HISTORIOGRAPHY AND POLITICAL CULTURE
IN TWENTIETH CENTURY IRAN
Wadham College, Oxford University, Oxford.
17-18 September 2004.
Prof. Touraj Atabaki.
The Iran Heritage Foundation, the Oriental Institute (Oxford
University) and the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute
in association with
Wadham College and The Middle East Centre (St. Antonyís
In the course of its history, Iran has experienced many
eventful epochs. The last century was far from exceptional in
this respect: the country was ravaged by three major wars
(1914-1918, 1941-1945, 1980-1988) in which hundreds of thousands
of people died; two coups (1921, 1953) transformed power
relations within the political and military elite; and two
revolutions (1905-1909, 1978-1979) led to radical changes in
social, cultural and political relationships.
Such changes in social,
cultural and political relationships were manifested more than
anywhere else in the new perceptions of Iranian historiography.
As was the case with European historiography, up to the
twentieth century the historiography of Iran was dominated by
political, dynastical, genealogical issues as well as narratives
of the life and times of individual members of the elite.
However, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century and
especially in the post-Constitutional Revolution (1905-1909)
period, a new school of Iranian historiography has gradually
established itself. The main criteria of this new school was,
while crafting a significant and unbroken link with a seminal
ancient past that could fill the gap between the countryís
origins and its present actuality, to adopt exclusive approaches
to history from an elitist perspective. By assigning the agency
in history to an elite that in its multiplicity could be
clerics, secular intelligentsia, colonialist and social or
political institutions, the historians not only deny the agency
of the subaltern and its autonomous consciousness but also adopt
an essentialist approach that de-historicises the process of
social and cultural change.
Historical research into
twentieth-century Iranís spectacular upheavals, schisms and
shifts has developed very erratically. Generally speaking, one
can distinguish three areas of historical research. First, the
macro political picture, i.e. foreign relations, military and
diplomatic. This top-down approach has played a role for at
least one hundred years and has led to much interesting research
on, for example, the institutional aspects of the Constitutional
Revolution. Secondly, the number of research contributions to
economic, urban and demographic history has grown during the
second half of the twentieth century. The third field is that of
Iranís social history. Although this is the most recent and
least developed trend, nonetheless, the social history of Iran
was gradually acknowledged as an academic field by many
In the 1960s and 1970s a
serious trend in writing the history of
nineteenth/twentieth-century Iran developed amongst historians.
For the first time, British, French and also Iranian diplomatic
archives were utilized by native Iranian historians. The sudden
availability of the new archival materials after 1978 on the
Qajar and Pahlavi periods has encouraged this emerging school.
Moreover, the number of interpretations of the Islamic
Revolution has also grown dramatically, inspired in many cases
by theories drawn from sociology and political science. Outside
Iran a small community of scholars emerged, especially after the
Second World War, which made important contributions. During the
Soviet era, many Russian historians had an interest in Iran, but
their publications were necessarily constrained by their
This conference brings
together leading historians from Iran, Europe and the United
States to discuss different readings of modern Iranian
historiography and the resulting interpretations of Iranís
political culture throughout its long history.
30.00 Pounds (concession 15.00 Pounds).
+44 (20) 74934766,
AMEX, Visa, Mastercard and cheques accepted. Make cheques
payable to Iran Heritage Foundation and mail to 5
Stanhope Gate London W1K 1AH.