussion of implementation, which is the fourth activity in oral history, how much of the implementation rules have been observed in the conversion of speech text to writing? In the fifth and last issue, that is, in the processing and setting of the interview, one should ask whether the researcher was successful in explaining? Has he been successful in writing footnotes? How much practice has this party done in choosing the titles related to the text, content editing, classification, observance and historical sequence of the topics? Has it worked? How familiar is he with writing styles? How familiar with the language? For example, is he familiar with dialects? Does he know professional language? Does he know the standard language? Does he know the standard language? Does he understand in which language he should write the article because the output of the work is important?

In my opinion, if we are going to criticize a work or works that have been written in the field of oral history, we must pay attention to these issues, otherwise, in the three approaches that I have presented, whichever approach we look at, the role of dialogue in oral history has an axis.

The next point is to pay attention to creating a context for dialogue. Many conversations are not a real conversations. That is, it is not a conversation with someone else. If a person comes, for example, talks with a gentleman, a politician, and he is a supporter of Dr. Mossadegh, you should be familiar with the arguments of Dr. Mossadegh's opponents and challenge him and discuss it. Once we were talking with Mr. Habib Lajordi, he was saying something that someone said to me. In my opinion, this is the criterion of acceptance of a conversation right here. There is no reason for you to know that I am for Mossadegh or against him. If you are a supporter of Mossadegh, I will present some material from the point of view of Mossadegh's opponents for the benefit of the reader. If you are against him, I will act in the opposite order. I mean to be familiar with these common traditions in historical research; we understand that oral history is not a separate concept from history, but a modern approach to obtaining new information.

I would also like to tell you that what we did in our oral history had a political weight, while in the world, especially in the 1960s and those movements of 1968, it had a different weight. In fact, in my opinion, oral history has shown its own characteristics that can enter the middle classes of society, and for this reason, in my opinion, it has had a very successful career. The fact that Mr. Dr. Hassanabadi pointed out that in various sectors and fields, for example, about inflation, health care, special small issues, etc., it is possible to do things using oral history techniques, I have no say; But the issue is not that I can comment on it. I mostly practiced and practiced in the field of oral history, conversations with dignitaries, political officials and such topics and I may have some points of view and I think our society is still hungry for such topics. Especially considering the characteristic of Iranian society, which is pluralism and intellectual diversity, so that it can provide people with very good information and material in these fields. It should also be noted that there may be some problems in the oral materials and objections may be taken that they speak with the intention of showing off, they speak to justify their own past actions and distort the reality. This article is not specific to oral history, it is also related to written sources and there is no difference between written sources and oral history sources.

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