Oral History in Iran

Book Review:

Oral History in Iran
By Abolfazl Hassanabadi
Released by: Organization of Astan-e Quds Razavi Libraries, Museum and Document Center
First edition
Printed in Mashhad
Printing year: 2005

Oral History, Methods and Barriers

Oral historiography is yet to be institutionalized in Iran as a novel method for collecting, storing and organizing oral resources. The heap of unregistered memories along with the cultural riches of this territory (Iran) manifest the need for developing, expanding and organizing oral historiography. Likewise, researchers adhere to oral history as a reliable means for preserving and maintaining data, especially through audio and video interviews, which even more, is evidence of an urgent need for publishing applied resources now that oral history is an emerging topic in Iran and the world. Accordingly, the release of notes, articles, and books on oral history can be a medium to its identification and application in the modern world where the field has been recognized as one of the most accepted and cited study resources by many history researchers. 

Background of Oral History in Iran
In Iran, creating oral history archives is an emerging phenomenon of the early 1990s. Given the history of Islam in Iran and its aftermath events, narrative history was of great significance. Even new historians who challenged traditional historiography from time to time, did not feel needless of applying such methods in their work on account of their lack of access to historiography methods and technologies practiced in Europe and the US (1). After Islamic Revolution, oral history began to attract many institutions in Iran such as the Islamic Revolution Documents Center, Contemporary History of Iran Study Center, the Islamic Revolution History Foundation, National Library and Archives Organization of Iran, the Literature Bureau of the Islamic Revolution and the Foundation for Publication of Martyr Beheshti Works. Besides domestic centers, some centers abroad have adopted oral history with focus on Iran. For example, the oral history of the contemporary Iran project held at US's Harvard University led by Habib Lajevardi and the BBC channel can be named in this regard (2). Moreover, other activities which were pursued outside of the country and can be deemed as noteworthy ones are as follows: Oral history of the Left (reformist) movement in Iran having been managed by Hamid Ahmadi since 1983, Jewish Oral History Center in the US, the Left Oral History Project in Amsterdam, Netherlands since 1995, the Iranian Studies Foundation in New York, and the Columbia University Oral History Research Office (3).
Following the victory of the Islamic Revolution, an approach to oral history as a research method began to prevail in Iran. Although, before the revolution, journals like Vahid took steps in this regard and inspired luminaries to write their biographies, their activities were somewhat divergent from conventional methods of collecting information in oral history (4). Now, what is the status of oral history in Iran and how are oral history centers situated in future? Respectively, lack of informing about oral history and absence of coordination between the concerning centers beside ignorance of modern data collection methods are some of the most imperative challenges of oral history studies in Iran. As a matter of fact, the current oral historiography methods practiced in Iran since the past two decades, just like other disciplines in humanities, are undoubtedly adopted from their western versions, enjoying a tinge of Iran's cultural and historical features. 

Book Review:
Oral history in Iran is the title of a book by Abolfazl Hassan Abadi in 200 pages which was debuted in 2005 by the Organization of Libraries, Museums and Documenters Center of Astan-e Quds Razavi. Besides being a scientific research, the work is a suitable and practical guidebook for oral history interviews and data collection for the involved researchers and scholars. Also, the book explains historical interviews scientifically and applicably, in addition to conveying the significance of oral resources and providing the theoretical principles and basic definitions of oral history. It also contains pictures, forms, usage notes for audiovisual equipment and questionnaires, all are needed in oral history research. "Oral History in Iran" comprises an introduction, five chapters, appendixes, references, and index.

After a short introduction, the author begins with "an Introduction to Research". "Today, oral history in Iran is in a vague state and the related institutes and centers face numerous obstacles in their work," reads a part of the chapter (6). The chapter concisely considers some of these difficulties and names some: unclear role and state of oral history in Iran, lack of coherent policies and the absence of detailed future plans (7). Continued is the purpose of oral history research and related questions are enclosed.
In another part of the first chapter, Hassan Abadi delves into the four steps of his research methodology:

