Part-6: "The 12th Iranian Oral History Conference"

The memoir-writer who has become a celebrity

Maryam Asadi Jafari
Translated by: Zahra Hosseinian



According to the Oral History Website, at the end of the 12th Iranian Oral History Conference, Alireza Kamri stated about the articles presented at this conference, ‘In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful; there are several points to the papers presented at this meeting: The first point is that a number of participants had not seemingly paid close attention to the title and the meaning of holding such a conference. When it is referred to the ‘Oral History of Industry, Engineering, and Sacred Defense Support’, the overlapping relationship of these words should be taken into account as one topic. Some authors of the articles [if we consider their articles were in the field of oral history] have focused solely on the oral history of industry, or the oral history of engineering, or oral history of support, without considering the relevance of these concepts.

The second point is that in oral history the historical aspect of the topic should be properly addressed. The oral historian’s task is to delve into their topic historically and to research about unseen, unheard, unsaid and unknown, and to see, to investigate, to know and to publicize. In interviews, some declared that the respondent or interviewee sometimes asks, ‘Turn off the recorder, then I’ll tell you’. One of the differences in oral history is hearing and recognizing what has been unsaid. Of course, it is not easy to have access - in particular to publish - events in history. It is easy yet difficult to imitate, but sometimes it even goes to the impossible.

The third point, which should always be focused, is regarding the difference between oral history and written oral memoirs and writing memoirs, let alone providing memoir and reminiscence; and more recently ‘recollection’ has been addressed. In the meantime, the lack of criticism, serious scientific supervising, lack of methodologies and levels of measurement, of course, are obvious. Criticism requires theory and method; most memory-collecting institutions – which often think that their task is in the field of oral history - lack methodology and disregard criticism. They consider themselves free from this meaning. Of course, purely theoretical criticism should be concrete and exemplary. In the dominant atmosphere of praise for memoirs and recollections, criticizing is difficult. Recently, I have encountered a problem in this area of memoir writing, which has slowly evolved to be referred to as "taking selfie with the memories of others". Continuous taking selfie with the memories of others can also lead to ‘the memoir-writer who has become a celebrity’. The intention of going into these issues is not about diminishing the act of writing memoir, but about protecting it and observing the dignity and place of oral history in the scientific sense that it deserves against its similarities, alternatives, and counterparts. My point is not about the ‘cruel criticism’ that some have said and say, but it is an accurate and unceremonious methodical criticism and recognition. Criticism, however, is possible if intellect and having the power of tolerance and freedom to be noticed. To tolerate ‘listening’ is, in fact, the first stage of learning; that is, listening with care and attention, which is prior to ‘saying’. You know that Rumi's Mathnavi as one of the most important mystical books in the Persian literature, but perhaps the most important work in Persian mystical literature, begins with the verb ‘listen’; ‘Listen to this reed how it complains’. The basis of knowledge is in consciousness and the will to ‘listen’, and then to ‘say’. In the name of oral history and by enriching or exaggerating the emotional and dramatic burden of the text, creative memory sometimes is formed with mush. This is not to say that memory should not or must not be regarded as a literary genre; it is not my opinion to deny the combination of story and memory, but rather to criticize it from a historical point of view, because here and this discussion is focused on oral history, as an approach to the study of history, and it is important to pay attention to these details. That is why, in this morning conversation with Dr. Nourai, I said we should go back to the discussions of 2004 again and to see what we meant by ‘oral history’ and how ‘historical knowledge’ is possible. Dr. Tatri also rightly pointed out that oral history is a way to gather and supplement evidence for the historical study of an event or phenomenon. Obviously, the study of history have its own particulars and modes.

