About a Project Which Is Waiting to Be Published

Oral History of Literature Faculty of Isfahan University

Maryam Asadi Jafari
Translated by Ruhollah Golmoradi


Academics and students are among the most influential strata in Iran's historical ups and downs from the past. Therefore, recording scientific, cultural, political and social events in atmosphere of grand Iranian universities in form of oral history has been considered over recent years, including recording Oral History of Kharazmi University and Isfahan University of Technology. Meanwhile, there have been less talked about Oral History Project of Literature and Humanities Faculty of Isfahan University. Dr. Mehdi Abolhasani Taraghi, Executive Officer of Oral History Project of this faculty, says about the project which was prepared for publishing nearly four years ago, "Oral History Project of Literature Faculty of Isfahan University was started from 2013 and it is the first oral history project of university in the country." We tried that this project to be a model for other universities. They contacted me last summer and said that the work needs to be reformed again, but I did not accept new reforms; because this book had been modified once again in 2014. If the book is to be modified and judged by changing any manager, nothing remains of it. Not publishing a book does not solve any problem." You will read in interview of oral history website of Iran with Dr. Mehdi Abolhasani Taraghi about the oral history project of Literature and Humanities Faculty of Isfahan University.


When was started the oral history project of Literature and Humanities Faculty of Isfahan University and what was purpose of conducting it?

Activities of history group of Isfahan University in field of oral history, which was part of founding board of Association of Oral History of Iran, and initiator and holder of some of meetings of the association – as well as my doctoral thesis in field of oral history in 2011, led Dr. Mohammad Bidhendi, current head of Literature Faculty of Isfahan University offered us the project. This college is one of old colleges of literature in the country. I planned the project with guidance of Dr. Morteza Nourae and presented for doctor Bidhendi. Its legal and financial works were done, passed and we started the project. The contract was conducted on May, 2013. Planning, scheduling, operational phase, initial compilation, reform and completion of the work lasted about 16 months, and finally, the work was prepared.


What period of activities of Literature Faculty of Isfahan University the project is about?

Intended period of college friends was from 1979 (1358 SH) to 2011 (1390 SH); that is the period after the revolution. But from the beginning we knew that we could not write history of post-revolution without addressing historical background and formation of the faculty, and practically it became what we considered. Our plan was began in December 1958 (1337 SH), and its historical background and oral history was continued until 2013, and we followed until the last changes in management and changes in educational groups, scientific publications, and so on.


Did you conduct oral history of each discipline individually?

Yes. Oral history of Persian language and literature groups, history, sociology, social sciences, philosophy, educational science, and law, which were primarily at Faculty of Literature, were gathered. Faculty of Literature first started with one or two disciplines, and later approached seven or eight disciplines, and again number of disciplines decreases. We did not base only the disciplines which are teaching today at Literature Faculty. Since majors such as law, educational science and Arabic language and literature have already been taught at this college. So we addressed to a selection of professors from all disciplines who attended in the faculty from 1950s to 2010s.


How many groups of officers of the faculty did you interview? Did you address just faculty members or have you talked to the faculty presidents?

I study each project at least three months. After the study, I got a perspective from background of the college. Then we started interviewing with faculty presidents from the beginning to period of doctor Bidhendi, except for two people. One was late Dr. Ahmad Mojtahedi and the other Dr. Kaviani who lived in USA. The work was done so carefully and obsessively as, fortunately, we also interviewed Dr. Kaviani. We were informed that he would come to Iran in a short time. As requested by Dr. Kaviani, a comprehensive and complete questionnaire package in form of open questions was provided to him, and he responded. Written and audio documents of this interview are available. Since scope of the work was very extensive and the project was to be presented within a given time scope based on the contract, in the second phase, we interviewed at least with three faculty members from each group prominent professors. But for example, among the first group of law professors, only Dr. Morteza Tabibi was available and we interviewed with him. Totally, we have interviewed with 44 presidents of Literature Faculty of Isfahan University and a selection of faculty members.


Did you interview with staff too or you just considered evolutional process of the university?

Yes. The third group was staff of the faculty from various levels. We chose people from experts of departments to servants and librarians; because story of Library of Literature Faculty is very detailed. Changes and developments such as beginning of different educational levels in all disciplines and issues such as separation of history and geography disciplines and formation of different areas of interest were also considered. We even talked with the literature college's servant who cares about security and cleaning. The fourth group of interviewed people was randomly selected among students of decades after 1340 (SH), and I interviewed them as I could.


What was your aim in interviewing students?

Once we look history from view of a of university professor, once as a servant and employee and sometimes in terms of approach of a student. For example, we have talked to library officials about firing of library of Literature Faculty, and we have gathered narration of the professors and students who were present in the event. In this case, it can be claimed that this is a comprehensive work. In time of the contract they told us interview only with faculty presidents; this path made it very easy and maybe give us some information. But 44 interviews and studying a large amount of documents led to see history of Literature Faculty of Isfahan University from different viewpoints and dimensions.


