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Historiography and Political Culture in Twentieth Century Iran Print E-mail


Since the Islamic Revolution of 1978-79, Iranian historiography has evolved in diverse ways. The Islamic regime aimed to supplant the older historiographical approaches (such as they were) that were promoted by the secular nationalists and royalists during the Pahlavi period. They criticized the role of imperialism and westernization in Iran's modernization and development, and portrayed Iran's monarchical tradition in a negative light. They were particularly interested in demonstrating the liberating role of Islam (especially Shi'ism) and the ulama in Iranian and Islamic history. However, many historiographical trends also continued in spite of this ideological and political project. For example, while conceptions of Iranian nationalism were modified in some ways, the primordialist conception of Iran and Iranian-ness, not to mention selected aspects of Aryan race theories, were not challenged in any significant way. Another important influence on historical writing has been the discourse on modernity and post-modernity, especially in the 1990's. While there is no denying that political forces related the revolution and the state have influenced recent historiographic trends in Iran, trends in the field of History have also evolved independently of, or in spite of, ideological interference from the state. While most aspects of the Pahlavi period, and the Mosaddeq government have been too controversial for most historians to tackle, there has been a noticeable increase in research on the Qajar period, including the Constitutional Revolution. Particularly noteworthy are publications of primary documents, and studies on social and cultural history from the Qajar period. This paper will first of all identify and analyze the ideologically motivated, and often state-driven trends in Historiography, which will then be contrasted with the on-going evolution of historical studies of the Qajar period in post-revolutionary Iran, which often diverse significantly from the trajectory promoted by the state. The aim will be to identify the dominant political, social, and cultural forces that are driving this evolutionary process, and to discuss the implications for our understanding of how the discipline of history is evolving in post-revolutionary Iran. It will also shed light the both the extent and the limitations of state's ability to control or shape the construction and re-construction of Iran's history.

Islamist Historiography in Post-Revolutionary Iran - Kamran Scot Aghaie

Memory, Amnesia and the Historiography of the Constitutional Revolution - Abbas Amanat
This paper attempts to address the historiography of the Constitutional Revolution and its aftermath (1906-1921). It deserves a critical reassessment for a number of important reasons. First, there is a critical mass of primary sources and studies that by chronicling and interpreting the Revolution contributed to the shaping of its dominant narrative. From Nazim al-lslam and Browne to Kasravi and Malkzadih and later Lambton and Adamiyyat we can traces numerous textual influences and borrowings that helped shaping the prevalent reformist narrative imbedded in the notion of mashruta at the expense of alternative notions such as mashru`a. Second, in the process of making the revolution and remembering it, some revolutionary memories were suppressed and the identity of some of the effective actors ignored or marginalized; an amnesia in which the self-censuring taqiyya-like attitude of the narrators played a crucial part. One important example is the editing out from the Constitutional historiography of the Babi affiliation of small but important elite that influenced the early revolutionary message and process. Another is the marginal place of the proto-socialist circles such as Markaz-i Ghaybi in Tabriz and its articulation of the inqilab and millat during the civil war (1908-1909) and beyond. Third, there is a historiographical post-mortem distinction between the revolution and post-revolution that leaves the events after 1911out of the Constitutional narrative. Newly published accounts contest an arbitrary break and offer instead an alternative reading of the Jangal movement, the Coup of 1921 and the rise of Pahlavi to power as coherent outcomes of the Revolution. Finally, the literature of the Constitutional period anticipates, and helps to explain, the conspiratorial theories and xenophobic myopia that littered the popular histories later in the 20th century from Makki and Mahmud to Al-e Ahmad. The observers at the time of the Constitution and the historians later had to deal with new European imperial agendas for influence and control (as in 1907, 1915, 1919 and 1921a agreements) within the context of a popular revolution that could not accomplish its political objectives in great part because of foreign intervention and intrigue.