During wartime and sacred defense, in fact, people and most social classes had participated in this great event; a war its infrastructure or foundation was popular, religious, revolutionary, and Shiite. Obviously, this enormous event through methodical historical studies with an oral history approach brings us to data which cannot be found in written and formal history. The emergence and prominence of oral history in Iran had been due to this great social movement of revolution and sacred defense. In one of the conference papers, it has quoted from Mr. Rafiqdoust that about 85 percent of the front's supplies were provided through private contributions. This is a very important issue which has historical competence. This is a time of empathy and public unity, self-sacrifice and humaneness, and following the leadership of the revolution. The time when the nation were ready to give sincerely what they had, not to take. The oral history of industry, engineering, and support can show how and why Iranian specialists, with a revolutionary spirit, were engaged fully in this event.

At the end, I would like to thank you for your patience in this meeting. It was supposed I present a separate discussion on the concepts and practices of oral history of industry, engineering, and sacred war or defense support, apart from concluding this meeting, but currently there is no time. I ask God for all of you to be successful and safe. Now I ask Dr. Noura'i to come and to draw a conclusion from this meeting."[1]



Our oral history is very related to war and sacred defense

At the end, Dr. Morteza Nouraei, the scientific secretary of the 12th Iranian Oral History Conference, concluded: "The meeting is to be concluded. However, it may not be complete. If it is to be printed, we will complete it. Because the criticism of our friends on various boards has the capacity of being reflected; as Mr. Kamri said about the criticism of the articles at the end. To conclude, I speak about two aspects, including the inference of some lines of articles and the presentation of lectures. First about discussing topics and second about discussing methods. In the discussion of the method and the ‘observatory’ - which I chose myself, and it means where to find a new topic - one of the important points is that, where it is new and where it is needed and where it is lost and silent worlds, when we want to research. But about topics and what was presented, it was various aspects of construction jihad activities during sacred defense. Government offices were more or less introduced and 12 out of 30 articles were submitted in this regard. We thought there was a lot of information, but unfortunately it was just that. It was nothing, that is, it wasn't paid attention. Some respected speakers noticed this and declared that they had actually put their camera in an observatory where had not been worked before. Indeed, our work has been and continues to be a mission of the Iranian Oral History Association. Discussion of industrial centers, like Isfahan Steel Company, were presented very well and I thank them very much. Popular movements in support of the sacred defense were also presented in two articles, but there are others. For example, we have not researched on popular movements in Isfahan elementary schools. As to contributions of Isfahan elementary schools, we had their letters on the front and sometimes, as a soldier or a member of Basij, read and responded them. There is still no investigation into the private contributions. We hope that in the future, some centers wish to continue it. Dispatches and monographs and the important issue of women's participation during the sacred defense were also discussed. These topics covered the meeting, which seemed to be new and had something to say. We even look for the same dialogues about the bridges in the Jihad discussion, which was the most frequent of the articles, and it is interesting to me that both sides had a great deal to say on the topic and this is a very rare occurrence at conferences. What I mentioned to the secretary of the conference, Mr. Mohsen Kazemi, was that why did you put these two articles [review of books, Zulfaqarieh Front and Bridge, and Strategic Crossing] in two different groups? They said that because one of them is a review, we wanted it is presented more calmly and with better managing. On the content of the methodology, I still emphasize on ‘observatory’. Until we do not observe, cannot determine what method is needed. I believe that every research topic requires its own research methodology. Sometimes requires lots of interview, sometimes less interview. It sometimes needs lots of documents and staff studying, sometimes observational studying and field research and questionnaire. The observatory tells us what to do. In some articles there was a reference to the silent world and the lost worlds. Dr. Fatehi made some markings in the discussion of research, and the collection of Jihad books, published in four or five volumes, illustrates many research fields. The same markings indicate where to start and what to do. Generational communication is one of important functions of oral history. In today’s world and in the postmodern world, communication between generations is a dilemma and oral history tries to open up a dialogue which will be active. However, there is a need for dialogue between generations. What one speaker warned is that the present generation may have no interest in our past. But whether they like it or not, it's part of their past too. The important thing is how to introduce this past. This generational connection may also be necessary to the oral history of jihad and its activities. I do remember that I was in Mashhad. Speaker of the shrine of Imam Reza announced that tomorrow we want to go to harvest wheat and everyone wants to come. Hundreds of people gathered near Mashhad's Jihad tomorrow morning and all got into the cars. We were reaping and working from morning till night. These are signs of patriotism which needs to be strengthened.

