Connected to the oral history program is the Foundation’s project to record and publish in monograph the experiences of the Iranians in public and private sectors who were directly involved in planning and administering Iran’s socio-economic development before the Islamic revolution.
The series, edited by Gholam Reza Afkhami, is an outgrowth of the Foundation’s oral history program. Over the years, scholars at the Foundation concluded that the material contained in the FIS oral history archives— hundreds of hours of interviews with individual proponents and opponents directly involved in the private and public decision-making processes of Pahlavi Iran—did not support the conclusions derived from the bulk of the historiography of the period produced after the revolution by scholars, pamphleteers, reporters, and other writers in the Islamic Republic and the west. The archival material pointed to a different version of the “facts”, which they thought should be made accessible for public perusal. Most of the material in the archives, however, was not focused on particular issues. The weight of the revolution colored many expressions, decreasing their clarity or precision, making it necessary for the statements in the interviews to be tested for validity and reliability, both internally and externally compared with other interviews. More focus was needed, but also more time to achieve emotional distance from the revolution—the most cataclysmic event in Iran’s recent history. Time, on the other hand, was to be considered critically, given the survivors’ average age and general physical and psychological condition. By a decade after the revolution the time had come to choose, based on the intelligence derived from the archival material, individuals and topics of particular interest for formal and focused interviews about specific issues, programs, or projects.
The idea was crystallized in 1991 during an oral history interview Afkhami conducted with Abdorreza Ansari, a former cabinet minister and general manager of a major development project. The idea was for the interviewer to work with the interviewee to develop together the framework of the interview, and for the interviewee to be actively involved in all levels of the project– a partnership in development, in this case of a text. Naturally, Khuzistan’s development, as reflected in the politics and processes associated with planning, developing, and setting in motion the Khuzistan Water and Power Authority (KWPA) under its first managing director Ansari, became the Foundation’s first project. The book, published in 1994 based on interviews with Abdorreza Ansari and his two deputies at KWPA: Hassan Shahmirzadi and Ahmad Ali Ahmadi, launched the series.
Since then a series of books have been published, each concerned more with the issue at hand rather than the narrators’ personal histories. The recollections of actual interactions by different personalities dealing with the same problem within a shared political context, enhanced and tested by the challenge posed by the questions and the precision demanded of the answers in the interview, has imbued the subject with a dynamic quality that transcends individual narratives unemcumbered by rigorous challenge. It is therefore important to read each interview critically in relation to others that touch on similar subjects.
The Foundation for Iranian Studies hopes to translate these and future publications in this category to English in the months and years ahead.