Documentology and oral history

Alireza Kamari
Translated by M. B. Khoshnevissan


In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate

Greetings to all of you. I thank God for succeeding me to make a pilgrimage to the holy shrine of Imam Reza (AS), the 8th Infallible Successor of Prophet Mohammad (blessings of God upon him and his progeny) and to visit you. The title of my debate is "A prelude or an introduction to recognizing ties between historical documents with propositional memory, especially memories in historical studies and historiology". For clarifying the subject, I need to explain about the keywords of the title briefly, although you all are experts and scholars and there is no need for explanation, but since conceptual categories unlike empirical scientific and discursive subjects can be interpreted, the intention of the speaker for using such words and terms should be cleared up at the beginning of the discussion.

1-Document means fulcrum in word and in historical studies, it is basically and often referred to a text that contains and carries information. In construing dominant and a tradition from a document, what has been written on the paper is considered, not the absolute of any written text. Thus, the inscriptions (written on stone and wood and the like), do not fall under a document or documents, although considered among historical sources.

2- According to the definition mentioned briefly, two or three characteristics are considered and noticeable in historical documents: one is that historical documents have archival status; the second one is that they supervise various governmental/state relations or powerful clans linked to government and authority; and the third one is that their text and contents like their body and materiality is not universal and widespread and these considerations are a solution for historical studies for researchers, thus people of research are seeking to find and recognize documents.

3-The conclusion that can be drawn from the three characteristics right now is that the people's words and traditions, the lower social classes and layers versus the historical events and what they have believed in and acted upon are almost unavailable in these documents, and if we can find a thing or things in the documents which indicates the people's role and action in historical events, it will be influenced by the upper views and the upper classes, not what is actually in the minds and actions of past peoples. In other words, we do not have socialities besides the three types of Divaniat / Sultaniat / Ekhvaniat documents. I have said before that this kind of Ekhvaniat actually represents the family relationship of the Lords, not the so-called strata and the masses today. Regarding the TV serial "The brave Men of Tangestan" – produced on the basis of a book by the late Adamiyat before the revolution, when the last part was shown and finished, it made me think in my teens that when it was led to compromise and contract, and the Tangestanis delivered their arms and were lost in the remote horizon, why did they enter the struggle, how did they think and what happened to them afterwards ; this question can also be arisen in all movements and events; why were the comrades of Mirza Koochak Khan, Baqer Khan and Sattar Khan involved in the struggle, how did they act, and what happened to them eventually? These are the questions the answers of which cannot be found in historical documents or they are dark and insufficient. Such questions can also be posed in another way in the events happened in the past four or five decades including the acceptance of the UN Resolution 598 and the termination of the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq, because the acceptance of the resolution and the end of the war was not imagined by the people of war and front – not the upper classes – until that day, and the astonishment and shock from the viewpoint of people of front, especially those who believed that this was a sacred defensive war, has not been quoted as it should have been, and the documents show almost nothing about the event.

4-In the macro classification and typology of historical sources, according to the late Jahangir Qaem Maghami's view, historical sources are identified in five types: archival evidences (documents), written sources, visual and drawing sources, archeological sources, mental and narrative sources.

It is obvious that a classic and traditional view on history – which has a record of almost one century in Iran – is dominant in this typology. It is noteworthy, however, that the very idea of historiology and history research / historical thought has a historical nature in essence, that is to say, it is subordinate to and influenced by social, political, economic, scientific and cultural currents; It is here that we should pay attention to social moves and struggles as variables in the thinking of historiology and in particular to the methods of history-looking and historiography. Paying attention to "social history" and "history from down – not from up", "popular history" has evolved for these reasons in recent century and so, this way of looking demands its own requirements. It is here that "propositional memories" is concerned with identifying events especially where it has a social and popular status.

5-"Proposition memories" mean all propositions/statements and symbols which indicate the mentalities/beliefs/interpretations of a tribe, population and a social class or a society versus their actions. The range and type of these memory based propositions are very widespread, covering all narrative visual/audio/verbal/slogans/chants/rumors/ remunerations and blasphemies and … types. Nevertheless, my focus here is on volitional proposition memories; narrated memoirs/written narrated memoirs/written asked memoirs/memory-writings and what has often been known as "oral history". The problem is that in assessing the history, how and to what extent these linguistic mental memories – and what is considered as oral history, are valid, and what circumstances is opened and created for the researchers in matching and coinciding with documents.

6-History means an event and the reporting of an event which has happened in this world’s time and place and “from” and “to” of the time and geography of its occurrence is usually specified and has gained historical validity for several reasons, although any event is not historic necessarily. History in the meaning of history comes to an end in time and conditions of occurrence, although it is possible that it is not a mental ending. But the historian tries to “reconstruct an event” by retrieving and recognizing resources, documents and works and evidence. Obviously, history in the sense of the text / report of how and why the event occurs is a reconstructed retraction of the historian, and the text narrating the event is not the whole story, it is a proposition "from it" or "about it". This proposition – narration of event - is not exempted from the world of the historian's mind and the context of his life. Thus, historical propositions like scientific empirical or argumentative ones are not absolute, and persuasive. Therefore, historical research is a dynamic sustainable current and every history is the current history to this credit.

7-Accoridng to what was said, history in the meaning of the text is like a construction or “building” which is built on the basis of sources and documents. Here the discussion is concerned with the type of relationship and the ratio of co-existence or succession between documents with "oral evidence". I have to go back to the subject of the category of documentology and then to the main topic. Document in the meaning of text has a variety of types and I have nothing to do with it but I should say here that a document is a text not written with the purpose of being or becoming a document like daily administrative correspondence. A document is divided into three categories according to its validity and authenticity: the authentic document; the fabricated document; the obscure document. In terms of content and claim, documents can also be distinguished into three types: authentic and correct document, false and incorrect document (meaning that it is known hypothetically that the document is an authentic and true one, but false in content and claim), and vague and obscure document in the text and claim. I consider all of these types as documents even the fabricated ones which are false and incorrect in text and claim for the reason that they are called documents, because all of them imply a secondary matter – that why the built document or its content is wrong, showing that the researcher has discovered the issue; at least the argument here is that a document is false in content and true in its being false!

I conclude that obtaining the rate of the document’s authenticity is prior to citing a document because of being a document in the first place and then for obtaining the validity of the claim and the contents of the document. In other words, it is the work of the historian to criticize and clarify the document, then to refer to the document and use it. Here, of course, the historian also struggles with known unknown / wanted unwanted assumptions, and a historical text / proposition can never be imagined and drawn without the historian. It is also noteworthy that in addition to historical documents, other sources of historiography in the study of the subject should not and cannot be overlooked. Rather, in a broader sense, as I have briefly pointed out in my book "Trace of Sign", all signs (traces and signs remained from an event) contribute to reconstruct and recognize the event...


To be continued...

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