Live History: A Study of 40 Years of Oral History of the Islamic Revolution and the Holy Defense – 8

A pattern for turning discourse into text

Maryam Rajabi
Translated by M. B. Khoshnevisan


According to the website of Iranian Oral History, the third session of the meeting "Live History: A Study of 40 Years of Oral History of the Islamic Revolution and the Holy Defense" was held in the Qasr-e Shirin Hall of the Islamic Revolution Museum and Holy Defense on Tuesday 19th of February 2019. In previous parts of the series of reports of the meetings, you read the text of speeches by Gholamreza Azizi, the Head of the Research Center of the National Library and Archives of Islamic Republic of Iran, Faezeh Tavakoli, the Secretary of the Oral History Group Work of Iranian Association of History, and Yaqub Panahi, an oral history writer and activist.


Can we present a pattern too?

In continuation of the third session of the meeting "Live History: A Study of 40 Years of Oral History of the Islamic Revolution and the Holy Defense", Yadollah Izadi, a participant in the meeting and the Head of Oral History Group of the Center for Sacred Defense Documents and Research said, "The meeting's topic is said to be the elements and principles of compiling oral history. These elements and principles are said in the meeting so that if an interview takes place, to what extent it should be close to what it should be? And if I want to compile the interviews for another job, what are the musts and must-nots? According to what Mrs. Tavakoli said, if we want to say that oral history and the produced text should not be questions and answers certainly, to what extent this (the result) is loyal to narration? To what extent has my knowledge been affected? This is the common narration of the oral history of that person and the owner of the work which is under the position of interviewer or compiler."

Then, one of the participants referred to various types of oral history works based on dialogue and monologue about which they spoke, and asked, "According to Mr. Panahi, now that we have reached to confusion, can we present a pattern and use it?"

In response, Faezeh Tavakoli said, "In the beginning of the meeting, I started a challenge in order to break our mentalities to some extent and the principle that we consider just one pattern for oral history, is corrected. Our oral history activists work hard a lot. And I thank you all of them. All of our productions are correct in their places, but I wanted to challenge the point that we should not face just with one pattern. I criticized the Harvard oral History in the Iranian Association of History. We held a meeting. Dr. Abolhassani from Isfahan took part. Even I saw the translated text of the meeting in overseas websites. I am ready to talk to Mr. Lajevardi, if he comes. There are a lot flaws in their method, but they should be appreciated for producing this work and recording these voices, because many of them have left this world. It's a valuable work and we should accept this. The recoding of the voices of actors is of great importance. We can involve in the issue of compilation when we have carried out the main foundation of the work. I confirm many works that have so far been carried out in the area of oral history.  The fact that one of his or her discourses in the title of the book is based on the taste of the interviewer, well when he gets familiar with the theoretical principles and discussion, he or she will surely correct it in the books and the subsequent sections." 



In the section of compilation, I will explain about the issues of analysis of narrations, analysis of conversation and discourse discussion brought up in oral history. I in my book have brought all of the paces and the principles of interviewing. The methodological areas of grounded theory and oral history are very close together. If we use grounded theory in oral history, we can advance stronger in research approaches and discussions."


Compilation in oral history

In this part, Tavakoli presented a PowerPoint under the title "Compilation in Oral History" and said, "At first, we review the concept of history. We can consider history as an incident and event which is highlighted from the viewpoint of anthology. Sometimes, we also consider history as the science of report of that event in which we are going to explain what has happened exactly; this is from the windows of epistemology. The issue can be about the dynasties, governments, tribes and civilizations. Stanford says history is not just one thing but several things. History includes both the thing which has happened and the images we build in our minds form that event. The image we make in our minds is two types; it is either an event or reminding of the event and its recreation and reunderstanding. The section of reminding of an event becomes the same area of oral history which we in fact are dealing with it. But the meaning and conception I have dealt with about oral history is according to all definitions. In the definition brought up by Dr. Hasanabadi in the book "Oral History in Iran" which of course other historian have brought this definition, it says oral history is the recording and keeping of information, or the collection and registration of memories and life experiences, or the process of people's historical understanding, or the involving of the people who have not played a role so far, or it has been said in terms of anthropology that oral history is a kind of reciprocal anthropology and very anthropological. Each human being, as one of the magnificent creations of God, has its own characteristics that these features are being destroyed in the context of the globalization of identities. When the slaves were brought form Africa to Europe in the nineteenth century, one of the historians brought up the issue of the phenomenon of social death and says that when they are brought form Africa to Europe and then to other countries, no trace of them is seen anymore. Thus, in the area of globalization, each human is a book as a special creature, so when we face with someone to record and register his or her oral history, we need to be careful. We, the interviewers, must be very accurate and well-positioned. We also have to pay attention to issue of body language that the model of the interviewee's sitting is a realistic one and he or she does not lean.

