Research Method Workshop in Oral History-2

Oral History: Transforming Individual Experience into Collective Experience

Seyyedeh Pegah Rezazade
Translated by Ruhollah Golmoradi


The first part of report of Research Method Workshop in Oral History was on "Oral History- A Resource for Collecting Historical Information Through Interview". The second and final part of this workshop will be followed.

Soheila Safari was the workshop lecturer. She said the other issue is hypothesis. Some would like to disparage positivist aspect of a subject that one can say humanities refer to it as a claim. However, hypothesis or claim is a preliminary answer to the main research question that researcher, supported by careful studies and initial observations and interactions, gives a short answer to the question. Hypothesis is also applicable both in analytical and educational research. Through hypothesis, some also enter field of theorizing. We have three categories, namely action, purpose, and importance, which is actually result and utility of a research. Importance of a research signifies value of research theory. That is to say, what scientific ambiguities and historical aspects of our subject do we want to clarify by conducting our research. So as far as scientific credibility of a research is concerned, we're actually talking about its importance. But usefulness of the research is about value of a practice that is done in form of research and that what is its practical usage and in what part of society to be used. Some research is applied research and mostly are included in natural sciences. But humanities often refer to strategic rather than applied science. Purpose of research is nothing but confirming hypothesis or original claim. As a test and causal relationship, the researcher wants to prove his hypothesis is true or false. As a result, our goal of our research is nothing but testing our claims.


Oral history scholar is not a journalist

Next issue is research literature; that is expressing previous research on the research question. In this section, researcher proves that he is researching a new problem by presenting and criticizing previous research. The research problem is divided into two parts. One section introduces research that have already been done on topic of the research, and the other is what is the difference between our research and previous research. The next part is designing interview questions. Because we also interview in oral history. The main part is to raise interview questions. Interview questions are dynamic part of oral history and interview. Because apart from general questions, interviewees are also asked by minor points and these questions are different in meeting each person and some of them are, of course, the same. We can compile them, and these questions help the interview to be proceeded in a proper framework. But again based on interviewee's expertise and fully aware of the subject and generally process of interview itself, the interview questions differ from other interviewees. Within interviewee's conversations, the interviewer can ask new questions. There are several classifications for interview. For example, structured interview and group interview can be mentioned. In another classification we have extensive and group interview. Other division is between well-planned and designed specific questions and questions that are not predetermined; in these questions, subjects and themes are determined and questions are raised and advanced on the basis of topics and dialogues between interviewer and interviewee. In fact, depending on the subject, method, time, and purpose of oral history research we can use a combination of the two methods to get the best results. Proper research design shows which method is best to use. Another classification, which is quite general, raises as five questions of when, where, why, what, how, and a series of questions with descriptive and investigative approach. These work both in designing question and in formulating the so-called research proposal. It is better for the interviewer to internalize the five-question outline. Because it completely affects quality of interview. For example, interviewee may not describe an event exactly in terms of time or place, but if interviewer mind is ready to ask questions where and when immediately, and summarize the collected information more accurately. Oral history researcher is not journalist to seek expose. The oral history researcher is seeking jangle, not titbit news. He seeks to understand dynamics of life and indicators that she/he uses them to enrich his/her ideas that are well known to all. Feature of oral history researcher is in the way he/she arranges and synthesizes subject and making them tangible. His understanding does not come from social affairs and from new events he has discovered, but from new relationships. In fact, the main task of oral history researcher is to give a clearer meaning to the known events. Remember, we offer interviews as a means to avoid prejudices and mental records and illusions; whereas journalist uses a superficial way that can help to reinforce prejudices. Therefore, it is crucial for the research to enrich interviews with successive studies and field research. Although oral history interview is first and foremost a way of gathering information in the full sense of the word, but the researcher's mind must be constantly awake so that his or her conversations can enrich process of the interview with elements of analysis that he/she possesses. Oral history is expression of an individual experience that must be passed on and transformed it into a collective experience.



