Virtual Workshop of Principles of Oral History

Thought; Missed Part in Oral History

Maryam Asadi Jafari
Translated by Ruhollah Golmoradi


Mohammad Ghasemipoor emphasized in "Virtual Workshop of Principles of Oral History": If the researcher in this field does not have the power to express himself, to listen well, to overcome embarrassment, to have power of negotiation and effective confrontation, he will be deprived of the main element of oral history, namely the interview. But the skill we are unaware of and pay less attention to is skill of thinking. Oral history researcher must know all criteria and elements of thinking. Thinking is sometimes lost and absent. It is a skill that must be learned. An oral history researcher must be thinker and know how to do it."

According to Iranian Oral History Website, "Virtual Workshop of Principles of Oral History" was guided and taught by Mohammad Ghasemipoor and with help of Resistance Culture and Studies Office of Hamadan’s Hozeh Honari on Thursday evening (April 16, 2020).

The workshop was conducted experimentally in a WhatsApp group, and the instructor shared audio files related to oral history topics, respectively, in the group, and attendees asked their questions online and received their answers at the same time.


Prerequisite skills for oral history

 Mohammad Ghasemipoor, director of Office of Resistance Culture and Studies in affairs of provinces of Hozeh Honari, reviewed oral history definition at the beginning of the workshop, saying, "Oral history has long existed as a way to pass on oral tradition and transmitting memories by word of mouth, but beginning of oral history in the scientific and methodical sense dates back to the second half of twentieth century. Since 1945, after being pervasive using recorder, a group of Columbia University psychologists during research after World War II in United States on situation and mood of captives of the war, in clinical interviews with those aimed at planning their leisure time, found that the statements made in these conversations had a historical identity and nature. While, these statements are less common in writings such as newspapers. So they provided Columbia University's Department of History with interviews with more than 300 prisoners. In this way, formation of stream of oral history was started, which was later considered in other universities and it devoted to field research on events and incidents of twentieth century. Method of oral history is a method of historical research. This method is based on receiving oral information and memories. In fact, in a sense, memories are the main source for oral history; Memories that are recorded in facing with owners of the memories through dialogue.

Researchers need a range of prerequisite sciences and skills to perform oral history that must be mastered and familiarized with them both quantitatively and qualitatively. The most important of these, without particular order, are self-knowledge or self-awareness, which is emphasized in religious thoughts and is referred to in modern science as anthropology. It's important to know yourself in every way. Self-conscious understanding leads to genuine human cognition. A person cannot identify another person unless he knows him/herself well. In dealing with people, you need to know and be aware of all the spiritual, physical, social, and moral aspects of yourself. Anthropology introduces us to human interests, tastes, and spirits, and this skill and knowledge is a prerequisite for an oral history interview. The next science is methodology. Every science, knowledge and skill has a methodology. Oral history, as a completely systematic and instrumental method, has a methodology that must be adapted to the work of oral history. Being master in history and geography, at the extent of indigenous and biological geography and contemporary history or its generalities, is surely essential for a researcher of oral history. The social sciences and sociology are well-applied and decisive sciences in oral history. Psychology is also approximate to issue of self-knowledge, which has already been mentioned. But independently, psychology should be considered as a science that studies human nature. Persian literature and mother tongue, its characteristics and being skillful in its writing, speech and grammar are very important. Finally, communication skills are of particular importance in two general forms of nonverbal and verbal. If the researcher in this field does not have the power to express himself, to listen well, to overcome embarrassment, to have power of negotiation and effective confrontation, he will be deprived of the main element of oral history, namely the interview. But the skill we are unaware of and pay less attention to is skill of thinking. Oral history researcher must know all criteria and elements of thinking. Thinking is sometimes lost and absent. It is a skill that must be learned. An oral history researcher must be thinker and know how to do it."


