Imperative flaunt of documentation in oral history

Akram Dashtban
Translated by Natalie Haghverdian


Reported by Iran Oral History Site, “How effective documentation has been to pave the way in oral history?” is a subject addressed by Rahim Nikbakht, researcher and historiographer. He said: In study and research of the novel contemporary history we are exposed to two sets of resources besides library references including archived and oral history documents. The oral documents may include interviews, speeches or radio and television programs. Archive resources are applied in the entire research. At study level, the interview requires research and in the production stage, documents and references are required. In fact, documents and oral history constitute the two wings of a research project in contemporary history.

He stated that oral history supported by documents and written references is made complete which transforms in turn to a source of research and validation and elaborated: for those conducting oral history research projects, a document such as a report of higher ranking authority or to inform authorities and to be recorded in a file shall fit certain criteria; it should be dated, it should be subject oriented, it shall contain a body of content, the producer shall be known and the references made by the document shall be sufficient to verify or deny a certain historic event.

Nikbakht stressed the irrefutable importance of documents and references in every stage of an oral history project and added: incident of historic events automatically produces documents and resources. These reports, based on time, location and nature of incidence support collection of oral history data. It should be noted that the validity of oral history inputs such as time and location and quality and nature of incidence fall short of produced resources and based on the narrator’s status the quality and quantity of the inputs vary. On the other hand, in oral history, the circumstances leading to an incident and also the effects and outcomes of such incidents are stated from various perspectives. In this aspect, the documents have crucial role in various stages including oral data collection, identification of individuals involved in the incidents for future interview and in the production and transcription of oral history.

On the role of documents and references in oral history he stated: the documents produced in disciplinary, security, political and administrative institutions, with due consideration of the said institution and the producing agency, proximity or distance of the reporter to the incident or involvement in the study subject in oral history, their personal draw, complete knowledge of the subject reported or training of agents on reporting methods are effective in the quality and quantity of available data and vary the credibility of the document. Considering all these, the history researcher shall be fully versed on the subject to apply references fully vetted and validated by credible and eligible scholars.

In application of documents and resources in various stages of oral history projects, Nikbakht stated five point and elaborated: the first step is to determine the exact time and location of the incident according to the documents; because, in oral history, in most cases, determination of the exact time of an incident based on various counts proves to be improbable and there are contradictory narratives. Upon determination of the time and location of the incident, the importance of individuals or groups witnessing the incident multiplies. It should be noted that references are also applied in identification of right individuals for interview (both oral and written).

He referred to other important steps and added: during the interview and asking questions from witnesses, for the questions extracted from other sources by the researchers on the issue, sources paly also an important role since the information on the quantity and quality of the incident existing within such resources and documents assist the researcher to address vague and controversial aspects of every given incident. After conducting interviews, in preparation of oral memoirs for production of oral history, again documents and references are important in arranging various chapters and body content; since it is not possible to arrange incidents carefully based on memory counts. The chronology might be compromised in narratives while in documents and references, the exact date of most incidents are clear and help to arrange the content and oral memoirs.

Nikbakht said: the imperative flaunt of references in production of oral history, undoubtedly is application of resources verified by the researchers and the oral memories or various narrators surrounding one unique concept. Documents and resources are classified and validated based on proximity and relevance and other aspects and different methods are applied to assess their credibility and scholars are obliged to undertake such verifications.

He concluded: in oral history, circumstances leading to an incident (behind the curtains), the nature, incident circumstances, nature of the concept, effective factors, the incident (with due consideration of the time, location and historical chronology), immediate and long term consequences are addressed. Documents supporting these aspects, the time of incident, its quality and quantity, witnesses, follow ups, measures undertaken and reaction of relevant institutions shall be recorded according to their chronological hierarchy. In cases when an incident is forgotten or faded in the memories of witnesses, documents support to complete “The Forgotten”.

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