Oral History of the Organization of Libraries, Museums, and the Documentation Centre of Astan Quds Razavi

Mohammad Nazarzadeh, Oral history specialist


Debating over the authenticity of oral history is not a new phenomenon, at least not in Iran. Historiography in post-Islam Iran is premised on oral narrations.
Oral history provides a method for collecting, protecting and preserving memoirs, biographies, customs, and other information. This can be done through interviewing well informed people and experts who have had visible presence in political, social, economic and cultural arena. After being processed in different ways such as being transcribed, typed and edited, this data is put into use as an important document alongside written documents.
The fact that written documents cannot tell us everything about the past proves the significance of oral history and gathering information about the contemporary history through interview for most historiographer and scholars.
Everyone has unique memories of her or his life. History basically consists of describing and analyzing the fate of the man in accordance to the degree of their importance. The elite and the mass are both mentioned in history with their collective destinies.
Oral history is a path toward democratizing history and diminishing the gap between the elite and the mass.

An Introduction to Archive and its History:

The archive of oral history is a section of the Documents and Serials of Astan Quds Razavi.
After the establishment of the Document Centre of Astan Quds Razavi, following on from similar institutions, especially the National Library & Archives of IR of Iran, the Oral History Archive started working in the late 1997, as an independent unit, under the supervision of the Document Centre. This section was put under the Indexing section of the Document Centre. The situation remained the same until 2003. When the library''s chart was corrected and the Documentation Office turned into "Management of Documents and Periodicals", the archive section continued its activity as an independent unit from 2004 onwards. This section saw great development the very year based on the results of the studies of "The Study of Oral History Centers Project" and standardization of oral history works.
The archive is working inline with the priorities of the Organization of Libraries as one of oral history centers in Iran through conducting interviews, obtaining historical information and preparing and presenting them to researchers.
During the past twelve years, this section, giving priority to oral history projects of Astan Quds Razavi and the city of Mashhad, has been involved with oral history projects in line with organization needs in the following fields:

A-History of Astan Quds Razavi
1- Political History: It includes the events in the holy sites, or the events that Astan Quds Razavi has been involved with; such as the incident of Gowharshad Mosque and the victory of Islamic Revolution.
2- The History of Buildings: It includes the collection of information about the old fabric of the holy shrine of Imam Reza (AS), the constructions carried out during the recent decade and the changes made in the holy sites such as changes made in the courtyards of the holy shrine.
3- Administrative History: It includes information about the administrative structure of Astan Quds Razavi including the administrative establishment of Astan Quds Razavi, the Central Organization of Astan Quds and, its subsidiary institutions.
4- Cultural History: It includes collection of information concerning the cultural activities of Astan Quds Razavi such as managing the schools and expansion of the culture of religious and Quranic sciences.

B- History of Mashad

1- Political History: It consists of studying the contemporary political events such as the events of September 1941 and the oil national movement and Political associations and parties in Mashhad such as Iranian People Party, the Association of Quran Followers, the Center for Publishing Islamic Facts, and so on, and all the events of Islamic revolution in Mashad between 1963 to 1979. 
2- Cultural History: It includes the history of education and cultural structures including various institutions which were involved in this field like literary associations.
3- Social History: It includes the history of Mashad''s old neighborhoods, religious and national feasts, rituals and other various occasions and the history of old families, cultural, political and social history.
4- Religious History: It consists of the history of seminary, religious groups, and rituals, and so on and so forth.
5- Administrative History: It includes the history of administrative institutions municipality, health center, and governorship.
Moreover, the Archive Section has conducted interviews about the following subjects:
The history of dignitaries and leading figures: This covers those dignitaries and leading figures who have been involved in political, religious, cultural, administrative, literary, artistic and medical fields in Astan Quds Razavi.
The oral history of Iran-Iraq war: It includes interviews with the POWs, the disabled, and families of the martyrs.
The oral history of the towns of Khorasan Province: It covers interviews with the individuals and the figures of the province''s towns and gathering historical information about various issues. 

Oral History Process:

The method of oral history suggests that the executor of the project presents a draft consisting of the project description, its entries and the questionnaire, after studying the plan. After the approval of the plan by the organization, the interviewer will contact the interviewees who are well informed about the subject, thorough retirement centers or the elders. After an initial interview, the main interview will be arranged. The aim of the interview is to gather information and, to get into the details of the subject of interview. Although this field is an interdisciplinary one, that part which is historical in nature is more important. The first session of the interview is usually filmed and the next sessions will be tape recorded. The process of preparing the interviews starts with organizing a file which consists of filling the forms, preparing the folders, endorsement of the folders and recoding them. The next stage consists of conversion and duplication of video tapes to cassettes and CDs and the endorsement of the features of the interview on the tapes followed by registering the tapes in the indicator book. This process is followed by transcribing the cassettes of the interview and, re-hearing and writing the script of the interview. After writing the scripts, the interviews will be indexed and the indexes will be studied. The last stage is to enter the information and indexes into the computer and to check them. In this stage, the researcher uses interviews alongside other documents and researches in order to satisfy the research needs.
Due to the expansion of the working area of oral history and the acquaintance of professors and researchers with the activities of this section, the using such resources has become more trendy during the recent years.
The titles of the projects done in oral history archive:

With the expansion of this working area, introducing new issues and projects and, using dedicated personnel, this section has succeeded to conduct 2200 hours of audio and visual interviews with more than 1411 people in 2757 sessions during 12 years.
The following is a 12-year statistic of oral history activity for each year in the form of a table and an index:

The histogram of all the audiovisual interviews in terms of hour rate

Oral history interviews are considered to be one of the most important resources of contemporary history. Today, most scholars regard this information as valuable and original sources insofar as not using oral history resources in contemporary researches is regarded as a defect for the researcher.
The Oral History Department of the Management of Document and Periodicals of the Organization of Libraries, Museums, and the Document Centre of Astan Quds Razavi provides services for research projects and visitors with the goal of providing the ground to promote the accessibility of information in line with the rules of "The Statute of Documentation Services" in order to satisfy the scholarly needs and promoting the scholarly traditions per se.
Preparing the interviews, registering them in books, providing catalogues, writing descriptive bills, transcriptions, re-hearing, typing, indexing, entering data to computers and uploading interviews on the internet are some of the responsibilities of the archive section. The archive section provides all these services so that the researchers can have access to the information of interviews faster and easier.
Clients can use these resources by having valid references about their topics and the approval of the relevant authorities.
If they want to have the image of the transcribe text, or a copy of the cassette tape, video clip or CD, they can do that according to the rules and after paying the costs.

Translated by: Mohammad Baqer Khoshnevisan



 
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