Since you examined from 1950s to 2010s, did you acquire a clear outcome of process of scientific evolution of Literature Faculty?

According to existing documents, Literature Faculty of Isfahan University is located after Tehran and Tabriz universities in terms of history of formation. The faculty has grown into a large college from a small and simple house in heart of Isfahan. Certainly there was quantitative development in terms of number of students and expansion of disciplines. But judgment about quality improvement should be done by those who have been studying in this school during the different decades; however, many of these questions can be answered during the interviews.


Did you do all interviews yourself?

Yes, I did all the interviews myself; because I was sensitive to the subject. I interviewed at least two two-hour sessions with each person. Although this project can be undoubtedly criticized, but in general, reading written documents and oral narratives have completed each other in oral history project of Literature Faculty of Isfahan University. So foundation of our work was orals, papers and documents. We collected oral evidences and verified them with written documents, so we came to a conclusion and prepared them for publication. This is a perfectly scientific work in field of oral history.


Why did you address Library of the faculty separately? If there wasn't event of library firing, would you do it again?

All the faculty components are connected as a network. You cannot consider the library or college publications apart from college history. In fact, formation and development of the library is a historical event. Library of Literature Faculty of Isfahan University has been a great library before and after the fire. The old library is now in the old building, but in the new building, each department has a library. We thoroughly reviewed the process. A part of book of "Oral History of Literature and Humanities Faculty of Isfahan University" dedicated to formation, development, introducing library officials, post-revolutionary purification, library policies, and libraries separation. We even asked about purified books and how they were chosen. Purchasing new resources, names of professors who library was their second home and role of professors in improving status of the library were also questioned. We interviewed at least with 4 librarians such as Morteza Teimouri and Shirin Hamidi, library protagonists in Iran. Mr. Teimouri is one of the first founders of library of Literature Faculty.


Tell about story of fire in the library in 1980s.

The fire occurred in 1986. But everyone knew about that event had forgotten year of the fire. The issue was so important to me that I looked for documents related to the fire. There were reports in newspapers of those years that had been written very hastily, and at the same time there were many ifs and buts about this event. So it was necessary to see firefighting documents too. The fire station had been moved to another place. When I went to central building of firefighting, I was referred to stagnant archives, and finally, I was asked to the university guard and firefighting to explain why I wanted these documents? I said that I had a reference from Literature Faculty, and eventually I was given just one sheet among a huge amount of reports, which, fortunately, was from original sheets. I did not have permission to copy the document and I was only allowed to read and take notes. At least, I found exact date and time of the event, present people in the scene and written report of operation such as: vacancy of water tank and closure of eastern door of the college. All of this got together to lead the disaster, and many books were burned in the fire.


So, at the end, you realized cause of the fire?

Yes. From totality of narratives, interviews and documents, we could write a good report to say in some way reality. As I remember, this case engaged also Friday prayers of Isfahan and they regretted for its occurrence. Even then, rumors were heard about burning of manuscripts and lithography copies. In the interviews, we also talked about these rumors, and after verification, we also talked about these issues in the interviews. This book will answer a lot of questions and ambiguities about fire of library of Literature Faculty, and at the same time, it will end the rumors. So issue of library of the faculty is part of its history, which we addressed it for its importance.


How did you review periodicals of Literature Faculty?

We found all journals from establishment of the University until 2013. It was a documentary and written work. I should see each journal, and from the first issue to the end, I wrote about subject and type of journal such as being scientific-research (Elmi-Pajouheshi), managing editor and editor in chief of periodicals. We also conducted supplementary discussions with people like managing editors of journals. In fact, we have presented history of Literature Faculty in general, history of each department in particular, history of the library and history of the college periodicals from the beginning to the present in book of "Oral History of Literature and Humanities Faculty of Isfahan University". All of these materials have been compiled by collecting accurate data; because the work was principally oral history and we should observe these scientific standards.


How many document sources exactly did you use?

We studied a plethora of written and visual documents of NLAI, the Center for Documents and Statistics of Isfahan University, personnel archive of staff of University, documents of Technical Office of Isfahan University, documents of Office of plan and program of Isfahan University, documents of information and statistics department of Isfahan University, and firefighting and safety services organization of Isfahan Municipality. Every document about the faculty that was available in NLAI was reviewed and located in appendixes of the book. We also searched beginning to the end of activity of each faculty president in personnel archive of staff at Isfahan University. In this way, we also obtained timeframe of faculty members attending in the college in order to prepare questions based on socio-cultural-political conditions of those days. It is also difficult to study these documents because they are personal documents. Documents of Technical Office of Isfahan University also determined relocation of the faculty and its appendages. For example, how many square meters and floors was a new building which was set up in 1990s? And how many meters was each floor? All this information is useful in oral history. We found and explored a ton of historical photos. Visual documents including films of Isfahan University Public Relations and the University Newsletter also helped us a lot. The university newsletter that had been published before the revolution in 1970s was very regular, and we could examine course of events of the faculty in this way. After the revolution, often publications such as "Payam-e Daneshgah (message of the University)" were published which were ideological, and mostly issues in the country were written in them. However, we used newsletters as much as possible. Personal documents were also used in this project. Oral history interviews and these written, visual and audio documents formed history of Literature Faculty which we extracted them from 1958 to 2013.