Hastiness has no meaning in oral history

In the next audio file, reiterated that interview is the most important element of oral history, Mohammad Ghasemipoor noted: "interview is mainstay and main basis for formation of oral history. Creating oral document is actually done through an interview. Major education and studies in field of oral history, meaning method and tools of research in history, focus on interviews. We need to work and being experienced years in interviewer's techniques and abilities in recognizing interviewee's characteristics, so that this determinant element of oral history to be formed correctly. Oral history is different from media-press affairs, all kinds of audio-visual media, and most importantly, memory-writing. Advantage of oral history over media affairs is that in no way does haste and speed make sense in it; that is, oral history does not depend on any media waiting for news and content. Oral history is a scientific work with enough time and patience. Work of historical research must be done with patience. Another difference between oral history and memory and memory-writing is that if recording memories in all its details is provided solely by the narrator, it is a monologue. That is, owner of memory says whatever he/she remembers. But oral history provides a content that is produced in companionship of interviewer and interviewee. That is, two experiences, two knowledge, and two points of view are put together to form a content and document with a focus on challenging questions and based on dialogue. Memory is a kind of monologue. Spirit of selfishness, individuality and monologue of owner of memory is evident in it. But oral history is a kind of dialogue. Two people produce an oral document through a conversation. If interviewer is weak and does not play its effective role, memory is actually produced. That is, narrator says whatever she/he remembers."


Question and asking; strategy of an oral history researcher

In the continuance of “Virtual Workshop on Principles of Oral History,” explaining goals of oral history and a good interview, Mohammad Ghasemipoor stated: "goal of a researcher in researching oral history is to discover and reach the truth, personal understanding, explanation and description. But understanding, discovering, and getting to the truth can also be a researcher's strategy, which is referred to as "inquiry." An oral history researcher should be able to ask and ask questions as much as possible. The goal of oral history is to create knowledge, to better understand and describe times and events that we have not been there and we are curious about. To simplify interview process in oral history, it is divided into three phases: pre-interview phase, during interview, and after interview. This division is more concerned with actions and activities that researcher of oral history must do. Principled actions before the interview are less common. Most people, with their self-confidence, experience, and ability, quickly coordinate an interview and put themselves in live stream of the interview. We should never put ourselves in live stream of an interview without an introduction, without knowledge, and without pre-interview actions. The most important activities before the interview until its start are a brief study of subject of the central event, incident or period of our work. That is, we need to study written sources, both written and visual, on that subject as much as possible. The prerequisites I mentioned at the beginning of the session are used at this stage. After reading additional information, it is important to review and inquire about the interviewee. We should talk to one or two people who know the narrator. It is helpful to know people's moods, behaviors, and reactions, problems and shortcomings, harms and capabilities before encountering the interviewee. We need to be fully aware of technical equipment and facilities for interview. We had examples where interviewer could not turn on tape recorder; the reason was that it was new and that it had been received recently, which is not interesting at all. Before the interview, we should test sound recorder device. Pre-interview actions are like a file in interviewer's mind that makes the file stronger every day, based on knowledge and experience he/she gains. Before we go to an interview session, think about what we need to take with ourselves. Listing, arranging, and taking all interview session requirements are very essential. I've heard a lot in audio files that interviewer says there's a book with your photo printed on it. I wish I bring it with myself. This is the document that we must have prepared and taken to the interview session if we had thought about it beforehand. It is important to bring photos, maps and sometimes some objects to the interview session. Perhaps an object reminds the narrator of an accident. Sometimes seeing a photo is effective for rationalizing or remembering a memory, and based on the photo the narrator would have a lot to say about it. Fate of interview depends entirely on performance and capabilities of interviewer; that is, everything in this section depends on type of researcher's performance. The post-interview section will also be process, compilation, adjustment, writing, and library readings, which are again of interviewer's tasks.”


The difference between the narrator's tone in oral history and story

The director of the Office of Resistance Culture and Studies of the Hozeh Honari’s Provincial Affairs said it was necessary to consider ethical and legal aspects of oral history for publication, and added: "These requirements do not mean security strictness, censorship and auditing. Sometimes up to 50 years is not considered history and its scope is set back 50 years to the past. Because in contemporary period, there are no stabilized and final conditions. For example, if we want to publish events of 1970s (1350s SH) onwards in a city, many people are alive in these periods. Children and grandchildren of those outstanding characters are present. We have limitations in our conventional culture that have nothing to do with sharia. It is not interesting to reveal today fear of a person who was afraid of war and struggle for any reason. So sometimes it's because of these limitations that our narrators don’t say everything completely, and researcher comes to the truth with research. Public disclosure, therefore, has such considerations. It has been proven that the best way to record memories and events is oral history. Because a small percentage may write their memories. This writing is a matter of personal taste and is sometimes written from their own point of view. But when the narrator is placed in a dialogue space, mutual talk and dialogue is formed, and two knowledge are confronted. Wherever interviewee forgets, the other person reminds. This method has worked and we do not insist on release it fast. It is important that oral history perpetuates experienced areas and memories as well as human knowledge and social approaches and actions through interviews. The main problem we have in writing space is lack of accurate knowledge and identification of writing styles and formats. That is, word of oral history is published on cover of many works, but format and style is something else. This does not harm science or method of oral history. An executive problem is created by publisher, author, and producers in not knowing style and format that needs to be corrected later. Many oral memories are published; in the form that it was an oral history interview, but questions are omitted, parts they do not like are omitted, people mentioned in the book are neglected, and finally, an excerpt from an interview by a person that an author compiled it is called oral history! Some give an individual interview to an author. The author also comes from space of novel and story writing, makes thirty percent of oral narrative as basis of a long narrative, and then start with his/her own literary creature. Again, they write oral history on the cover. The tone and language of narrator in oral history, as expressed in interview, must be seen in the output. That is, we cannot change tone and language of narrator. The tone and language of a character indicate its social and cultural position and personality. How is it that we have so many oral history books or oral memories that the narrator speaks like an academician? How is it that a narrator who is literate under fifth grade of elementary school and when he/she is talking to you show this, but in the book she/he speaks like a university lecturer?! Such manipulation has taken place in narrator's tone and language, and has taken the book miles away from oral history. So today our main problem is the turmoil in the publication arena."


