The 7th virtual meeting of Iranian oral history

Principles, Frameworks, and Standards of Conducting Oral History – 5

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 Rasulipour, Dr. Habibullah Esmaili, and Dr. Mehdi Abolhasani Targhee spoke about the issue of oral history standards in theory and practice.




Dr. Farahani Monfared: You Mr. Rasulipour talked about interviewing and interviewing techniques in describing and introducing the five stages of conducting an oral history project. Many times when this discussion comes up, some explain and talk more about the features and conditions of the interviewer. It has become less common to point out the person we go to for an interview and say what conditions s/he should have. Are there criteria and standards in this field? Or at least do you have any recommendations in this regard?

Dr. Rasulipour: It depends on what field you want to discuss. Those persons should be selected according to that issue. That is, if it is in the field of economics, it should be checked how qualified this person is? Is it related to dialogue? For example, I talked to all CEOs of the Agricultural Bank after the revolution. Based on experience, we divided these people into three levels: one is the level of CEOs, then the level of board members, and then the level of provincial managers. Basically, first-level managers and senior managers are people who have a very good coherence in their minds when it comes to talking, and you don't have much problem for an interview. You also get very good information. In the lower ranks, there are some problems and their characteristics are different, but this is enough for you to know in which field and with whom you are talking.

In the interview, I was more focused on former officials and dignitaries, the confusion I saw in the view of former MPs, based on the type of work they did, was far more than that of a minister. When the minister speaks, considering his management situation, he is a person whose words are coherent and you don't have too much to do. This amount is enough for you to get to know the periods of that person's life and to know the aspects of his life.

I can't think of any other special feature. As you said, in these meetings and conferences that have been held, people commented more about the characteristics of the interviewer. What characteristics can we consider for an official who has worked in a management field? As much as he was responsible, our duty requires us to go and have a conversation with him. Many of these people may not think according to my opinion and have other moral characteristics. In my opinion, the quality of the interviewer's treatment is so important, the other party is not so important. The same position, responsibility and job are enough.

Dr. Farahani Monfared: When you go to an official, for example, or an official for an interview, do you recommend that it be when he is out of his job, retired, laid off, or when he is doing a job? Could this be one of the questions that should be answered about the interviewee's characteristics?

Dr. Rasulipour: I think that those who are going through a period of decline, i.e. they are going through a period of retirement, their inhibitions to speak are less. It means that someone who is in a special position today, first of all, communicating with him is not very easy; Because of his work and troubles. Our experience shows that they are less willing to talk; Of course, in the conversations that are brought up in the field of oral history, not in press conversations that have a news, information and management aspect. But in the historical interview, it seems like the same thing that the late Abbas Iqbal used to say: when we distance ourselves from an event for years, that is, the issue becomes history, these people can talk more easily and even criticize their own management period. Because in the new perspective, which I believe oral history is also based on, it does its job, no matter how far we are from a historical event, contrary to the past view, the field for dealing with that event is far better than being close to the event.

In the old view, it was said that history has the authority of a photograph of an event that is always taken, and I believe that when you have a photograph, it can represent the event, while in the new view, it is said that a historical event is the authority in stone. It has that you throw anything in a pool or in a swamp, the sea, and this ripple that it creates is actually the staircase of the age that you look at that event and that center.

Whenever we distance ourselves from an event, it is not like we have distanced ourselves from the understanding of that event. For example, in our culture, the event of Ashura is an event that took place in the year 61 Hegira. The more we distanced ourselves from this incident, the more we talked. That is, we used to mourn in the 19th century, but in the 1940s and 1950s, a person or persons like the late Dr. Shariati could emerge from an event and a social movement. That is, perceptions change so much that it is on this basis that the words of Benedetto Croce [1], an Italian philosopher and historian, who says that history is always contemporary, make sense. In my opinion, the more we distance ourselves from a person's management period, the likes and dislikes will decrease and people will have more room to criticize their past performance, in my opinion, dialogue will become more important.

But there is a point prior to your speech, and that is gaining people's trust. In the book Experiences and Reflections on Oral History, which was published in 2015 at the Institute of Contemporary History of Iran, I raised the question that if we ask interns which part is more important in oral history activities, most of them would say that dialogue is more important; But I believe that it is the subject finding that is more important. It is important to gain people's trust to conduct a conversation, provided that the person does not give a press interview and expresses the real point of view from his heart and mind. The grade I give to the interviews is based on how well these people succeeded in winning the trust of the subjects that were useful and important, otherwise the characteristics of the interviewees are not very important.




Dr. Esmaili: Regarding the narrator, I think that if we can do a detailed historical research about the narrators and see in which events they themselves were witnesses, in which events they are the narrators (referring to first-hand and second-hand sources), we can apply that of course, it is a difficult task, and it is easy to say, but it is also a very complicated task, and let's see where the person who narrates about this issue stands on this issue; There you can talk about the narrators in detail. Of course, elements such as age, knowledge, information, being involved, being an expert, and the like remain in their place. I added this as an additional point.


To be continued…


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