A plan that deals with “Recording of Live Accounts”

Chronology of developments, basis for oral history of Golestan Palace

Faezeh Sasanikhah
Translated by: M. B. Khoshnevisan


The meeting “Oral History of Golestan Palace: Recording of Live Accounts” organized by the Research Office of Golestan Palace-Museum was held in the Conference Hall of Anthropology Museum on Tuesday 22nd of August 2017.

The meeting was held to commemorate the recording of the events of Golestan Palace during the recent decades and the recoding of memoirs and what have not been said by prominent figures and the influential elements in the developments of Golestan Palace (the period of the second Pahlavi era, the years that led to the victory of the Islamic revolution and after that) in the hall of the Anthropology Museum which was attended by the narrators who delivered speeches about the significance and process of the shaping of the plan.


Separated by edifices and according to time order

At the beginning of the meeting, Faezeh Amin Dehqan, a member of the Studying and Executive Committee of Golestan Palace-Museum who was also in charge of the performance of the ceremony delivered a speech and said, “Oral history is an interdisciplinary major between history and psychology. It is related to history when we are looking for historical information and documentations, but with the method and tool of the major of psychology namely the process of interview and dialogue. After the World War II, oral history became a common and prevalent field in the world and many existing written and documented items from the 2nd World War deal with the individuals who were at the core of the war and expressed their observations and memories. We go to oral history when the written and documented items do not respond to our historical questions. An oral historian as a narrator narrates history in a time structure close to an event lively and influentially. In fact, the feature of oral history is that it is different with memory-writing. Although the status of memory-writing is valuable, it has a historical aspect when we in our questions and interviews namely between the interviewers and interviewees of oral history can move memory and personal experience toward a collective experience and finally present a documented report through information overlapping.

The member of the Studying and Executive Committee of Golestan Palace-Museum continued, “There is a sentence which says history has one material domain and one spiritual framework. The material domain is the same peace, defeats, victories and contracts which happens in a past time and a geographical realm, and the spiritual history is in fact goes back to the inside and interior of the humans who lived in that time frame and obtained experiences.                   

In continuation, Amin Dehqan referred to oral history of Golestan Palace and added, “Oral history of Golestan Palace was shaped according to this basis. What we knew from Golestan Palace and its history was the written and documented items collected and written until Qajar era, but great events and incidents have happened during this recent forty fifty years. The Golestan Palace as part of Iranian soil has been influenced by the events. We have passed the events such as the Islamic revolution and the imposed war, and the impacts the Golestan Palace have had from them have not been registered. This caused us to go to oral history and the live memory of the individuals and invite the narrators to narrate their direct experiences in order to finally reach to a written and documented report from the recent years. The idea of oral history of Golestan Palace was shaped in 2015 with the aim of filling this historical gap and since the plan is greatly time-bound, we were supposed to present it as soon as possible. The presentation of the plan was concurrent with the management of Mr. Masoud Nosrati. When the plan was presented, we found out that Mr. Nosrati is working on the oral history of Damavand area for a long time and is familiar with the work. This joint concern and his support caused us to take the first step of the plan in a short time and reached to investigation phase. The beginning of every work is accompanied with concerns. The trust made by the narrators in the beginning of the work is very valuable.

Then, she referred to another research work related to this plan and said, “After the registration of Golestan Palace in the list of world works, a debate took place between Tehranologists and the experts so that we can use from the potentials of Golestan Palace more and better and to become more familiar with them according to world standards. The Research Office of Golestan Palace as responsible for part of content production defined its programs with this approach. Oral history completes written history. Thus, we had to work by relying on documentations as we work by relying on the memory of narrators. Therefore, we put the chronology of the developments of Golestan Palace a basis for oral history of Golestan Palace and referred to the written documents of Qajar era with this approach that we can collect what have been inserted in the edifices, references and sources separated by the edifices and according to chronological order. Eventually, the chronology of Golestan Palace alongside the oral history of the palace reached us to a documented, compiled, regular and standard history.

The member of the Studying and Executive Committee of Golestan Palace-Museum pointed, “Chronometer is a plan which is still continuing and Malek Library helped us a lot. We are facing with a large of volume of studying indexes the audiences of which were recognized and are useful booklets for professors, researchers, guides, visitors and leader tours. We are in the half way of our work and could read over thirty thousand pages in a short time. Finally, the initial text has prepared in 45 thousand words. The continuation of this path whether about oral history or the chronometer of Golestan Palace, needs the cooperation of other colleagues. I hope that alongside the plan, Kaghaz-e Akhbar as the exclusive journal of Golestan Palace continues its way. Kaghaz-e Akhbar is a quarterly which reviews the Qajar era.


