Doing Oral History with the Israeli Elite and the Question of Methodology in International Relations Research

Eldad Ben Aharon

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While there have been substantial methodological advances in the field of oral history since World War II, it remains an underutilized research method among historians of International Relations. Specifically, as this article will show, most historians of International Relations still choose principally to rely on archival research, while approaching oral history with great suspicion, finding it irrelevant to their work. Using Israel as a case study, I explore the ways in which the relationship between the country’s intelligence and defense institutions and its foreign policy has created a barrier to the incorporation of oral history as a research method for gathering empirical evidence to support a historical understanding of policy decisions. I argue that there is a clear utility to accessing the memories of the Israeli diplomatic/intelligence elites because they shed new light on actors, events, themes, and processes that characterize Israel’s foreign policy since 1948. Oral history, therefore, allows both for a more nuanced and broader interpretation of a history of International Relations and diplomacy. The insights gleaned from Israel’s particular case study could be further applied to other International Relations research settings, and so I also discuss not only the ways in which the methodology can impact our understanding of International Relations, but also the complexities of undertaking interviews with those whose words, if not chosen correctly, could influence current global international affairs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-25
Number of pages23
Journal The Oral History Review
Issue number1
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Jan 2020

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