Significance of interaction between local history and oral history in compiling local writing

Abolfazl HassanAbadi (PhD)
Translated by: M. B. Khoshnevisan


Compilation as a final product of many interviews has been noticed by the individual or collective projects of oral history. Compilation in oral history depends on a variety of factors, such as the policy making of the centers, the compiler, and the type of interview. This article deals with the relationship between local history and oral history and its impact on compilation in order to address issues such as the nature of local history and the function of oral history in local history research, the difference between oral local writing and oral history. Also, we should try to pay attention to different aspects of the subject in preparing the mechanism for the correct compilation of oral history in local history research.

A review of the history of research shows that the formation and development of oral history in Iran in the last more than a decade, has made great progress in terms of concepts and functions, topic finding and interviews in oral history, but in the field of compilation in oral history, although two conferences have been held by the Center for Parliament Documents and Library in 2012 and by the Institute for Contemporary Historical Studies and Research [Institute for Iranian Contemporary Historical Studies] in 2014 in collaboration with the Iranian Oral History Association, it has not led to the preparation of a specific text and manuscript. In the field of foreign sources, it has been less paid attention comparing to other oral history resources. The first important work in this field is Transcribing and Editing Oral History (Baum, 1991) by Mrs. Willa Baum, who has a rather transcribing approach and has not explained much about editing. The article of Mrs. Shops in the field of compilation in oral history is important due to her professional record and the workshops she have held (Shops, 2011). It seems that editing has been considered more of a matter of taste and there is less inclination to offer even experiences about it globally. The research method in the present article is a library method and an attempt is made to study various aspects of the subject using internal and external sources and a case study.

Interaction of local history with oral history and its impact of compilation

The need to transfer and introduce information is one of the most important areas of converting speech into text and transcribing oral history interviews. Linda Shopes mentions three types of editing in oral history; biographical compilation, a cross-sectional compilation of various interviews collected under a general heading, and a participatory oral history based on theory, as he emphasizes the role of theory in the compilation of oral history (Shopes, 2011, pp. 15-17). Also, Nouraee lists individual interviews, combined interviews with descriptive structure and group interviews with challenging structure under different types of compilation (Nouraei, 2007 p. 118). In the 1990s, M. Frisch believed that oral history depended on the stages of its implementation and classification of information, and less attention was paid to the results and descriptions of the interviews, and the importance of theorizing in the compilation was not taken into account (Frish, 1990, p.162).

Local history is considered as one of the stages of historiography in contemporary history. it is possible in local history to provide the grounds for promotion and understanding of the general history of society by providing a basis for recognizing the family, class, ethnic and racial groups and many other historical details. Local history, which is popular because of the type of activity and its linguistic form (Samuel, 1976, p. 192), may be related to many stories and legends among the people that are unbelievable and not recorded anywhere (Danielson, 1980, p.76). This information may not have much historical value, but it does make a complex connection between the human spirit and the duties of a local writer. Sometimes, teaching how small communities live in a large environment is introduced through these stories and myths and a way is given to maintain its importance and structure (Serikaku, 1989, p. 3).

Greber considers local history as a way for building the society through reviewing its recent history and that people bring society together using a common past and provide a better way to understand the place. Local history tells us what is necessary for the history of a city or an area, so it is an opportunity to discover ways in the past that help shape today (Greber, 1979, p. 66). Local history gives more access to history in a society that grows in proportion to the growth of the interests of history and brings to the fore the events and traditions that have shaped our thoughts in the past (Moffatt, Rich, 1952, p. 87).

By collecting the life history of the individuals in the context of historical activities and situation that have occurred in the past, oral history within local history is trivial information from the events that cover the surrounded society in a social environment. Alessandro Portelli believes that Oral history tells us not just what people did, but what they wanted to do, what they believed they were doing, what they now think they did (Portelli, 1988, p. 68). It also helps people who are often ignored in the lower strata of society and have no role in the structure of the official history of society, to have a more accurate understanding of the past, and presents the future to the audience (Perks, Thompson, 2006, p. 32).