Compilation is not that we have a transcribed tape and want to compile it. Compilation starts exactly when you turn on the tape recorder for interviewing. The method is fully qualitative research. The interaction between interviewer and interviewee is a two-sided and active one. Speech is preceded by text. All historians who work in the classical style of historiography and history do not agree now and believe how we can find out what an interviewee says is correct. They are ready to bring the documents of the Safavid and Slejuk periods while speech is preceded by text. If we want to rely on a writing as a document and bring it in our resources and research, then why don't we want to accept the speeches of the humans who are alive and has been the result of the invention of tape recorder as well as oral history that has been presented to the world as a new technique of research?  All strata of society are involved in historical developments. Our history has already been the history of kings. In completing data, all of them including women, clergies, workers and so on with the right of image and live voice play a role and are actors. When I was holding my workshops in 2016, it was said that Peter Coffman has said that until two years later, namely 2018, the volume of the produced images in visual and media networks of the world is so much that we need a life equal to Noah’s life to see all of these images while it is now the year 2019 and we have entered this arena since the past three years and you with your cellphones cannot review the information of Iran let alone the world. When we are faced with this huge volume of data, why do not we participate in presenting this data through oral history? Oral history plays a significant role in presenting massive amount of data. The issue of copy-paste has come to an end. We face with live documents which are the humans. Basic techniques in oral history are very important. With respect to Mr. Niknam (the meeting’s host), the title of today’s meeting is “live history” while this title is used for edifices in the world; the edifices which have remained from previous periods. I in my book have referred to a text translated by a linguist in which oral history is regarded as “immediate history”. It means a history that you can register and record it in the form of online and force majeure. You face with a scene from the people’s protests or the actions of actors in the society, it can be filmed easily, the people are interviewed and this is considered part of the oral history of the people’s protests.

The phases that we should consider in the plan of compiling oral history starts when you as a proposal want to present a research project to your center. We have the same phases for the oral history project here exactly like the same phases that we present a plan during MA course. It is very important that the research has a short and brief title and the purpose of the study and the time period are mentioned. The posing of research questions namely between three to seven questions are brought in the text of the research proposal as the main questions and sub-questions are also brought if he or she wants. The purpose of the research is the extraction of meaning and commentaries. We also bring historical evidences. In literature of research, you research in terms of the record of the subject that you have and what it wants you to understand. You present all of them. You also present various dimensions of the problem which brings under the tile of the subject's explanation in the report; as well as the share of the research participation in the studied discussion and area and what type of participation the purpose of the research wants to have after we pose the questions? What contribution does it want in developing the recognition of the related organization or department which wants to present the research? Also, what are the public backgrounds or the same holistic façade that you present from this research? In the section of public theory, I should say that one of the works asked always from us in designing reports is hypothesis. We have no hypothesis in oral history. As long as we do not interview the people, we do not have hypothesis. With what subjective foreground can we say that this person says this word to us or these events have happened in that operation? We have no default. But we can present theories at the end of the oral history of our study subject; the same thing that I carried out now after three and a half years of registering and recording of the area of the research center of humanities. In any research, we at first have to specify our study channel. Do we want to study an event? Do we want to document the battles happened in the fronts and during the eight-year holy defense? Do we want to study about the elites? Or do we document an organization like the Central Insurance Organization? In fact, we should bring up our main subject. Sampling in oral history means with whom do we want to talk – the one who is really a source of information? It is important. We can definitely achieve a good project if our output in relation with the elites is the field of our questions. In addition to the war commanders, the Basijis (volunteer forces) and soldiers who were present in the war are also considered as the elites. Our research question should be in a way that we can correct or deepen that field.