Iranian Political Culture and Modes of Casual Attribution - Ahmad Ashraf
The purpose of this paper is to examine the mode of causal attribution in Iranian political culture and its impact on political action. Modes of causal attribution in our discussion are a set of widely shared ideas by Iranians concerning the machinations of powerful global forces which they believe determine the course of historical developments in their country and in the world at large.
Although the conspiracy paradigm, as part of a belief system aimed at structuring the world, is universal, it is seemingly more prevalent in Middle Eastern societies and is particularly widespread among Iranians.
The appeal of conspiracy theories arise from a combination of factors such as the legacy of a deep rooted pre-Islamic and Shiite cultural beliefs about satanic forces; the autocratic, non-participatory style of Persian politics, combined with tight control of the press and media; and, above all, frequent foreign interference during the period of semi-colonialism of the 19th and early 20th centuries and the great power politics in the 1940s-80s combined with the effectiveness of conspiracy theories as a collective defence mechanism, particularly during periods of powerlessness, defeat, and political turmoil.
This presentation will conclude with a discussion of the impact of deeply rooted belief in conspiracy theories upon the modes of Iranian political action.

Agency, Subjectivity and the Writing of the Iranian National History - Touraj Atabaki
In twentieth-century Iranian historiography the main criterion anchoring the narratives of Orientalists, nationalists, Islamicists, or Stalinists, is their exclusive approach to history from an elitist perspective. By assigning the agency in history to an elite that in its multiplicity could be clerics, secular intelligentsia, colonialists and social or political institutions, they not only deny the agency of subaltern and its autonomous consciousness, but also by adopting an essentialist approach they dehistoricize the process of social and cultural changes.
Writing the Iranian national history during the twentieth century has been consciously articulated to a nationalist recovery of Iran's self, through discovering its elite agents who according to such narratives have been exclusively in charge of the protection of the motherland against alien powers, e.g. the Arabs, the Turks, the Mongols, and later the colonial powers, the Russians and the British. However, while the nationalists, Islamicists, or Stalinists share a common aspiration of depriving the agency of subaltern by exclusively assigning the agency to the nation's elites, each pursued his own agenda in narrating the elites class association, faith affiliations and their political schedules.
Writing on the rise and fall of Reza Shah and his implemented reforms is one of the stereotypes of such elitist historiography. While historians of all ranks pick out the Pahlavi elites and their opponents in writing the history of social changes in the interwar period, there is no reference to the accommodation of and resistance to such changes. While there are considerable numbers of accounts by historians from different political ranks on how the Pahlavi's agenda was imposed, there is no narrative of how far it was accepted and followed. Here the influences of gender, ethnicity, industrial and non-industrial urban labour, rural labour, unemployed, and immigrant labourers dimensions of these changes are absent.
It is the purpose of this essay to present a comparative account of the elitist historiography of the first Pahlavi. It further explores how such historiography contributes to the political culture of nationalising the Shiite expectationalism for the advent of the saviour. An essential criterion of this study is its counter-essentialist approach to the process of social and cultural changes and the question of subjectivity in writing the past.

Qajar Historiography and Cultural Memory - Oliver Bast
This paper looks at the intersection between historiography, "cultural memory" and political practice in 20th Century Iran. "Cultural memory" (kulturelles Gedächtnis) is an elusive notion but one that has been convincingly conceptualised by German Egyptologist Jan Assmann partly based on Maurice Halbwachs' considerations regarding the "collective memory" of a society.
The discussion will be based on the concrete example of a period in Iranian political history, which I have been researching extensively for quite some time by looking at so far ignored or until recently unavailable (mainly Persian) sources, namely the period between the Constitutional Revolution and the rise of Reza Khan.
The fact that my own findings stand in sharp contrast to the established historiography will not be of concern here, because this paper represents a quasi-archaeological investigation into the question when, how, and why certain events of this period became something that I will call a discourse in the absence of any better term. What is at stake here are questions like when, how, and why were certain historical personalities glorified or vilified probably much beyond their contemporary role? When, how, and why did certain historical events acquire massive significance while others, perhaps not necessarily less important for the contemporaries, were all forgotten or virtually written out of history?
Discourses have been said to need a) surfaces of emergence, which in this context I would argue to be the emerging Iranian nation (-state), b) authorities of delimitation, a role that seems to have been fulfilled by historians on behalf of whoever had an interest in the rise of the discourse and c) grids of specifications, which I take to be historiography. The notion of discourse I am adopting here goes beyond scholarly or even political debates, to embrace also non-textual, practices. The paper will therefore also explore the quasi-physical, i.e. institutional and hence political dimensions of the discourse under review.
From there the analysis will move on to an attempt to account for the relationship between this discourse and the Iranian "cultural memory".
With this paper I intend to highlight the role of historiography as relevant for the shaping of Iran's political culture while at the same time underlining the continuing importance of contributing to this very historiography through concrete, source-based historical research into "actual" (wo)men and events.

