MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS: The Great American Plunder of Persia's Antiquities, 1925-1941

By Goode, James | The Middle East Journal, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS: The Great American Plunder of Persia's Antiquities, 1925-1941


Goode, James, The Middle East Journal


The Great American Plunder of Persia's Antiquities, 1925-1941, by Mohammad Gholi Majd. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2003. v + 266 pages. Index to p. 275. $69 doth; $41 paper.

In recent years, many scholars have turned their attention to the history of archaeology in the Middle East, especially to the period up to World War II, when Europeans and Americans dominated the field. They have provided new perspectives on the troubled relations between local nationalists, archaeologists, and representatives of Western governments. This work is part of that development.

Mohammad Gholi Majd, who has published other books on the rule of Reza Shah Pahlavi, focuses here on Iranian archaeology during the interwar years, 1925-1941, which, not coincidentally, corresponds exactly to the reign of the first Pahlavi shah. Majd argues that Reza Shah and his top officials conspired with foreigners, largely Americans, to facilitate the export of antiquities from his country to fill the museums of the United States. "It was a classic case," he writes, "of a powerful country extracting concessions from a weak, foreign-installed puppet regime that had no domestic base and support, and was thus particularly subject to foreign intimidation" (p. 20).

Majd roots his argument in the extensive records of the US Department of State, which retained copies of much of the correspondence between American field directors and their home institutions. he finds conspiracy everywhere, concluding, for example, that abandonment of the French monopoly over archaeology in Iran, a step that was strongly supported by the United States, worked to the detriment of Iran because the new antiquities law suddenly opened the country to the more aggressive Americans. This is an interesting interpretation of a change that many other scholars view more favorably. he also details the close, sometimes too close, ties that evolved between US diplomats and archaeologists. This relationship provides the main focus of his study.

Unfortunately, several shortcomings limit the overall effectiveness of the work. Majd is relentless in assigning blame to foreigners and Iranian officials, even when the evidence is thin or absent altogether. On almost every development, he places the most sinister interpretation. Here are but two examples. he suggests, without evidence, that there was a "de facto working entente" among the Russians, British and Americans.

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