In the issue of sampling methods, I should say that the sampling must be fully targeted and criterion-oriented. In choosing the methods of sampling, the following cases should be considered: how is the type of targeted sampling in connection with our study? Does this research method and plan answer? Why such sampling is used? You must answer every one of them in your research. Now you have to know how you find and have access to the samples. The most famous method is Snowball in which you start from the first person who is the index of your research and ask him or her to introduce other individuals. Theoretical sampling is the same as the goal-oriented one. In this method, you specify your samples based on the subject of the research, which mostly includes people in elite rank. In the section of data-finding techniques, I should say that a list of methods of collecting data is presented in oral history reports. The data either are in the form of texts and include sketches and letters which have been exchanged and the observation of images and so on or consist of any special kind of data and detailed and analytical narrations the voices of which are recorded definitely. The pint that I want to say now is that you have made the questions typology, have also conducted the interviews and they have been transcribed completely. We can include a section under the title of analysis of narrations which is very important for the centers related to oral history areas. In the section of analysis of narration, all narrations which have been transcribed in the form of interview and data are analyzed. When you look at the narrations in the form of transcribed interviews, they have several parts. The first part is chronology and registration of events. In chronology of narrations for compilation, we must preserve their being history form the beginning to the end. It means that if you are narrating the year 1985, it should not be mixed with the narrations of the year 1986. The second part is the representation of events. The original quoted narrations must be complied. The sections of commanders are complied with each other as well as the section of the dear combatants. The narrations should be perfectly matched. Eventually, it is the understanding of the events that you have as an editor and it is here that a historian shows his or her own role.

The historian as an editor has to pay attention to the quoted narrations, to draw his or her own perceptions based on the narrated documents and narrations in order to give the aforesaid organization under the title of historiography of the field of history. This analysis of narrations includes formation of concepts in the produced text; for example, discursive categories. Sometimes in the section of discourse analysis, without starting to compile, the conceptions and categories are clear because there are the areas of the narrator’s culture including dialect, the words that are repeated constantly and so on. When you look at the text, some of the words have been repeated. You should highlight the categories in the paper in front of you. The concepts in connection with every individual in the same raw state are after the collection of data. Their encryption carries out through the workshop "Advanced Qualitative Research" and you can do the issue of encryption for great narrations through it. After encryption, there is the interpretation of data and formation of various formats in the issue of analyzing the content of narrations. The issue of validation is of great importance. The narrations in oral history should be conformed definitely. In oral history, if we work through an object, we must conform the narration of various subjects together completely, unless our historiography is only in subject form.

In the section of writing data and findings, I should say that you want to start and transcribe the same issue that you have registered and recorded as oral history. The most important point is that when the audio turns into writing, it should follow the writing rules. You must consider the audience. He or she wants to read the text. I believe that the person who wants to edit, must observe grammatical regulations and the data and findings should be in the order of date and time since the very beginning he or she starts work. Let's use nice literary and narrative titles for naming the sections. The categories should be deep. For final inferences in the section of conclusion, I should say that like the head of my organization who has asked for meta-analysis, I sent this meta-analysis for them separately. This is the same in the area of war. The observation of our trustworthiness in the area of oral history is that an oral historian should not make a comment. He or she can extract the findings among the interviews and brings them at the end or in the book's prelude. We have present our insight through the questions that we have posed and when we have produced the data. In the issue of using resources, I should say that if you use any kind of written resources, it should be referred in the same academic methods. It is very important in the area of oral history that you see whether you have used written resources in addition to the oral history work that you have done. Except verbal data of oral history, you may also have phone conversation. Thus, whether in in-person or long-distance conversation, the role-model of narrator is the listener to whom is referred in the documented language. At present, the historians explain about "lingual constructions". For instance, when Mr. Panahi wants to publish the produced text of the commanders, he can produce new constructions out of their lingual discourses. Construction shapes in the form of verbal categories. When someone opens his book, as soon he or she sees his constructions, that book with the name of Mr. Panahi would be different. The difference between analysis of discourse with that of narration and conversation is that you consider the data of the real world of that person as fully raw. From inside the verbal analysis, you can pay attention to words, sentences and phrases specifically, concentrate on lingual application in critical methods and criticize it. It means that you say where and how and why this language has been used. All of these can be used in your analyses from verbal viewpoint."     

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