The Pahlavi School of Historiography - Kaveh Bayat
The way in which the Official historiography of the Pahlavi establishment looked at the rise of Reza Khan - the founder of the dynasty - and the consequent developments of Iran in the Pahlavi era, based on a series of official and semi-official publications since the early years of the 1920s up to the demise of the regime in the late 1970s, is the main topic of this paper.
The inception of this theme dates back to the early months of 1921, when supporters of Reza Khan Sardar Sepah, in the face of mounting opposition to the 21st February coup d'etat , found it necessary , first and foremost to describe the coup as a "movement" and then to justify it as a "historical necessity". Though at the beginning this narration had a rather diverse disposition and did include a considerable host of personalities as the co-actors of the event, but by the gradual transformation of the new regime to a royal dictatorship, with Reza Shah as it's only notable character, that early approach lost much of it's original diversity and the whole movement was reduced to a one man show.
The 1941 military invasion of Iran by the Allies that forced Reza Shah to abdicate, brought about a period of liberty during which a considerable amount of materials, with a much broader perspective, was published on the recent history of Iran and particularly the rise and rule of Reza Shah. This development, though a serious challenge, did not last long or went deep enough to undermine the exclusive role that had been relegated to the King in the aforesaid historiography. So the official perspective which in the meantime had also took over the quest of Mohammad Reza Shah - Reza Shah's successor -in the same manner, survived this interlude and once again the whole history of the Pahlavi era that was confined to a meagre set of Official texts and interpretations reverted to its former mode.

Western Historiography of Iranian Religions - Juan Cole
This paper reviews the twentieth century historiography of modern religion in Iran. The paper will examine the underlying premises and the debates that drove controversies about the nature of modern Shiism, as well as looking at scholarship on Iran's religious minorities. Covered will be the debate between Bausani and Corbin on whether Iranian Shiism should be historicized or whether it could be located in an older, Zoroastrian and Persian cultural tradition. This debate took place in the context of a divide among Iranian intellectuals of the Pahlavi period concerning what might be called "Aryanism," which signaled a dangerous disjuncture between elite notions of identity and those of the ordinary Shiites. The paper will also look at the debate between the Floor school and the Algar School, over whether the ulama had played an oppositional and progressive role in modern Iranian history, or had been allies of the wealthy and the status quo. The paper will also consider the newer scholarship that takes account of the Hurufis, Qizilbash, Shaykhis and Babis and Baha'is, which raises uncomfortable questions about whether there can be an Iranian multiculturalism in politics that acknowledges the situation in society. The ways in which intellectuals like Al-i Ahmad, who took a turn toward Shiite populism in the late 1960s, participated in coding religious minorities such as the Baha'is as cultural traitors will be considered. All these issues intersect with important issues in Iranian twentieth century political culture.

