Is Oral History an Art?

Compiled by: Hamid Qazvini
Translated by: Fazel Shirzad


One of the questions facing researchers over time is whether history is a science or a phenomenon of art? A question that has different philosophical answers.

In raising this question, Professor Motahari says: “History books have two flaws. One is that most historians were hired by the powers of the time, so they wrote history in their favor. Second, the historians had a national, religious or any other bias that wrote the events according to their beliefs, without writing lies. It’s like drawing only beauties or only ugliness when drawing a face; this face is not true. This is because some have said: history is not a science, but an art, because science means discovering events as they were, and art means making something as we want. Every historian is an artist for himself, that is, he made history according to his own will. Philosophically speaking, the artefact of a historian has substance and form; honest historians have not interfered in the material, but they have changed the form. Historians, who are not trustworthy, have changed the matter and form together.”[1]

Regardless of which of these definitions we agree with and without wanting to enter into phenomenological discussions, we should pay attention to this question from a methodological point of view, what is the relationship between the art of the oral history researcher and this goal? Indeed, to what extent is his art and power influential in the formation of the text, and is this influence merely a matter of appearance or is it also involved in the meaning and content?

It is clear that from the first moments of the interview to the final compilation of the text and its publication, the researcher’s art plays a decisive role in all stages and represents a form of truth according to his recognition and ability. Of course, the more this work proceeds in a more researched and targeted process, the more reassuring it is, in this way, we should not forget that oral history relies on the art of the researcher and the narrator’s narration, and its output will add to the society’s knowledge reserve, which provides the basis for scientific exploitation. Just as every written document relies on the taste and taste of its creator at the time of production, and on the way of research and reading, it relies on the knowledge and discernment of the researcher, and this feature will never be far from the way of encountering any historical work.

Therefore, it should be noted that although there are questions in the evaluation and verification of the oral history text like any other historical text; but the final output cannot remain without the taste and art of the oral history writer. For this reason, it has been observed many times that the rules used in each work of oral history are different from other works, because the conditions and contexts of the work and the topic under discussion have their own requirements, and it is the author’s art that brings out the final product.


[1] Motahari, Morteza, Philosophy of History, Vol. 1, Sadra Publications, p. 125


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