Magnificent works of oral history published without permission of narrator

As the virtual session continued, Mohammad Ghasemipoor shared another audio file on importance of preserving legal and moral aspects in field of oral history, and said: "Formatology and stylistics are not done properly. Sometimes we are not honest in introducing format. But there are exceptions that have worked with style and framework of oral history, but one or two principles have not been observed. For example, the collection published by National Document Center of Iran, focusing on the Pahlavi dynasty. Narrators of this collection often live abroad. Interviews have been conducted in the United States, researched and written, and also added footnotes in Iran, photos have been selected for it, and basic and technical measures has been done. But one standard has not been met, and that is that the output has not been seen by the narrators. The interviewee must see result of the work, confirm its accuracy, and consent to release it. This collection is very glorious and weighty, and a lot of effort has been made for it, but none of them have been shown to narrative owners during preparation stage, and they have been published without informing them. Now most narrators have something to say about these books and say we want talking about additions to the work or what has been written in the footnotes. This collection cannot be a model legally and morally. Of course, 80% of it can be modeled, such as good editing and compiling. We always recommend that show your work to the narrator surely. In verification phase, the narrator will play a complementary role. Sometimes a memory error occurs, but now it searches and corrects its error. Another point is that there is nothing wrong with using oral history findings. That is, a novelist, a storyteller, a poet, a screenwriter, a playwright, and even an animator can use an oral history project. One can even write some of narrations and text-speeches of an documentary based on an oral history project. But what is important in this transfer and adaptation from oral history is that to say honestly we used this source. This product cannot be called oral history. One has put a dialogue and interview which was conducted by using oral history as basis of writing a novel and named it oral history! This mix and amalgamate formats and styles is not good. Otherwise, it is always said that oral history is a product that 110 disciplines and literary genres can use. Trainings needs to be strengthened to avoid this confusion and distinct between memory and oral history to be clear."


Be oral history interviewer not memory-writer

Ghasemipoor clarified about characteristics of interviewer of oral history: "If interviewer of oral history would be passive and silent, in fact that is memory which is occurred. When the narrator is the only speaker and the interviewer is like a recorder operator in front of him/her, and she/he just listens and thanks in the end, we call him/her a "memory-writer," not "researcher of oral history." Oral history is active. Its practitioner argues and does not accept every word easily, and he/she wants the interviewee to argue and explain. When he/she hears something fabulous, doesn't accept it quickly. We have researchers who were surprised when a narrator defined a cinematic event! Many of those who returned from the war have been away from the battlefield for more than 30 years, and in the meantime, television and cinema have addressed the war and reminded it for them. Today, when we listen to their narrative, they are influenced by cinema. It is your art to take the narrator to depths of memories to narrate for you in a space free of visual influences. About actions during the interview, researcher of oral history should make the space suitable for interview; a conversation that proceeds calmly and the two sides talk in a common interaction to achieve those goals and strategies in a logical way. Some interviewers do not know how to get the conversation to proper way and goal. Otherwise, the narrator says what he/she likes. In fact, one of the reasons that interview to go out of proper process is professional weakness of interviewer. Therefore, the interviewer's mastery of conversation and familiarity with types of interviews is very important and effective. We need to know techniques and methods of speaking, and verbal and nonverbal communication skills. One of the key points in an interview is how to end it. An interview should end at a crucial moment; especially in serial interviews. There are some specialized phrases in interview that need to be considered.