Three concerns

Then, the Head of Golestan Palace-Museum delivered a speech about the plan and said, “The reality is that I faced with three issues since I attended the Golestan palace which was brought up by the colleagues. One was the Kaghaz-e Akhbar journal which was an internal magazine and we expected to spread and publish it across the country which fortunately came true but it has not been fully achieved. Another issue was the meetings. This is in fact the same thing the Harvard University has been after it, namely the Golestan Palace becomes a center for Qajarlogy in order to be able to spread it here in the future. We hold the meetings but have stopped now and hope to continue them again. The other issue was our oral history; the same oral history in which the pre-Islam and post-Islam Iranians were interested the instances of which are the histories of Seleucid and Parthian empires. This oral literature found a new shape part of which is interviewer and another part interviewee. Good steps have been taken in this plan and good interviews have been conducted. We expect that these interviewees and those meetings are published in a book and the Research Department of Golestan Palace can work as it is the need of Golestan Palace. If the researchers want to work about this palace for ninety years, they can do so. The Golestan Palace is involved in three large visual, documents and manuscripts sections. Some of these documents have not been published so far and even some of the manuscripts have not been seen by anybody.  

Nosrati added, “We hope that our research department can remove the needs and gaps of Golestan Palace to which oral history needs and are published and given to researchers in the future.


The meaning, concept and dimensions of oral history

The next speaker of the meeting was Dr. Mohammad Kalhore, the professor of history. He first referred to the meaning, concept and dimensions of oral history in order to highlight its status. Thus, he brought up various definitions from oral history and said, “A definition considers oral history as an ordered and knowingly dialogue established between two persons. Knowledge and order are two final features of science. Time has passed and the result of the interview is to present a historical concept and understanding. The second definition considers oral history as a method for collecting the information and keeping the memoirs which have happened in the past and recoded by tape recorder. Oral history has faced with a new revolution since 1948 with the invention of tape recorder. The interpretation which exists in these two processes is a liberal one from history understanding. It removes history from the abstract definition and its result depends on the concept and understanding of history and penetration of historical concepts among the society. Oral history is a method for democratizing and popularizing the history. All of the narrators are well-known individuals. The third definition says oral history collects historical memory and events and this is in the form of a multi-faceted science. If we want to present a general definition, science is after the discovery of the laws. There is a basic difference between the law and rule. A rule lays down human that we call it traffic law or constitution law mistakenly and law is something which exists in the nature and we discover it. This is something that turns science from relative to absolute mode. In a form of oral history, a multi-dimensional science including history, sociology and psychology is used and a lawful discovering happens in this regard in an interdisciplinary form. The question which is posed is whether oral history is just a science or it can be introduced under the concept of art (first the beauty and second the innovation)? I think both should be considered; the beauty and method which should be used by the interviewer against the interviewee, when the interviewer helps the interviewee with special methods and concludes the work with the beauty and innovation which exists in art and does not exist in the science.

The university professor reviewed the status of oral history and written history and said, "Can oral history be replaced by written history?" No. Oral history completes written history. In other words, we organize and make documentations through the recording of memoirs which cannot be manipulated in order to fill the gap existed in sociology, history and written history. Those who are familiar with ethnography are aware of this basic challenge in these majors that we are facing with a few local histories. If oral history does not exist, our information and resources will hardly reach to five percent. Oral history establishes relation with common people and very common groups of the society. For instance, the migration of black Africans to America has not been considered in the official history and no historian or slaveholder has been written about it, or the migrations which have happened as a result of wars and natural disasters. Such incidents are not considered in the official or unofficial histories. Regarding oral history, in the early twentieth century, interviews were conducted with the survivors of the past two generations of black Africans who migrated to the United States, and 10 thousand sheets of documents were collected which of course can be criticized.

He continued his speech with another question, and added, "Are the oral tradition and culture and oral history the same? No. If we consider tradition as a collection of material and spiritual achievements, oral tradition is a platform for preserving and transferring of cultural conceptions and oral history is a method for collecting this oral tradition. 


The history of oral history in the world

Dr. Mohammad Kalhore added, "The first oral history has been carried out in the fifth century BC in which a historian conducted interviews with a number of people who had taken part in one of the wars and part of the result of the interviews became the history of these wars. Unlike Herodotus who regards history as a result of God's will and supernatural events, this historian considers it as a result of the human's will and action. Also, oral narration in oral history of Islam is one of the main methods of collection information. Documents are divided into two categories, they either should be read in the books or heard from a mouth which demands internal and external criticism, bringing up the debate that who you are and what it is. Oral history has been used in Joveini's "Zafar Nameh" and "The History of the World Conqueror" in the part about the Mongols. Oral history in the west entered a new phase since the nineteenth century. A revolution emerged in oral history since 1947 with the invention of tape recorder. Before that, what had been heard and seen were influenced by scribers and there were differences among them. But with the invention of tape recorder, everything remained for the posterity and then the computer came into existence. As the research was computerized, the second revolution happened. The libraries and museums are two important archival centers of the oral history since the second half of the twentieth century.   


The academic approach in oral history

He pointed out, "Today, oral history must be one hundred percent academic and is taught in an academic way from school to university. The interviewer is not a historian. The interviewee should be considered as a historical memory. The interviewer must force the interviewee to have an interview so that the memory losses and one-sided looks are challenged and removed by criticizing and reviewing the talks between the interviewer and interviewee. Sometimes it happens that the questions of the interview continue for two or three pages and interviewee answers with yes or no. and again, the questions continue and the interviewer challenges with the interviewee. Forcing is considered an action and a reaction between the two so that the interviewer is informed of the rate of the interviewee's knowledge and obtains a historical document through a regular interview. Of course, I should mention that this is not an interrogation.


