Women’s Oral History, Needs and Necessities

Abolghasem Hassan Abadi (PhD)
Translated by Natalie Haghverdian


Home Trench – Ilam – 1980 – Photography: Ali Fereyduni

Oral history, as a suitable means to transfer experience from one generation to another or from one social group with all its processes and elements and since the beginning of feminist activities in 60s and afterwards has always been considered by historians writing history of women. Effectiveness of oral history in building communication with isolated populations and religious and racial minority group, has always been employed in documentation and recording of women’ life in political, social, cultural and normal life arenas.

History of women developed under the impact of Annales School of thought and enhance feministm movements in the third wave covered by history of disadvantaged social groups in European and Western countries. It originates from the second wave of women’s movement in Europe and USA. Attitude of modern historiography to women’s status and role in history has always followed the path of traditional pattern. 

First activity in the field of women’s oral history in the world started in 60s and under historical movements it developed. These activities mainly focused on documentation of women’s activities in 60s and 70s. One of the most important projects in the field covered the history of Afro-American and African women.  On the path of documentation, women didn’t believe in any success. It is due to the fact that writing about men includes major social activities and their success; however, what is there to write about women? What is their success? What is to be expected from a housewife raising her children to achieve at social and political arena? What is special about them? Any indication of women in the history has been due to their role as sisters, wife, mother or mistress of important political male features.

Oral history provides the opportunity to move beyond male structuralism and defines ugly aspects of history against women which has less been recorded; however, oral history opens the space to highlight women in contemporary history. Oral history personifies women’s narratives and is a proper tool to scale their social status and participation. Oral history serves the aim of stressing that historiography of women is not focusing on their deprivation but to show that in the course of history, despite discrimination they have been able to survive and form their society.

Review of current activities about women in Iran indicates that there have been case works on women’s oral history in Revolution and War. One of the is the Oral History of Muslim Women, Oral history of women in Islamic Revolution which was published by Imam Khomeini publication by Ms. Tavakoli and Women, Narrators of War Association which is active as an NGO to record history. Abtahi established this group focusing on some key aspects of which disregard of women’s role in war, patriarchal attitude towards women role in war and lack of records of their history in war are to be stated.

The fact is that, except for cases stated above, there has been no activity in recording women’s oral history. There are many concepts to be covered. These concepts include: women’s role in politics and political events, employment, entrepreneurship, economic institutions, unions and market, handicrafts, local and industrial organizations, women and their role in society and culture, political and religious parties.

Through oral history, in addiction to record of women’s activities, it is possible to focus on needs and thoughts. Giving meaning to oral history interviews with women works towards education and provides opportunities for strong social involvement. It might as well address the issue of identity which is highlighted socially and has become a demand. On the other hand, it provides archive resources for future scholars to conduct studies on women’s history while they don’t need to look for traces in the heart of history of men.

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