Vocational Education

Oral History with Public Culture Approach

Maryam Asadi Jafari
Translated by M. B. Khoshnevisan


After talking about the differences between public culture and oral history, the speakers of the first meeting out of the first course of the vocational education "Oral History with Public Culture Approach" spoke about the impact of oral history on registering and keeping the customs of a country.

According to the website of Iranian Oral History, the first meeting out of the first course of the vocational education "Oral History with Public Culture Approach" organized by the Center for Isfahanology and the House of Nations was held in the gathering hall of the center on Thursday 18th of October, 2018. Dr. Morteza Nouraee and Dr. Valiollah Mosayebi delivered speeches during the meeting.


Oral history and its relation with contemporary era

In the beginning, Dr. Nouraee regarded oral history as the result of wisdom of the crowd, saying, "Interview is the column of oral history. Interview is a proper moment for us and we have to prepare for it. Psychologists, journalists, and information-related businesses interview the people. But the oral history interview is an active interview type.

Professor E. H. Carr says, "History is an unending dialogue between the past and present." This is the most technical definition that the field of history and historical debates have expanded so much that at present, everybody has to use it. Any system has to have historians, because it continuously needs to analyze and make public the experiences of that system. Thus, history speaks with the past in order to create a phenomenon to reach the present time. Oral history has also such discussion and is one of the angles of the field of history which is related to the contemporary era. The lifetime of history is about 180 years continuously. It means that when you interview a 60-year old person, he or she quotes from his or her father and grandfather. So it covers almost three generations. I may quote memories from the event of Kashf-e Hijab or unveiling that I have heard from my father and he has heard from his father. So, the narration of three generations is acceptable for oral historians."   


Subject-oriented oral history

In continuation, Dr. Nouraee considered oral tradition as the twin of oral history, adding, "In oral history, a person must either be an observant or a mediator. That is, it should be heard from the witnesses. History means that we know the beginning and the end of an event. In history, we refer to the past about an act or a behavior. Sometimes, a series of events have happened according to the will of an individual. And sometimes, a series of events have happened which have turned into a behavior. For instance, the launching of new schools in Iran has faced with many difficulties. We have even suffered lots of pains for establishing girl schools. But at present, the education of girls and boys in the universities have turned into a normal behavior. But we have paid a price for its normalization. Modernization is a subjective phenomenon for which we should pay a price continuously. Oral history too, following history should do the same. It means that oral history deals with an action or a behavior logically. Our research is either subject-oriented or individual-oriented; however, both should be collected according to collective experience. For example, the first industry of assembling bicycles was launched in Isfahan and the first driving licenses were issues in Isfahan. Sometimes, we interview numerous people about a particular subject such as the history of bicycles in Isfahan. This is a subject-oriented issue.  

A Japanese researcher in Iran had carried out a research about the literature of students and the new words of the Persian language. For several months, he got on the bus in Tehran at around 11 AM, travelling from Imam Hussain (AS) Square to Azadi Square and then from Rah Ahan to Tajrish Square. He turned on his tape recorder, recording what the students were talking. Finally, he had extracted the words that the previous generation do not understand and in fact, they are the mystery between these guys. It was strange for us that he had showed so much patience. This is not interview but a type of the subject-oriented research. But, in oral history, an interview should be conducted. It should be known that a person has either been the witness of an event or an intermediary of a narration."


The relation between oral tradition and oral history

In continuation of the first meeting out of the first course of the vocational education "Oral History with Public Culture Approach", Dr. Nouraee stated, "The science of history has been a place for principles of ethics until the twentieth century and the new century – as it has been known as the mother of sciences. It means that they studied history in order to teach ethics. If you see the books of Sa'adi or Shahnameh, all of their examples are from history. We are inevitably from history. If we do not know anything about history, we have to repeat it.

History has degrees. Some, like oral history, are an intermediate history. We enjoy it and learn. In schools of other countries, there is a lesson that teaches young people a logical connection with the elderly. At present, the youths do not agree with the elderly, because there is no dialogue among them. This dialogue is one of the important results that the whole national systems help it. That we said that history is an unending dialogue between the past and present, it means that we are never needless of it. Oral history is an active interview and is not merely an oral memory. When we interview someone, we do not merely obtain his or her personal experiences. It is here that the components of the difference between oral memoirs and oral history is known."

In continuation, he explained about the relation between oral tradition and oral history and said, "Oral historians usually do not deal with oral tradition. Oral tradition does not mean an event or a current, but it influences an event or a current. It is not clear when oral tradition – like customs – has happened. We do not know who the originator is and its recognition cannot be described well. The type of narration of oral tradition is chest to chest. The anthropologists study oral tradition. For instance, when we want to research about the customs and linguistics of Isfahan, the most important way is to interview. So anthropologists, prior to oral history, began to conduct interviews since the late nineteenth century. Even, Henry Field – the first technical anthropologist – came to Iran in the early twentieth century and conducted interviews in order to recognize the tribes, people, behaviors, and customs.

I have an article in which I have said that an oral historian should not be involved in oral tradition. But, we are involved in oral tradition for the reason that our traditions are part of the history. First, the traditions are renewed and secondly, the philosophy of working on folklore and public culture creates national solidarity. That is, it strengthens national morale.

Therefore, it is a few years that the oral historians also deal with the issue of oral tradition – like customs, language and dialects, rituals, traditional sciences such as medicine or superstitious.

Since oral tradition creates social actions and influences – positive or negative -    on the future destiny of the society, we can be involved in it as oral history interviewer. A large part of our public heritage lies in the public culture. However, the originator of every event is not clear. Many habits, celebrations and ceremonies are influenced by the public culture. The public culture is continuously generative and becomes large or small due to the circumstances of the day. The culture of Iranian society is very oral. The 10-volume collection "Memories of Ain al-Saltanah" is the most important memory-writing book in Iran. He was a prince and has drawn up the era of five kings – from Nassereddin Shah to the late First Pahlavi – without any fear. We went toward memory-writing from the constitutional period and from 1380s in the Iranian solar calendar toward oral history. But the oral history of the public culture is neither subject-oriented nor individual-oriented. Public culture focuses on the issues such as customs."

At the end of his speech, Dr. Nouraee asked the participants to conduct interviews for the next meeting about one of the components of Isfahan's public culture which has the capacity of oral history.


Spring of oral history in Iran

Dr. Valiollah Mosayebi, the doctoral student of Local History of Isfahan University was the second speaker of the first course of the vocational education "Oral History with Public Culture Approach". He regarded oral history as a tool, technique and method in the hands of historians and said, "Unfortunately, no oral history book has been written with its standards in Iran. Everyone has interviewed and published about a subject. However, different works are carried out in the area of oral history with different insights, but if they are not in the area of oral history, we will throw them away. The spring of oral history has begun recently in Iran and the oral historians have a long way ahead. The basis of oral history is purposeful, knowingly and active, but the oral culture begins with legends and myths. There is no time and space in it, but oral history is not such. Oral tradition is as long as the human history, but oral history is not so. Oral History is an interview with challenges and verifications."

At the end, he named instances of the released works under the title of oral history in Iran, adding, "Oral history relies on written documents. In fact, oral history interviews complete written events, so that their truths and lies are specified or completed."     

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