Oral history is a field where provokes tastes and should have something to talk about. What I saw in my friends' speech is changing the topic and equalizing oral history with written history. They are not equal or even comparable at all. The nature of oral history depends on written history. That is why it is named ‘future history’ and has no independent character. Oral history is the future history. They write in order the posterity to write better and to know where to write and what matters. Otherwise we will not assign task for oral history. What has happened and said wrong is that we might guide the narrator in the interview, which is protested. They may point to their own reading modes that you consider wrong. They don't even accept your documents. Many interviewees believe that these are not what they said. There are many foreign articles in this field. Now I have another reading mode. This is the property of oral history. Therefore, it is not comparable to the written history. The nature of oral history is independent and should not expect more and compare it. These are together and help to complement the historical memory of society. In her article, Ms. Peimaneh Salehi discusses topics such as the autopsy and the anatomy of managers’ role in these days, which is a matter of today debate. How to know and find a manager, why managers should be known and found, and what is finding and knowing a manager. The plan of ‘Atlas Theory’ and its designing is a fascinating topic and we look forward to see how Mr. Azimi wants to implement it. Designing atlas for research requires the creation of organismic thinking; that is, distribution of topic everywhere. For example, our oral history is very related to war and sacred defense. Although this is interesting, but other areas of oral history in the world are still ignored in Iran. But some movements for writing has been formed in guilds and other groups of society. But when Atlas is provided, it becomes clear where has been less researched and needs to be addressed. One of the speakers stated that he does not think that we necessarily find a lie in the narrator's narrative. This may be because of absence of the mind or anything else. If we prove this, we have ignored the rights of the interview and the interviewee. The world of interviewing and legal affairs, and the world of compiling and legal affairs are still one of our methodological issues and need more attention. Other topics such as the geometry of the topics were also raised. That is, we have to look at issues multilaterally. Each topic may have different aspects. The meeting seemed to be useful and operational. After a year and a half and 20 to 30 pre-meeting sessions, I thought the result was desirable. At a private meeting with Mr. Kamri, we discussed about the pathology of oral history and believed that oral history was not in a good condition, even though it is a new field. Yesterday, a book was handed over to me from one of the universities and the title ‘oral history of the university’ was read on its cover. But, as I flipped through it, just faced with some interviews! You know that oral history is a brand and a market. I don't know how much this released book cost, but it includes raw materials and oral memoirs is not oral history. This debate has been raised by both Mr. Kamri and Mr. Kazemi. Not bad it to be discussed pathologically in the form of one or two roundtables at different provinces. In this regard, there are various misunderstandings which seem another area for pathology which should be opened up. When we call, we come across a huge number of articles which have been submitted without paying attention to the title of call. They just see history, or oral, and/or industry and then send their articles. This is one of problems of our work. At the end, I would like to thank the respected audience, the Iranian Oral History Association and its secretary, members of the board of directors, Department of History of Isfahan University, Isfahan Steel Company, Agricultural Jihad, students and researchers. I appreciate your presence, I learned much from you. I look forward to publishing the articles and hope they will be in your access soon."

‘The Twelfth Iranian Oral History Conference’ was held on December 18, 2019, with the aim of "Explaining the Relevance and Necessity, Recognizing the Role, and Recovery of Oral History Priorities in the Construction Jihad, Industry, Engineering and Sacred Defense Support", by the Iranian Oral History Association, Isfahan University, The Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans of Ministry of Agriculture Jihad, Isfahan Steel Company, at Saeb Hall in Faculty of Literature and Humanities, University of Isfahan.


[1]. Mr. Alireza Kamari delivered this piece of content to the Iranian Oral History Website.

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