In view of the nature and function of oral history, it can be used extensively in the field of local history research. A local project can gather a large volume of information about social behaviors, personal views, and oral traditions, including customs, joys, sorrows, illnesses, sufferings, and related events (Danielson, 1980 p. 68) Local histories have been composed of a large number of stories and oral traditions that provide the grounds for its connection with other fields (Ives, 1920, p.103). Traditional oral sources are directly related to local histories, and the collected oral history words that have been prepared in the field of customs can have an important effect on the localization of local thoughts and ideas and its regional connection (Gates, 1974, p.25) Many oral history projects in recent years have been based on oral traditions, customs, and the content of local history (Crawford, 1974, p. 25), translating the language of illiterate and uneducated societies from oral to written and scientific language with comprehensive meanings - from within societies, not from the outside - is one of the tasks of oral history that can be practiced by academic folklorists. Dorson, an active folklorist in the field of oral history, believes that there is a common path between oral history, folklore, and history in reviewing the local history of an area on a variety of topics such as myths, stories, sorrows, joys, and ethnic prejudices (Dorson, 1969, p. 197) which one can revive a personal sense of history in civilized societies and highlight the role of the people in this process through cooperation between the two groups.

In view of the presented definitions, local history and oral history with regard to communicating with the society and paying attention to the people's historical demands have many commonalities which have direct impact on the final compilation of the presented content and can be categorized in two separate areas as follows:

* In the field of academic research, they examine the historical past with a historiographical approach. This field of research is related to resources that are citational in nature. Oral history data is collected according to specific standards, and local history is not about describing and addressing generalities, but about critical understanding of history.

*In the field of studies related to people's normal life in which various and contradictory information exist. The information gathered in this area is interesting and worth hearing, but has less historical validity and citation. The interaction of oral history in the field of compilation is the same connection that Dorson believes that if folklorists go beyond the nature of gender and class, and that oral historians go beyond working on political or economic elites, they can have common activities in a variety of subjects such as prejudice, rumors, fears, and hatreds, resentments and loyalties. The data collected in this type of collaboration are fundamentally different in terms of output form, language, structure, type of content and, of course, purpose and nature. In this type of compilation, oral history researchers unanimously agree what distinguishes oral history from written history is orality, narrative form, subjectivity (as opposed to objectivity), the relationship between the interviewer and the narrator, and so on.

In compiling thematic outputs of oral history, due to the problematic nature and type of information obtained, it is possible to document the data obtained, while in the second type of data, much information has been obtained through the second and third intermediaries and it is not possible to document the content which can be referred to as local oral writing.

The third type of compilation in oral history arises from the mixing of two other structures, which is usually possible in large local oral history projects. In cases where the history of a town is examined, a pile of formal, informal, documented, and undocumented information are gathered that shape locative identity with each other and have a practical necessity in the final compilation of the history of that place.

Status of compilation of History in Iranian local oral history

A study of the compilation of local oral history in Iran shows that these compilations have been carried out under several main topics:

*Islamic Revolution: The most important status of oral history in local compilation is the Islamic revolution. The compilation approach in this field is governmental and most of the activities carried out are supportive and have a descriptive-historical and taste structure. One of the most important compiling activities of these centers is the works of the Institute for Organizing and Publishing the Works of Imam Khomeini, which has launched programs called "Memories" to document the local history of the Islamic Revolution since 1998. The first series of these books is "Khomein in the Revolution" compiled by Mr. Mohammad Javad Moradinia and other works such as Shiraz in the Revolution (Moradi Khalaj, 2013) and Tabriz in the Revolution (Behboodi, 2004) were gradually carried out and mainly include the books that are published in different parts of the country under oral history and memoirs. The compilation approach of these works is almost clear with a style guide that is explained at the beginning of the works and has caused the texture to be almost uniform in these works. The history of the city and its historical status have been explained in most of the works of local oral history.

*Also, the Islamic Revolution Document Center has paid special attention to compilation of local oral history in the recent decade. The release of books on the local history of the revolution is not as large and important as other works of the center, and it does not have a written program for research and publication like the institute. Among the published books, we can mention the Islamic Revolution in Sabzevar (Shamsabadi, 2011) and the Islamic Revolution in Hamedan (Mo'men, 2007).

*The history of war: The imposed war is of great importance in Iran because it has widely covered and influenced the living conditions in many parts of the country. Various areas in Iran have been involved in the issue at different levels and different conditions. Some of the documentaries about the history of the war include local information. Most local oral data have been brought under the memoirs of the IRGC top officials and commanders, and there is few information revolving around the histories of important cities such as Dezful.

*In recent years, researchers have paid more attention to local history books through oral history for documenting local history. These researchers often use oral history incompletely and in the context of gathering a pile of descriptive-historical information, and usually do not investigate the accuracy of the information. Descriptive compilation of local oral history is one of the most important goals of these researchers, and of course, oral history data in the absence of historical documents shapes an important part of their information. In addition to historical writings, many books focusing on anthropology, social history, and sociology have been written by interested researchers, one of the most important information structures of which is oral history data, which has an unknowingly local approach to the use of information collection.