How to start a good interview? Through oral history interview, we create a kind of oral document; we must make an identity for our document. An interview must have a document. When an audio file starts playing, we need to know who is talking to whom on what date, and on what subject. If the characteristics are not available, our document does not have an identity. Today there are file editing software, but if this section is not in originally audio file, it is a falsified, defaced, and manipulated document. An original document is a document that contains its identity is available in the file itself. If one likes, mention his/her name and location of interview too. The place is mentioned when there it has a connection with subject of the conversation. For example, narrator wants to talk about his/her friend who is not alive today. So they make an appointment to interview on his/her grave. This place has something to do with the subject. Sometimes it takes practice to give an interview identity. People who haven't done an interview it’s better to write start phase of the interview on paper."


How to start and end a good interview

Mohammad Ghasemipoor's latest audio file was dedicated to how to start and end a good oral history interview as it follows: “the stage of conducting an interview is very important and definitive, and all ability, knowledge and skill of an oral history researcher show itself during interview. That is, by re-hearing an interview, we can assess oral history researcher's knowledge and ability. Interview have a big impact on your career and getting experience. We always jokingly say that one hour of oral history interview advances a person as much as 30 hours of instructional class, and it has decisive experimental product. So look for experience. If you see professional people, ask them question. A good start to the interview is one of the main headings that will lead you to a smooth, accurate and goal-oriented path. Know that the interviewer is the talk guide. A good start requires good communication skills so that you can overcome narrator's frostily and reluctance. After making an identity for the interview, when you make sure the interviewee is ready to start the interview, you press start key. A good start means how we can pave the way for our narrator to speak, answer our questions and our questions find a logical course. How does logical course of questions arise? It is better that the first question should be a general one. Because a partial question requires a short answer and does not warm up the interview. With a general question, you give interviewer a chance to speak for the first time. The general question should be more about the person's condition or introduction. Following the interview, general question is prohibited. We are only allowed to ask general question in one part and that is beginning of the interview. During the interview, we need to being master in a variety of questions, a process of questioning, and a variety of conversations. Because it is during the conversation that questions arise. In fact, they have a close relationship. Questions are divided into open and closed questions. An open question is a question that provides a wide range of answers for the interviewee. That is, it provides a context in which to speak. In the other side, closed questions narrows and limits the scope, and she/he cannot say a one-word answer. It is now clear that we must ask a closed or open question. A closed question is one that requires a one-word answer. Sometimes, nonverbally and by nodding, the answer is marked. In oral history, we need explanation, interpretation, depiction, and description. So we have to ask an open question. Instead of asking, "Are you scared too?" that the narrator is forced to say yes or no; we have to ask, "can you explain what your reaction was and what you did?" In this case, he/she can't say yes or no, and he has to explain. We must keep good and bad questions in mind fully. If we ask a bad question and the narrator gives a one-word answer or nods, it would not be recorded. Later we have find the answer. So we need to know types of conversations. We can get close to all boundaries of dialogue. But its form and rule to be state of oral history interview. Search for different types of conversations. Through dialogue, people display different forms of verbal challenges. Know all the types and use the standard and appropriate part. In the middle of the way, the discussion may lead to controversy. But in the end, we relent in favor of the interviewee and remain silent in favor of the narrator so that he/she to be volunteer. But we guide the interview. Work of oral history as a researcher and interviewer of oral history is an exclusive work. That is, there are style and method of interview as many as people who work in this field. Generalities and main topics are common. We say an interview should have a beginning and an identity, to be cut off in a good place, and we should be master in process of interviews and all kinds of questions. Don't ask bad questions and closed questions. These are trainings. But in status of science and in process of implementation, oral history as a style and method is exclusive to every human being. Each of you has your own way of talking, which is unique to you. Never try to imitate someone and interview like someone. Never try to have a complete pattern of what you see. Because there are individual, age, knowledge, linguistic and mental differences between us. All of these affect our performance. Everyone has to be him/herself. Learn basics and then act on her/his own communication skills, abilities, knowledge, tastes and communication skills. This will result in a lasting and decisive outcome. Those who want to imitate, their work would be wasted. An oral history interview is an online and live event, and two people talk to each other in front of each other. You have to be yourself here. Add your age, literacy, psychology, social consciousness, and all that you have. During the interview, you have to decide smartly and immediately and act."

Date of the second meeting of this virtual workshop will be announced after determining the exact date by the Office of Resistance Culture and Studies of Hamedan’s Hozeh Honari.

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