The plan's phases and existing challenges

Hossein Ghiasvand, a member of the Studying and Executive Committee of Golestan Palace-Museum referred to active centers in the area of oral history and said, "At present, the important centers which are working in the field of oral history are the Association for Iranian Oral History, Iranology Foundation and the National Library of Iran. The Oral History Department of Golestan Palace was launched in January 2016. The main goal was to have interviews with people who have worked here since the past forty, fifty years. We had documentations from the Golestan palace which are very few and there were also a few coherent documentations. More than anything else, we considered the edifices which had been damaged and renovated and tried to allow those who have not been given the opportunity to speak about the past and their memoirs to talk, the ones who themselves, their grandfathers and uncles worked here and described interesting memories.

He pointed to the existing challenges in this path and stated, "One of our challenges was with the narrators. Some of the narrators like self-censorship and do not like to talk about the whole story. We promised them that no problem would happen. Another challenge was that some information about the history, individuals and places had problems and were removed through overlapping of information with other narrators. But unfortunately, we could not do anything about the first problem. Our other challenge was with the system. It had to accept that we did this and provided budget. We lost the time and narrators as there was a delay in paying the budget.

About the phases of the plan, he said, "Six phases were carried out from idea to performance. In the first phase, we reviewed similar plans of the historical-research institutions and centers inside and outside the country. We observed twenty domestic and foreign museums and institutions in order to match the information. After content review, we produced and compiled forms and questionnaires according to the needs of Golestan Palace. Then, a list from the individuals who have worked in recent decades in different levels of Golestan Palace was provided. We found fifty of them. We sorted them in three layers of their position in the palace, age and the information they had according to the time, their presence and influence in shaping the events. In the next step, several forms were designed according to the process and the general policy of the plan which organized the path of every file and facilitated the process of the work. The first form included contacts, the events related to the individual and information overlapping. The second form confirms the phases of the work from the beginning to the end and at a glance we can find the process. The third form is the narrator’s characteristics which includes the registration of brief information of the narrator which makes access to him or her possible at any time. The fourth form includes the right of ownership. The interview is signed by the narrator in the first minutes, announcing his or her contentment regarding how the materials are presented and extracted. The fifth form is the characteristics of the interview and makes possible access to the details of the conducted interview and to the whole file at the shortest time. The sixth form is related to speech writing which is filled by the speech writer after the end of the interview and makes possible the field search in different moments of the interview. The document-writing form includes office letters, handwritten cases, photos, newspapers and magazines, and written things and photos related to the narrator and has an identification code for every narrator; a12-digit code which is based on the year, month, the first word of the name and surname and the 4-digit serial number. 

The researcher stressed, “The second phase was to identify and set the questions. After the shaping of structure and identification of individuals, the interview’s questions are set according to years of presence and the amount of the narrators’ influence. Before the interview, the questions are sent through internet, friends and … The third phase was the process of interview; The fixing of the time of interview, the sending of invitation letter on behalf of the Head of Golestan Palace-Museum, preparing the necessities for conducting an interview (such as the interview’s room, commuting service, reception and gift), interview, the signing of consent form and copyright, recording the narrator’s voice, photography and filming the interview, ands saving the raw file of the interview in two separate copies. The fourth phase is speech writing and editing which is a hard phase and the exact words should be written. It included the transcription of the interview, speech writing and edition for archive. The fifth included archive and indexing. After the recording, registration and edition of the transcribed text, the final copy is archived and finally indexed in three pivots of place, individuals and event.  

The member of the Studying and Executive Committee of Golestan Palace-Museum added, "After passing from the mentioned phases, the interviews started. The first interview was carried out with Ahmad Dazvarehee in October 2016. He is a veteran in the area of cultural heritage and was present in Golestan Palace in 1970s to 2000s as the Head of Museums. His grandfather and brother also worked here. The interview was recorded in Bab Ali Edifice of the Golestan Palace during which he recounted and narrated his memoirs, and oral history plan of the Golestan Palace was officially entered the executive phase. The second account belongs to Hossein Alaeeni which was conducted in Queen Elizabeth Bedroom in January 2017. He is a veteran in the area of cultural heritage and was in charge of the Royal Library. He has worked in Golestan Palace since the first years after the victory of the Islamic revolution until 2007. The third interview was carried out with Ahmad Reza Heshmati in Bab Aki Edifice in April 2017. He has been the Head of the Technical Department of Deputy Head of Golestan Palace-Museum in 1990s and 2000s and is now working in the Research Center of Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts.

At the end, Ghisvand pointed ouit, "The series of accounts narrated by Dr. Mohammad Semsar, a professor and researcher of Iranian contemporary history have started in Queen Elizabeth Edifice since May 2017. Dr. Semsar is a veteran in museum keeping and cultural heritage and has been active in Golestan Palace-Museum for many years, and at present is an active author and researcher in the area of culture.

At of the meeting “Oral History of Golestan Palace: Recording of Live Accounts”, the narrators who have been cooperated with Golestan Palace were appreciated.

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