The Session "Reflection in Oral History"(II)

The position of oral history in the world and Iran

Maryam Rajabi
Translated by: Fazel Shirzad


According to Iranian oral history website, the first session "Reflection in Oral History" held at Dr. Parham Hall in National Library and Archives of Iran on Wednesday evening on 27 February 2019.  In the first part of the session, you read the words of Mohsen Kazemi, an oral history researcher and memoirs of Islamic Revolution, Mahmoud Sadat, a member of the faculty of Imam Khomeini Research Center, and Gholamreza Azizi, director of the Institute of Iranian National Library and Documents.


If we continue this way...

Following the first session "Reflection in Oral History", Abolfazl Hassanabadi, director of Astan Quds Razavi[1] Documentation Center, said: "As I have been working on oral history for about 19 years, and I have also written articles on this field, my first point is that what the form of oral history has been up to now. We need to know what structure oral history has had in world, what position it has now and where we are now in the position of oral history in the world. We want to measure our oral history in a system. We are not going to say what happened in Iran for the past forty years and where we are. The word "where" mentioned at the meeting, is about our position in the world.

Since 1948, oral history has had at least five distinct stages in the world. That is, if we are to categorize oral history in the world, I will take five separate steps. One dimension is between the late 1960s and 1980s until early 80s; its subject is the elite and the initial formation of oral history. That is political oral history debate conducted at Columbia University; the most of political elites attended in there. In the second and sixteenth centuries of social history of Marxists, feminists, and black workers, the debate of oral history was posed in the whole world. That is, it moves from the history of elite and political history to social history, and oral history is generally used in the service of social history. Perhaps 70 to 80 percent of works in 1980s and early 1990s was in the field of social history. A huge amount of source is being produced, and oral history is multiplied in the 1970s and 1960s; it comes out of the university and goes to society; many of people work in this field and some archives were formed. The first archives were formed in 1980's and early 1990s. The World Association and International Association for Oral History, local oral history associations in the United States and especially Europe were formed in 1980s and 1990s. That is, we have an extensive oral history activities in the world in the 1980s, creating the archives and associations, and the topic of communication and co-operation in oral history during this period.

In 1990s, while computer is being speared in the world, the issue of oral history information is also raised. By the early 1990s, an enormous amount of oral history was produced by centers, institutions, associations and groups. Since the middle of 1990s. oral history has been presented; that is, computer has had a major impact on oral history, and the public presentation of oral history has come up; not a presentation in the form of books, which need  another discussion. Bing publicized   of oral history means oral history came in society level to be used. Museums were taken into consideration in this time. Oral history at the museum is one of the important issues of 2000s and oral family history is also very important in the decade.

The position of universities in using oral history resources is a major challenge in 2000s and 2010s. That is, they passed from production and became general and use of oral history was considered. Universities do not accept the sources of oral history as a research resource, and they say that these sources are not worth in documentation. American humanitarian standards do not accept that essays refer to oral history resources. It was one of the challenges of 2010s; Oral history standards were formulated and some standards were established to be accepted by university later. The university also accepted that oral history could be used as a reliable source of research. Since 2000, these issues have been abandoned, and since 2004 and 2005 there was no problem in oral history production. It has being developed step by step. There is a debate about inter-mentality; That is, the amount of initial oral history information of narrator about event and his/her current view toward it and the interference of these events together. Because, at this time, it is believed that the person in each position should be in the same position and situation that event taken place, to speak about it. If you are 80 years old, you may be at the age of 20 at the time of incident, and look it as a 20-year-old individual's point of view. This question arises, what is position of this person's and his personal experiences in this regard? Is he right to say his current view as a narrator or not? And this serious review have been posed for about 7 to 10 years old. Some disagreed, saying that it wasn't purpose and function of oral history is not at all. Oral history has not been created with this nature. Some said: "what's the problem to choose it (the amount of initial oral history information of narrator) besides that (current view of narrator)?" What we now have in the world oral history is a mix structure of both of them. The key words of oral history in the world are debates of its function and general use. The theorizing of oral history is posed. The issued that mentioned by  Mr. Mahmoud Sadat have been passed for about twenty years and entered into other stages and more serious issues of oral history. What oral history is supposed to be used for society? Where should it be used?

Oral history has been amalgamated in Iran, and I cannot say what period we are in oral history in relation to the world. Because oral history have never entered into university. Of course, we should keep in mind that there is only master’s course of oral history at Columbia University and there is no university degree in oral history anywhere in the world, and oral history is not an academic discipline. The current situation of Iranian oral history is among all its global periods; in a field of 1970s, in another field of 1980s and in another field of 2000s, and the reality is that we remain at the level of oral history production. We have not yet reached the point of using functional and theoretical discussion and passing through descriptions and get understanding.