1- Assessment of the preliminary functions of oral history centers in Iran
2- Internet-based study, translation and indexing translated references,
3- Questionnaire preparation based on the translated references in the form of English interviews
4- Questionnaire preparation and distribution in order to examine the function of centers in Iran and the world and assessment of the preliminary and initial findings (8).
Next in the chapter comes an introduction of some domestic and foreign centers which have professionally been engaged with the collection of oral history data. A weak point of the section is that some important centers of the country which have spent years to collect and record oral history like the Islamic Revolution Foundation have been ignored.
Chapter 2: In this chapter the author brings a short overview of oral history in Iran and the world and provides definitions and main theories about the issue. The chapter includes 26 quotations by specialists as definitions of oral history with their references. However, the author holds that to be able to comprehensively define oral history, these axioms should be taken considered that:
1. Oral history is a multifaceted discipline
2. Oral history is an informed interview about the past
3. Oral history may encompass personal or collective memories
4. Oral history can be a study reference for researchers
5. Oral history is a way to engage everyone in the society in building up their history and gaining a critical understanding of their past.
6. Oral history can include children, young adults, adults and the elderly (9).
Examination of the background of oral history in the world, a brief history of oral history in the world and its development, and the background of oral history in Iran are other head topics of the chapter.
Chapter 3: The chapter deals with oral centers in Iran and the world and draws a comparison between domestic oral history centers in Iran based on the questionnaires distributed among them. In other words, chapter 3 of the book provides the statistical findings of an oral history study, conducted by the author in 2001 at various oral history centers of the country, which are now being presented in tables. The field study is considerable given its landscape in Iran. The author continues the chapter with a comparative and adaptive assessment of oral history center in the world and Iran and expresses their weaknesses and strengths in order to provide efficient solutions to their weak points (10). The topics considered in the assessment are as follows:
1. The duties and responsibilities of the centers in various contexts (11): this part is meant to show the responsibilities of both interviews and interviewees regarding each other and the limitations they have to ethically and legally observe in their contacts.
2. Collection, preparation and maintenance of oral history material (12): this part is an account on the comparison of domestic and foreign oral history centers with regard to collection and maintenance of oral history material, and the correct and principal methods and strategies for so doing.
3.  Methods of informing, serving and publication (13): a comparison between domestic and foreign oral history centers shows that the most important issue for them is the level of access to oral history resources by the public.  The interesting point is that in Iran %100 of the centers provide services for researchers only, while in other countries all social strata, including researchers, university students and the public, are welcome to oral history centers (14). Moreover, the statistics and findings of the retrieved information about oral history in centers in and out of Iran are considerable: In Iran, information retrieval is only possible when applicants are physically present but in oral history centers abroad the same can be done by phone lines, correspondence, emails and even facsimiles besides making personal contacts with them. By this way of servicing, recourses can be easily accessed at home or workplace, leading to saving of time and costs of the centers’ personnel and clients and eventually grows and expands research on oral history [in the society].

The book further provides data on the release of oral history resources. It discusses that domestic and foreign oral history centers have been the same in terms of introducing their products via radio, TV or newspapers. By and large, the chapter concludes that domestic oral history centers are weaker than their foreign counterparts with regard to collection, preparation and maintenance of oral history material as well as informing and providing services to their clients and applicants. It argues that more informing and revision is needed therein.
Chapter 4: The chapter briefly deals with oral history barriers in Iran and their solutions along with the obstacles in the way of its expansion in the country, and the author asserts that the incipience of oral history, lack of a link between educational centers with oral history, absence of a custodian of oral history and its remaining unrecognized in the society (15) are the chief facets and barriers to oral history growth in Iran. Of course, oral history has been cast away in the Iranian society and has remained unknown by the public by not being sketched properly. The chapter continues with a short account on the visions and functions of five oral history centers in Iran. It later moves on to discuss topics like “the absence of an accurate and efficient by-law, lack of a clear vision statement, lack of specific standards in different working terms and lack of proper informing and presentation of oral history” (16) are the most important shortages and deficiencies of domestic oral history centers.  