First-hand sources: Eyewitness’s account of events

The next topic to be discussed is selection of interviewers. Usually, the researcher. at the stage of formulating proposal and based on quality of research which is done, reach people whom are identified for the interview. But surely number of such people will definitely change during the interview. There are generally three ways to extract interviewees. Simple method, snowball method and theory method. In simple method, we use available or volunteer people. In this way, people may have little knowledge and therefore detailed information will usually not be received. In snowball method, referred to as network or chain method, we introduce the first people who have been selected in the simple way and have participated in the interview, valuable and more knowledgeable people. Interacting in this method is better because there is a clear difference with simple people and simple method. The theory method is based on purpose. That is, participation begins in the interview in the simple form and then expands with snowball method and eventually theory method is formed. Oral history researcher seeks to purposely and with identifying type of information he or she seek to do interview. There is library method, documentary method, and field method to gather information. Library method is using library and its contents include book and journal resources. Documentary method, like library method, is a general use of documents and papers, using a computer and a microform. Field methods also include interview, questionnaire, observation and test. Photo and video documentaries, of course, if collected by the researcher, are common in field method, but if archives are to be referred, they are called documentary and library methods. If oral history at the interview stage advances as a field method, it is a field method. Resources are divided into two categories in terms of importance and credibility. First-hand sources and second-hand sources. The first-hand sources are report of eyewitness of events narrated by someone who witnessed the event and participated in it. A number of authors themselves have observed the event or recorded their pen and history with help of government documents and papers or other narrators according to importance of the subject. In history resources, parts of the writer work and portions they themselves has presented are first-hand sources. In contemporary era, newspapers, night letters, memoirs, documents, archival and electronic documents, and audio-visual sources are also added to these first-hand sources. Secondary sources are sources of research and works written a long time after events and using first-hand sources. In this section, creators themselves are not observer and eyewitness. An important issue about doing interview through sources is criticizing resource. Critique of sources also includes two fields of internal and external critique of narrator and internal and external critique of narrative. The narrator external critique includes examining narrator's personal and family identity issues. It should also be considered that there is a time and space gap between narrator and narrative and they should be recorded accurately. In fact, historical context and situation of the narrator is important to a researcher of oral history. The inner critique of narrative includes what narrator intended to tell his/her narrative. That what are the narrator's interests, expectations, and needs that is very important in its part? External criticism of narrative includes authenticity of narrative as to whether script, type of language, paper, and style of writing of the book are consistent with the narrator's time and culture. Internal criticism of the narrative includes a true understanding of meaning of narrative. These are generalities I presented shortly, and all of these certainly show themselves in research and in practice, bringing us to new challenges and sometimes changing our findings and give us new solutions.


Q & A

After the lecture, a number of invitees asked Safari their questions. One of them, Robabeh Motagedi, said: "I have read several scientific-research oral history articles in cyberspace. I haven’t understood the difference between oral history and interview correctly? When can we tell an interview as oral history? When can we refer to it as a source of oral history? If we do a research in our historical research, should it be referred to as a regular interview or a part of oral history?

Soheila Safari responded her, "Oral history should be based on research. The interview is a part of it and is done based on research. The research and historical perspective we have on the subject of interview makes our interview a historical resource. If not, this would be an interview that most journalists do. Goals and works that are done during interview process will make the interview an oral history and separate it from the other interviews.”

Motagedi asked again, "You referred to discourse analysis in a qualitative and quantitative way. These two methods have a definite source in historical research. Is it the same in oral history research method? And interview in oral history are among which of these methods?” Safari responded: "Oral history is generally a qualitative method. We at methodology stage say the researcher must have a qualitative mindset." Another audience added: "Oral history is done only through interview. The source produced by interview is called oral history. Interview must be conducted consciously and with agreement.” Safari also added at the end: "In defining oral history, method of collecting history data is done through interview. To produce an oral history source we conduct a background research. A prior researcher does the interview, and someone as a posteriori researcher uses the produced source."

Mostafa Nouri also added as the final word: "explanation that you presented in terms of methodology is structural. From a part, you got completely into methodology of history. Some of explanations are essentially discussion of research in history and not related to oral history. The same discussion of internal and external criticism, narrator and narrative in field of oral history really makes me think whether we can relate these to each other or not? In my opinion, what is important in methodology is that oral history research, in research section, clearly defines problem and purpose, and the rest show itself in practice."

The end


Research Method Workshop in Oral History-1



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