Except for the fire of the library, what kind of ups and downs did you address? How did you study role of Faculty Literature of Isfahan University during Islamic Revolution and the imposed war? Because a large part of SAVAK documents about Isfahan relates to activities of students of Isfahan University.

We also paid attention to events of the revolution in Literature Faculty and examined role of students of this faculty in the revolution and especially departments in revolutionary struggles in the interviews. But we tried not to diverge from the main path and margin not overcome text. We focused more on faculty members and students of that time. We had one or two of fighter students, but our goal was not to explain role of Literature Faculty in the revolution so that we would like to discuss in detail. Of course, part of the book is dedicated to this period. Even purification of professors after the revolution and professors who have resigned themselves were also addressed. Although we did not name some of them, this was mentioned too. We addressed more to the war, because coincided with Oral History Project of Literature Faculty I was also conducting the project of honor documents of Foundation of Martyrs of Isfahan that some of martyrs of that project were students of Isfahan University. For this reason, some of my interviews were also used in the project of honor documents. University of Isfahan had had workshops for sewing uniforms for warriors. We interviewed with not only knowledgeable people in the university, but also with mothers of martyrs who came to the workshop every day by bus and sewed military uniforms and underwear, or packaged people aid. We dealt with various aspects of the war. Number of martyrs, students and professors who had gone to the front was related to whole of Isfahan University, which is why everywhere that was related to Literature Faculty is included in the book.


Other major universities such as Kharazmi and Shiraz Engineering Faculty have been developing their oral history. What is distinction of Oral History Project of Literature Faculty of Isfahan University?

First, Oral History Project of Literature Faculty of Isfahan University was started in 2013 and is the first oral history project of university in the country. Secondly, I have studied reports of other university projects. I do not want to judge those works, but maybe a professor has done some works based on his/her interests. But I want to defend our plan for two reasons; first, priority of the oral history project of Literature Faculty, and the second scientific dimension of the work. I, as a practitioner of oral history, have done Oral History Project of Literature Faculty of Isfahan University under supervision of Dr. Nourae, who, in my opinion, is father of modern oral history of Iran. That is to say, the work is not arbitrary and it had done quite professional. We wanted this project to be a model for other universities.


So far, we became familiar with process of development of "Oral History of Literature and Humanities Faculty of Isfahan University". In which phase is the book now?

The project was begun in 2013 and initial collecting and compilation lasted16 months. Then, about seven to eight months, we conducted final compilation and editing. We also presented the text to informed and knowledgeable people. For example, we gave a part which was related to History Department to the department itself in order to study and comment. The studied and commented. We applied these comments in the text and referred each correction. Then the book was edited by Dr. Shirani, a graduate of literature, very strongly and acute. We were in touch for a few months so that the text was corrected in terms of phrasing, verbs, rules, and punctuation. This work was presented to University of Isfahan in 2014 and even we were paid for it. Typography of the book was done, but after some management changes, it has been delayed for four years. We even had given documents related to Oral History Project of Literature Faculty including visuals, photos and written documents, interview files and their text. This book has been evaluated and fully verified. But there are still ifs and buts for its release.


What was result of the last contact with Isfahan University Press?

They contacted me last summer and said that the work needs to be corrected again, but I did not accept new reforms; because this book had been modified once in 2014. I wrote to doctor Bidhendi that according to estimate and implementation of amendments, I can't accept any new amendments. If this book is to be modified and judged by changing any director, nothing remains of it. Not publishing a book does not solve any problem. Book of "Oral History of Literature and Humanities Faculty of Isfahan University" should be published and then, we object it. Many were not willing to be interviewed. When the book to be published, they also speak; we have an idiom in oral history that "references (sources) will voice". Obstacles caused by different management periods are one of damages of oral history in our country.


Can you transfer release of the book to a different publication according to the contract?

All material and immaterial rights of book of "Oral History of Literature and Humanities Faculty of Isfahan University" belong to Literature Faculty and its Presidency. Doctor Bidhendi honestly cooperated us in this project. It is true that I have been done at a very low cost, but the work itself is valuable and important, and unfortunately we are still waiting for its release.

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