Communicative Archives, Documentary Researches

Rahim Nikbakht

Translated by: Adeleh Hajimirzaie

Written, documentary and oral history are three methods of historiography that each one has its own special purpose, credit, and usage; but in our country, documentary and oral historiography under the impression of a phenomenon called Islamic Revolution have created new waves in the study and compilation of history. Collection, record, and publication of documents obtained from pre-revolution police, security and political organizations and the US embassy have helped researchers in their documentary researches and completion of this kind of researches. Before the revolution outbreak, researchers' access to these documents was not so widespread and these documents were use only for written historiography that helped historiographers in their analysis. But after the Islamic Revolution, since many active and effective figures were participating in revolution arena and coincidence of this matter with the widespread usage of documents, several researches were produced by using documental research and oral history in and outside of the country. Although, the wide spread oral history outside Iran indebts its existence and participation to the Islamic Revolution, but these activities often intend to purge the narrators and tarnishing the Revolution. This article tries to explain the role of documents in compiling a correct and scientific oral history as a complementary of this method of historiography.

In new researches, beside library recourses, there are two other important sources: 1) Documents, & 2) Oral sources. Each of these dual resources has its own specific efficiency and the info within can hardly be found in other library resources.

Although in Iranian historical past, retelling and recording quotation was usual and common, but using tape recorder for collecting oral resources is a new method and achievement of technology development. Indeed, antecedents created written history by recording and writing down these oral quotations, but something which is common and usual as oral history today can not be generalized to past. This article expresses the importance and role of written documents of historical events in different stages of performing oral history. In every historical event, some written documents are produced. They identify where, when and how the events have occurred. They help the completion of the puzzle gathered by oral history; because in oral history information, the identified time, place, quality, and the way of occurrence of an event are not as exact and accurate as documental information; at the meantime in compiling oral history, according to the narrator's status, the quality, and quantity of information change. In addition, in the process of collecting needed information for compiling oral history, interviewees narrate the way of occurrence and consequences of an event from different aspects and views. Consequently, documents are very important in completing oral history information in different stages –from gathering oral information, to identifying interviewees related to the events and in compiling and writing it down.

It is quite clear that selected subjects for oral history relate to the recent half-century and particularly the Islamic Revolution; because gathering oral memoirs of before this time is impossible because of different reasons and for the matters and events happening before this period, written resources, or documents have to be relied on.

Islamic Revolution victory in 1979 was not only a very important upheaval in global politics arena but also historiographically had a great impact on research fields by activating oral history and making governmental documents of political-security institutions accessible for studies. Researchers used some documents, which often belonged to Qajar family before the Revolution. However, the amount of these organized documents in some centers as National Library & Archives of Islamic Republic of Iran, or the other centers such as Presidency of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Islamic Revolution öDocuments Center, and Center for Documentation and Research Services of Ministry of Foreign Affairs are not analogous to pre-Revolution era. It is also worth mentioning that after the revolution, these centers’ documents are easily accessible. Accessibility to this great amount of documents for the researchers makes many aspects of Iranian modern history clear and creates a new method of research that relies on using documents. This method is “Documental Research.”

Paying attention to the memoirs of engaged people in historical events has an ancient usage in Iranian history, as our several important written resources, created by writing down the heard and seen. In some resources like Taarikh-e Tabari, we can see the insertion of different news from several narrators about one event. Something that makes the modern oral history different from that old tradition is systematic usage of several people’s memoirs in explanation and recording of an event or a particular subject in different stages of information gathering (interview, transcription, compilation, and writing). In our traditional historiography, all the transcribed events from an oral quotation were only the existing quotations recorded by the historiographer and he did not intend to find the witnesses and record what they had in mind to narrate. Audio/Visual tape recorders, quality and quantity of these recording tools and also their archive capability and referring methods, give a special advantage to the oral history in gathering information.

Islamic Revolution as created a revolution in document research arena, it also had special and important role in recording memoirs and the appearance, evolution and forming of oral history in and outside of the country.

The identity and nature of their narrator are the most important differences between the oral history in and outside Iran. It means the narrators of Harvard University Iranian Oral History Project or the "Oral history of the Iranian Left" have hostile attitude towards Islamic Revolution or before the revolution, they were in Pahlavi government or after Islamic republic establishment, they had some ideological or other problems. While the inside Iran narrators are revolutionary people.

Anniversary books about the memoires by effective people in Islamic Revolution were the first activities for proceeding oral history after Islamic Revolution victory; published in Islamic Revolution special occasions. Primary efforts made in YAD magazine published by Islamic Revolution History Foundation, which were professionally and practically remarkable. The next steps were stronger. “15th of Khordad Memoirs” series published by the Islamic Revolution Literature Bureau in 11 volumes and other works such as "Islamic Revolution Oral History" collection published by Islamic Revolution Documents Center are the next efforts that shaped the evolution trend of this process.

Document Status in Oral History

Validity and effectiveness of documents produced by various institutions can differ depending on the producing institution,   reporter’s distance (time and location) to the event or case study, self-interests, level of knowledge and the level of professional education of related personnel. Therefore, it is necessary for the history researcher to have full knowledge about these documents and emphasizing on necessary studied, he should recognize the validity of documents in order to decide to use the right document in different stages of an oral history project. These are different usages of valid and available documents in oral history narration:

1- Since, in most cases, exact date of occurrence is not clear and there are many contradictory narrations, documents are used in identifying exact date, and place of events.

2- After identifying the date & place of event, documents help very much to recognize oral resources. Documents show which persons or groups have been present or participated in an event. In addition, we can use documents to identify the related people to an event to have an oral or written interview with them.

3- Documents have also a special role in the interview process and asking questions from the witnesses, because researcher can use these documents to explain the event circumstances and clarify the ambiguous and questionable aspects.

4- Documents help the researcher to organize chapters and subjects when the interview is done and the and oral memoires is being prepared for using and codifying in oral history; because memoirs do not specify the exact date and the sequence of the event and the narrator may transpose them when narrating. While documents identify the exact date of occurrence and researcher can organize the oral memoirs based on their sequence.

 5 - The most important usage of documents is in oral history compilation process. If the researcher does not use the surely valid documents, the outcome of his work would not be complete in contemporary history and particularly the Islamic Revolution oral history; because the oral memoirs obtained from different narrations of one particular event can be categorized and validate by considering the related far or near documents to the event. So we can survey about the validation and truthiness of an oral data in several ways that paying attention to documents and evaluating the oral data are among them and oral history researcher has to do them.

For any event as an oral history project, the following matters are important: the incidents before the event, its formation, background, nature and the effective factors, the event occurrence (without considering the exact time and place of happening and its historical sequence), and the near and long consequences of the event. Beside the mentioned matters, documents explain the exact moment of occurrence, quality and quantity, participants, pertained activities and the reactions of related foundation by the order of their dates. Documents also help the witnesses to remember the forgotten memoirs.


Islamic Revolution victory has had great affects on oral history methods in and outside of the country. Inside the country, researcher accession to the foundations' Archives such as SAVAK, Police, and Iranian Military Court, remarkable activities of some centers such as Islamic Revolution Documents Center, National Library & Archives of Islamic Republic of Iran, and Presidency of the Islamic Republic of Iran … created researches based on documents, incompatible to the past. Popular and contemporaneity nature of Islamic Revolution made it possible to draw attention to oral history. Coincidentally, the need for compiling historical books based on oral memoirs, which resulted in more relationships between the documents and oral history and creation of more complicated historical researches.


Zamaneh Monthly, No. 34, July 2005

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