Which Option is Preferable?

Text, With or Without Questions

Hamid Qazvini
Translated by Ruhollah Golmoradi


Oral history, as it has been stated many times, is the result of a problem-oriented and purposeful conversation between two people, one of whom is the questioner and the other the answerer.

Sometimes the question is raised that should the text resulting from the oral history interview be compiled and published in the ultimate fidelity to the original structure or it is possible to make some changes such as deleting questions?

Before answering this question, an explanation is necessary.

Oral history, like old history books, is not an address that expresses content sequentially and does not pay attention to needs of the audience and impact of the text on their mind. In this sense, oral history should be considered as an interactive and audience-oriented method, in the sense that in the whole process of forming the work, it pays attention to the audience and their intellectual needs about the subject; from this point of view, it can be said the interview is conducted on behalf of the audience. So the final text, in any case, should be able to answer the assumed questions well.

On the other hand, if in the past, historians did not pay much attention to details, or due to limited resources or lack of access to them, it was not possible to address many questions and details, instead, in the period of modernity and postmodernity, details have priority and oral history focuses on details under answering to the same need.

In addition, developments in the field of ontology and epistemology in the last two centuries have made man face new concepts, which, while creating a multitude of questions, have led to changes in approaches and methodologies.

In a sense, “researchers engage everyday with new concepts of knowledge and their attitude are constantly changing towards historical reality, truth in history, historical understanding, selection in history, historical imagination, historical explanation and analysis, historical description, the principle of causality in history, structure of historical narrative, creation and construction in history, and the like, forcing researchers to modify their approaches.” (Michael Bentley, New Historiography. trans. by Alireza Molaei Tavani, p. 9, Research Center Islamic History)

Therefore, today we are not faced with a single structure and method in writing historical texts; oral history is also no exception. It is obvious that in compiling and adjusting the final text, the oral history researcher has freedom of action in choosing the structure and method; the final text is product of the same choice.

Usually, two methods are used in compiling an oral history interview (regardless of which method we prefer), in both, it is author who determine to use which method.

In the first method, the text is published with only a brief edit to make the text easier to read. In the second method, the author completely rewrites the text while keeping its data. Naturally, in the second method, ability of the author and his proficiency in using literary techniques are important.

Obviously, in both methods, structure of the interview can be preserved or it can be published by removing the questions and continuity of the text and inserting titles.

It is important that the final product has content and speech authenticity, and that the audience believes it and knows that it is product of a purposeful interview; for example, it is mentioned in the text that these narratives are presented in response to the questions raised by the interviewer. Also, order of subjects and process of the memories should be maintained as mentioned in the interview, that is, focus of the narrative in each section should not disrupt coherence of the narrative and not move from one branch to another.

In fact, the oral history text should not be a collection of scattered and random memories, but there should be a clear narrative arc so the reader understand it.

Another important point is that questions in the interview usually help to create an atmosphere, characterization, and go into details, and if questions are removed, it should be considered not to disturb this feature.

Finally, it is important to remember that all oral history texts carry a personality that reflects the narrator's voice. This character, whether in the form of an interview or in the form of a connected text, should be well seen and not subject to change; because it is this character and narration that has started creating the historical work.

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