Oral History Workshop – 4

Difference between memory and oral history

Shahed Yazdan
Translated by M. B. Khoshnevisan


The oral history website is going to provide the educational materials of some oral history workshops to the audience in written form. The present series has been prepared using the materials of one of these workshops. As you will see, many of the provided contents are not original or less said contents, but we have tried to provide categorized contents so that they can be used more.


Difference between memory books and oral history

Unfortunately, many of those who put the name of memory or oral history on a book, do not know the difference between the two; for this reason, we see the same books, some of which have the name of memory and some others are named as oral history.
In "memory" the main element is "narrator"; but in "oral history" the main element is "interview". Because the interviewer is supposed to be convinced, deep questions are asked from the interviewee and he or she starts discussing with him or her. What turns memory into oral history is the discussion that the interviewer has with the interviewee.
A book in which no discussion has happened and in that interview, the interviewer is not convinced is not an oral history!
Some university professors believe that memory has one subject and that is the narrator; but oral history has two subjects; narrator and interviewer.


Wherever the interviewer asked and discussed (and not an argument; an argument is different from a discussion) and was convinced and the inadvertent errors were corrected and eliminated, we can put the title of oral history on the work; but if the narrator only spoke and the interviewer only listened, it is called memory.


Advantages of oral history

• The first benefit of oral history is that it is factory-to-consumer.

For example, an event happened yesterday and the narrator is narrating it today. But in written history, after the document is produced, it takes at least 30 years before it is permitted to be published. Is any document provided or not? Those who were in that event may have passed away; the people who are going to compile it, have no knowledge of the subject and...

• Oral history is the history of unseen people.

For example, in the documents of the IRGC, Jihad, the army, etc., there is not much mention of an ordinary combatant. Most of the names in these documents are the names of high-ranking commanders or different units. It is the same in political, economic, cultural, social, and other documents. Official documents are documents of the heads and the body is not seen in these documents. For this reason, it is said that oral history is people's history and written history is government history.
One of the characteristics of oral history that became popular after the Second World War, with the invention of the tape recorder, was that soldiers were seen fighting in the war, but only the names of the commanders were mentioned. Winston Churchill's memoirs win the Nobel Prize for Literature, but the soldiers who participated in the war are not seen.
•Official history shows the scene, but oral history reveals to us a behind-the-scenes that is both more fascinating and more real.
For instance, in a period, Brigadier General Mohammad Kowsari, the commander of the 27th Division of Mohammad Rasulullah (PBUH), requested 250 masks from the headquarters with a piece of paper. When they went to get the masks, there were fewer masks available and they handed over the ones that were available. Later, when the documents of the 27th division were published, it was stated that on that date, 250 masks were delivered to the 27th division, while this number was not correct.
• Some believe that oral history conveys the spirit of the case, and official history conveys only the body.
For example, when two cars collide, when the police shows up and sketches the accident scene, it is like an official date; but if we inquire about the matter from the point of view of a person who observed this happening from above, we may find out many points about how this accident happened in order to be able to investigate its reasons more completely.

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