Chapter 5: This section is the concluding chapter of the book and the lengthiest one. Titled as Solutions and Strategies, the chapter provides answers to the issues discussed in the former chapters of the book. To make a better conclusion it puts forward two general suggestions:
1. Theoretical solutions towards oral history development and mental principles
2. Practical solutions for interviewing in centers and subsequent steps.
In this part, the author has suggested suitable practical solutions about interviews, subject selection and setting off a project, interview techniques and choosing interviewees. The following are some suggestions to oral history centers of the country for the field’s development:
1. Forming communities for creating bonds between centers and institutes and defining relevant working standards
2. Expansion of state and private oral history institutes in Iran
3. Creation of regional associations to cover oral history centers
4. Making contacts with foreign centers and enterprises to make use of their experiences and membership in international associations
5. Defining practical standards for synchronization of work in all its levels in the centers to facilitate data used by researchers and the public
6. Digitalizing oral history resources and facilitating their accessibility 
7. Designing websites to link oral history centers and disseminate information (18)
Other topics discussed in chapter 5 of the book are: making copies of interview forms and working cards, proper implementation of information and interviews in oral history and introduction of their needed equipment, the dos and don’ts of oral history edition, publication and its position in oral history recognition. On the other hand, due to the importance of oral history materials and resources, which are the applied tools in the field, storing of such materials and resources is necessary so long as their survival for the future generations is vital while Iranian centers are in a bad condition currently. Therefore some points should be noted in this regard and the author has grouped them into two main categories: "A- oral history patent" (19): today, unauthorized reproduction of cultural products is a global issue; to address unauthorized use and protect such products, regulations should be developed for users of oral history resources. "B- Physical storage of oral resources" (20): in this regard the author has provided good strategies for storage of oral history works and resources and the way services are offered to clients to prevent any kind of damages to them.

In the appendixes section of the book, the author has enclosed 19 attached forms, worksheets, and questionnaires in English and Persian themed at oral history with their steps specified. After the references section (21), the author considers world oral history standards (22). He further introduces oral history websites. Thanks to the importance of these websites, the following are listed below:
1.  The Oral History (OHA) Association at:
http:// www.dickinson.deu / organizations / oha
2. The International Oral Association) to address:
http:// www.file.arlinstiutos / rarignani / historal / joha.htm
3. Canadian Oral History Association address:
4. Texas Oral History (TOHA) Association
http://www.baylor.edu/ ~ TOHA
5. Southwest Oral History Association (SOHA)
http://www.unm.edu/ ~ numarcho / oralhist.html
6. Columbia University:
7. Oral History Baylor University Medical Baylr address:
http / / www.baylor.edu/oral-History/
8. Indiana University Oral History Research Center COHA:
9.  UCLA Oral History at the University of Oklahoma:
10. Regional Oral History Office, (RoHo) Bancroft Library
11. The center for History at the university of Connecticut
http://www.Oral History.unconn.edu /

1. Lomis, Teroro, Oral History, translated by Kamran Arvan, letter of History researchers, s1, No. 6 (summer 2005): page 79.
(2)  ibid, p. 79.
 (3) Hassan Abadi, A.; Oral history in Iran; Mashhad: Astan Quds Razavi, 2055, p. 30.
 (4) Nik Nafs, Shafigheh; On oral history; Treasury of documents, 3rd book, No. 55 (Fall 2003): p. 6.
 (5) Alviri, M.; Introduction to the concepts, processes and features of oral historiography; letters of History researchers, Q 2, No. 6 (Summer 2005): p. 7.
 (6) Hassan Abadi; ibid, p. 11.
 (7) ibid, p. 11.
(8)  ibid, p. 13.
(9)  ibid, p. 24.
(10)  ibid, p. 60.
(11)  ibid, p. 60.
(12)  ibid, p. 62.
(13)  ibid, p. 65.
(14)  ibid, p. 66.
(15)  ibid, p. 68.
(16)  ibid, p. 69 and 70.
(17)  ibid, p. 71.
(18)  ibid, p. 72 and 73.
(19)  ibid, p. 116.
(20)  ibid, p. 116 and 117.
(21)  ibid, pp 171 159.
(22)  ibid, pp 190 173.
(23)  Oral History Association

Ali Tatari
Translated by: Abbas Hajihashemi

Source: Ketab-e Mah-e Tarikh va Joghrafia (History and Geography Monthly), March 2008

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