Oral History Workshop – 3

Documents and interviews

Shahed Yazdan
Translated by M. B. Khoshnevisan


The oral history website is going to provide the educational materials of some oral history workshops to the audience in written form. The present series has been prepared using the materials of one of these workshops. As you will see, many of the provided contents are not original or less said contents, but we have tried to provide categorized contents so that they can be used more.



Since oral history is a history, it must be documented and quoted from a document, so here we claim that memory is a document; but is memory really a document?

In the past, up to about 40-50 years ago, written (paper) items were called documents, but nowadays oral workers call everything that has "indication" and indicates an event, incident, speech, or the like as documents. For example, when someone says "I went and targeted a tank", because his statement indicates an incident, it is a document.

Some, including the history professors of decades ago who traditionally think about this issue, do not agree with this definition. From the point of view of these people, these items are not documents but "evidence". These people do not accept anything but paper as a document, but nowadays, due to the spread of oral history, they have accepted in all the universities of the world that the traditional definition of a document no longer applies and we have an oral document.

Thus, from this point of view, memory "can" be a document.


Oral tradition

Oral tradition is the stories and proverbs that our grandfathers and grandmothers tell us, and these traditions have been quoted chest to chest from the past. But these cases have no reference and time. These cases are not considered as oral history, but are included in the category of oral tradition. These are customs that are transferred orally from one generation to another.



We said that the method of obtaining memory is the interview; but we have several interview models. In terms of method, interviews are classified into various categories such as written, telephone, fax, internet, etc., but the thing that answers our work in oral history is the face-to-face oral interview. This type of interview, apart from the interview technique, has also social customs. Because of this, the oral history interview will be difficult.


In terms of content, interviews are divided into superficial interviews and in-depth interviews. A superficial interview is a press interview; for this reason, reporters who interview people for the press are not necessarily good interviewers for oral history because an interview in oral history should be an in-depth interview. In a superficial interview, we ask the question to get the answer, but in an in-depth interview, we ask the question to get the answer and be convinced. In the oral history, we should not give up until we are satisfied because otherwise this interview will be a weak one.


Superficial interview →we ask questions →we get the answers

In-depth interview→ we ask questions→ we get answers→ we are convinced


For instance, if someone said: "We were two and took ten RPG rockets and went by a motorcycle and targeted twenty tanks..." we should be allowed not to be satisfied because in the best case, if all the rockets hit the target and nothing else happen, no more than ten tanks will be destroyed.


Or a sentinel of watchtower had said in his memoirs that during my watching in 24 hours, we took 24,000 dead from the enemy. Can you imagine if they put 24,000 dead together, what area is needed? Even if these bodies are placed in two or three layers, a lot of space is needed, which cannot be placed in the limited space of the war pad; therefore, one should not be easily convinced with what the interviewee said.


In oral history and by using in-depth interview, the interviewer is convinced; but in superficial (press) interview, the answers of the interviewee are just heard.


In oral history, the interviewer must also have characteristics such as having information dominance over the subject of the interview, because if he or she does not have enough information about the subject of the interview, he or she may not be able to be convinced. For this reason, the oral interviewer is said to be an oral "historian".


Supplementary interview

Since being convinced in an in-depth interview is of great importance, we need a supplementary interview. Compilation of oral history without a supplementary interview has no meaning. By using the supplemental interview, the points and parts that are missing from the initial interview or the ones that are needed to be reviewed and completed, will be corrected.


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