* Compilation of oral history of local dignitaries: One of the important sources that has been considered under valuable local history is the memoirs of local dignitaries. These memories usually begin with a biography and description of the person's place of residence and continue with his or her actions. Most interviews that have been compiled in the field of the war and revolution or personal memoirs are somehow related to local oral data. The information is basically compiled on the basis of tastes of the institutions, editors, or the wishes of the interviewers. 


The significance of paying attention to compilation of local oral history and oral historiography depends on the nature of local information, its structure and the nature of oral history information; In fact, the information that cannot be written and emotions that do not fit in the form of writing. One of the distinguishing features of audio and written texts is the emphasis on content in audio texts and the difference between the nature of oral history and oral memoirs and the fact that oral history has a direct effect on compilation. The critical nature of oral history and the descriptive nature of oral historiography depend on the audience, the clients, the execution of the projects, the type of subject, the impact and the method of collection. Perspective and method in compiling local oral history, which is based on analysis or description and information, is related to the nature of first-hand oral sources, second-hand sources, formal and informal information, and at the same time, it is under the influence and inter-disciplinary interaction such areas as local history and anthropology. Subject in local history is also important in compilation of oral history or oral historiography, and matters such as the commercialization of local history, the localization of information and audiences, diversityism, and expectations are effective in compiling local history. It seems that nothing has been explained about the nature and structure in compiling oral local books or local oral history books, and a pile of oral data resulted from standard and non-standard interviews is dumped into a large container of local history, without having any awareness on the communicative nature and structure of local history and oral history and its importance in making a decision on the type of research and compilation.[1]


-Behboodi, Hedayatollah (2004), Tabriz in Revolution, The Institute for Organizing and Publishing the Works of Imam Khomeini, Orooj Publication Institute.

- Shamsabadi, Hasan, (2011) Islamic Revolution in Sabzevar, Tehran, Islamic revolution Document Center

-Moradi Khalaj, Mohammad Mehdi (2013), Shiraz in Revolution, Tehran, the Institute for Organizing and Publishing the Works of Imam Khomeini, Orooj Publication Institute

-Mo'men, Abolfat'h (2007), Islamic Revolution in Hamedan – Tehran: Islamic Revolution Document Center.

Nouraee, Morteza (2007), An Introduction to Editing in Oral History, Treasury of Documents, 118: (66) 17.

- Baum, will K (1991). Transcribing and Editing Oral History. American Association for State and Local History.

- Crawford, Charles W (1974). Oral History: The State of the Profession. The Oral History Review, Vol. 2.

- Danielson, Larry (1980). The Folklorist, the Oral Historian, and Local History. The Oral History Review, Vol. 8.

- Dorson, Richard M (1969). A Theory for American Folklore Review. American Folklore, Vol 72.

- Frish, Michael (1990). Oral History, Documentary, and the Mystification of Power: A Critique of Vietnam: A Television History, in A Shared Authority: Essays on the Craft and Meaning of Oral and Public History Albany. State University of New York Press.

- Gates, Barbara T (1974). Words Worths Use of Oral History. Folklore, Vol. 85.No. 4.

- Gerber, David A (1979). local and Community History: Some Cautionary Remarks on Idea whose time has Returned. History teacher, vol 3, No 1.25.

- Ives, William (1920). The 1913 Disaster Michigan Local Legend. Folklore Forum, Vol. 3.

- Moffatand, Maurice P& Rich, Stephen G (1952). The Place of Local History in Modern Education. Journal of Educational Sociology, Vol. 26, No.2.

- Perks, Robert& Thompson, Alistair (2006). The Oral History Reader. second Edition, London: Routhadge.

- Portelli, Allessandro (1988). what makes oral history different. Index oral History Reader, ed. Robert Perks and Alistar Thompson. New York: Routledge.

- Samuel, Raphael (1976). Local History and Oral History. History Workshop, No. 1.

- Serikaku, Laurie R (1989). Oral History in Ethnic Community Oral History Review. Vol 17. No 1.


[1] Dr. Abolfazl Hasanabadi, Scientific Professional Bi-Quarterly of Oral History, fourth years, Issue 7, the Documents Research Center of the National Library of Iran, spring and summer of 2018, PP. 218-225


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