In reply to Mr. Sadat's question, I should note that the spread of oral history is not a concern at all. I remember, when oral history issue was first discussed in Isfahan in 2004, our first attempt was to bring oral history to our society at all, and now, after 14 years of continuous work, this issue has been raised in our society, and it is no cause for concern. Oral History is the only field of human sciences that has congress every year in the past 13 to 14 years; so it is important. We are not worried to be introduced. We have been working in oral history hard for years to be introduced. The second dimension is that we do not enter into category and provide content in oral history. The issue of archives in oral history is essential for us. In Iran, we do not have something called oral history archive, but there is an archive of oral history in the archives of Astan Quds Organization. An archive means you have a duty to inform and have a functional nature. In 2000, Turkey held a meeting of the International Association of Oral History, but I believe that there is no country works in oral history as much as Iran, without any cost. We have spent too much time and money in oral history in Iran, but our method of working is individual one and, secondly there is not synergy in it, and thirdly it is based on individual motivations and personal tastes. In the field of war, there is no country done much oral history work. The US has worked in this field, but it has worked on some cases like the oral history of Vietnam War. Now, if we are asked how many interviews you have in the oral history war, nobody won't answer. For policy-making for the next decade, we must say that we need to get synergy in the context of the status of resources. We must also get policy-making in the field of archives. Entering of oral history to universities should be followed up. I believe that a time in which history does not have a place and position in our society, there are some who are self-consciously and unconsciously looking for a field of history and they are engaged in it, and this is a boon. If we continue this method, I think we will achieve succeed more in the future."


The problems we are faced

Davood Zameni, the deputy director of the cultural and artistic affairs of the general directorate of provinces’ affairs and Art Council, said:" I have had exterior perspective toward oral history, and I think we face a number of challenges in the field of oral history today. In my opinion, oral history has become a problematic issue. The reason I have for this assumption is that there is not much relevance between the issues of philosophy of science and the field of epistemology with the field of oral history. Basically, the debate about how much we contribute to the growth of science in the field of oral history seems to me to be a serious question to think about. how much the volume of books, the volume of articles, the volume of workshops held by organizations and institutes, the volume of conferences, congresses and meetings have held from the past years to now, basically lead to the growth of the science of history? As long as oral history does not distinguish itself from the philosophy of science and the growth of science, it does not enter scientific discourse much. Perhaps it is a reason that university institution tries to desist from oral history.

Another point, I think, has become a problem in the field of oral history, and I have strongly observed many aspects of this case in an institution such as Art Center, is that we do not really know in the Art Center whether the historical view priority should be considered over artistic one and vice versa. If we consider literature, in a broad sense, a branch of art, some books have been published in the last few years that go beyond the historical view, that the author let himself to include elements of imagination in oral history; this published book cannot be absolutely categorized in the history area. It is a boundary between history and art. Naturally, it is very difficult to verify historical events in an artistic context, whereas one of the most important issues in the field of oral history is verification.

Another point is that I think today oral history is looked as a commodity. That is, we should talk about an industry named oral history. As I mentioned before, memory has turned into industry, and this industrialization and commodification, unfortunately, have created challenges for oral history, because many institution don't try to discover truth and reality anymore, they think of supplementary and marginal markets that oral history is able to create them.

Another point that, I think, it can be posed in the field of oral history is relation between oral history and political affairs. Unfortunately, over the past few years, the dominance of the governmental view in the field of oral history is extremely tangible. That is, only those who are active in politics allowed to speak about Iranian contemporary history, the history of revolution and the history of war. It seems it is to gain the funds that oral history. Oral history provides social capital, political capital and many cultural assets in spite of economic assets for writers, organizations, which work on it, and for individuals; I think a large amount of those who have been interested in the field of oral history over the past 10 years are for the sake of social capital. So I agree with professors that we have not studied enough in the field of oral history problems and issues, and I hope that holding such workshops and session can create a conceptual vision of issues we are faced in oral history and we won't really to answer explicitly questions."


The Session "Reflection in Oral History"(I)/ A talk on the real voice of oral history


[1] Astan Quds Razavi is a Bonyad, or autonomous charitable foundation, in Mashhad, Iran. It is the administrative organization which manages the Imam Reza shrine and various institutions which belong to the organization.

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