Writing Modern Iranian History - Stephanie Cronin
The Iranian revolution of 1979 wrought a profound transformation not just in the spheres of politics and society but also, like other revolutions, in the realm of intellectual life. The writing of Iranian history experienced its own seismic convulsions. The destruction of Pahlavi political power was accompanied by the destruction of historical orthodoxies fostered by both the shah's regime itself and by its academic supporters in the west. At this point, a quarter of a century after the revolution, it may be appropriate to reflect upon some of these historiographical issues and to attempt some assessment of the current state and future prospects of modern Iranian studies.
This paper, by looking at the history of a particular institution, the Iranian army, will discuss some issues surrounding the twin processes governing the selection of topics for research and the identification and location of suitable source material. Such a discussion inevitably raises questions of larger significance relating to the historiography of Iran, to the historiography of the modern Middle East and to the writing of history in general.
The paper will, in particular, examine the tendency exhibited in the west during the six decades of Pahlavi rule to accept not just the regime's interpretation of history but even its decisions regarding what should be studied and what should remain invisible. It will also discuss the emergence of a counter-discourse produced by opponents of the shah prior to 1979. The paper will also ask, as the Iranian revolution passes its quarter-century, to what extent a new orthodoxy has emerged to replace the old and whether the Weltanschauung of the Islamic republic has achieved any of the same domination over Iranian history and historiography formerly exercised by the Pahlavis.

Marxism and Modern Iranian Historiography - Afshin Matin-Asghari
The impact of Marxism on modern Iranian historiography has been profound and yet hardly noted seriously in academic studies. With revisionist intent, this paper proposes to:
1) Identify the broad outlines of the Marxist contribution to Iranian historiography; and 2) Offer a critical assessment of its strengths and weaknesses.
Academic and popular histories of twentieth-century Iran typically converge around the following major periods and turning points: 1) The Constitutional Revolution; 2) The Pahlavi era; and
3) The 1978-79 Revolution, ushering the Islamic Republic. I will try to show how this three-fold narrative structure, including most of its subordinate debates, key concepts and terminology, is deeply indebted to Marxist historiography.
First, in several works published during the 1970s, Fereydun Adamiyat, a leading historian of modern Iran, discussed social democracy as the most "progressive" element of the Constitutional Revolution. Believing firmly in history's "Rational Movement" (harekat-e aqli), Adamiyat saw no conflict between normative judgement and claims to objectivity. This Positivist historiography in fact built on a "populist tradition" launched by Ahmad Kasravi and Mehdi Malekzadeh whose "canonical" accounts had established the Constitutional Revolution as the origin of both modernity and modern historiography. Thus various tropes of "the people" or "the nation" deployed in "revolution" to win "freedom and progress" took root and have continued to guide the narratives of historians like Abrahamian, Afari, Afshari, Bayat, Berberian, and Shakeri.
Second, alongside secular nationalism, the other great historical paradigm of the Pahlavi era emerged from the communist Tudeh Party's joining notions of class, imperialism, and universal history to the central narrative of Revolution and Progress. But the Marxist-Leninist legacy was more complex since its key concepts could overlap with Islamic cosmology (e.g., Historical Determinism with Divine Providence), while its Manichaean Cold War ideology merged with Islamic essentialism into the seminal discourse of "Westoxication." Hence was forged the Islamic-Marxism of Ali Shari'ati and the Mojahedin guerillas whose utopian messianic reading of history gave a powerful impetus to the revolutionary ferment of the 1970s.
Third, apart from the culturalist (Arjomand) and eclectic (Keddie, Milani) interpretations of the 1978-79 Revolution and the Islamic Republic, there is a distinct Marxist school (Abrahamian, Moghadam, Moghissi, and Zubaida) that views these phenomena as a species of bourgeois revolution. Abrahamian's narrative, for example, describes the Pahlavi era as "Iran Between Two Revolution" and depicts "Khomeinism" as a form of modern reactionary populism. Meanwhile, the 1960s-70s Marxist debates on the Iran's "backwardness" and incorporation into global capitalism have been revived by a number intellectual best-sellers (Zibakalam and Alamdari).

Women, Gender, and Sexuality in Historiography of Modern Iran - Afsaneh Najmabadi
This paper will begin with an evaluation of the state of research and publication in this field. It will note the continued state of marginality, if not total absence, of these topics and analytical concerns. It will then take up the central reason that is frequently given for this sad state: lack of historical sources. Without denying "the problem of sources," it will ask if such a problem points to impossibility of "doing women's history," as it is claimed, or it is a reflection of impossibility of doing any history that claims to aspire to be a story of "what really happened in the past." It will plead for humility on our part, to be aware of the effects of our projection of partial histories as if total histories. It will suggest that historical employments which assume social histories could be told from which half of human actors of a given drama are simply missing, especially under conditions in which such absences are not felt at all by historians as absences, continue to ignore the challenges of post-positivist and post-structuralist theories that could indeed open possibilities of doing history differently.

I will further argue that far from having exhausted our sources, our primary sources are invariably much more gender-informed and richer in women/gender/sexuality than our historiographies have been. As an alternative approach, I will read one Qajar source, Khatirat-i 'Ayn al-Salatanah, closely to indicate the enormous possibilities of doing histories with women/gender/sexuality not as missing terms.

How the West was Won: Historiography of Qajar Travel Literature to Europe - Naghmeh Sohrabi
Interest in Qajar travel literature to Europe is relatively recent. Starting with articles in journals such as Iqbal and Yaghma in the 1950s and 1960s there has been a steady increase in scholarly writings on these travelogues. This has been assisted by the publication of more and more Qajar travel literature especially after the 1979 Revolution. For the most part, these writings can be divided into two camps: 1. Readings of the travelogues through the lens of the 1905 Constitutional Revolution, i.e. as modernizing texts; 2. Readings of these texts through the lens of the 1979 Revolution, i.e. at the nexus of Westoxification, post-Orientalism, and post-colonial studies.
Focusing on only specific travelogues, the scholars in the first group, in tandem with the 19th century writers themselves, have read these texts as sites of Iranian modernity and portrayed those travellers as heroes in the 19th century "struggle" for reform. For the post-1979 revolution, the issue of the gaze - who looked at whom and how - became the focus and a linear line, was drawn backwards into time. Therefore for the first time travelogues to Europe were lined up one after another, each examined for their sense of wonder towards European technology or their reflections on what contemporary scholars assumed was a sense of deficiency that the travellers must have felt.
My paper poses the question of how and why Qajar travel literature have acted as mirrors to historians' own time and in the process asks what has been lost when these texts are read "backwards" in time, i.e. in anticipation of events and changes that were unknown to the authors of the texts themselves.

Fractured Memories and Competing Archotopias in Twentieth-Century Iran - Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi
Two competing modalities of relating to the past have shaped modern Iranian subjectivity and agency. Organized around an epochal rupture dividing history into Islamic and pre-Islamic periods, these conflicting memories overdetermined the parameters of modern identity and political culture. Imagined as a six-thousand-year-old mother on the eve of the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1909, Iranian revolutionaries sought to create a new Iran (Iran-i Nau) by reactivating the "forgotten memories" of motherland's ancient glories and by rejuvenating her ingenious pre-Islamic spirit. Intended to dissociate the Ayrian Iran from for the Semitic Islam, this nostalgic scenario prompted a policy of linguistic purification and the crafting a distinctly modern Iranian anti-Semitism, which was characteristically anti-Arab. Concern with the recovery of ancient grandeur and purity, which were the hallmarks of the nationalist project, prompted the construction of an Islamic countermemory. Whereas the nationalists of the 1920s and the 1930s scapegoated the Arabs as the destroyers of Iran's ancient grandeur, Islamists of the 1940s scapegoated the non-Muslim religious communities as colonial agents for the fragmentation of the nation. Thus by the late 1940s the nationalist project of purging Arabic from Persian was displaced with a project for purging "the Islamic nation" of non-Muslim "political religions." This anticipatory purging was embedded in the exclusionary hailing of Iranians as "the Muslim people/nation" (millat-i muslman), a collective mode of addressing the people that was grounded in a selective remembrance of the past as uniformly Muslim. This essay explores the crafting of an Iranian Aryan identity in the three decades after the Constitutional Revolution. It further elucidates the emplotment of an Islamist countermemory that informed the 1979 Islamic Revolution.



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