Academic journal article Arab Studies Journal

Making History in Iran: Education, Nationalism, and Print Culture

Academic journal article Arab Studies Journal

Making History in Iran: Education, Nationalism, and Print Culture

Article excerpt

MAKING HISTORY IN IRAN: EDUCATION, NATIONALISM, AND PRINT CULTURE Farzin Vejdani Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2014 (xi + 269 pages, bibliography, index) $60.00 (cloth)

Making History in Iran is a much-needed examination of how various social and institutional changes during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries shaped how the people of Iran wrote about, taught, and understood the past. Farzin Vejdani traces the gradual formation of modern historiography in Iran through periods of shifting patronage networks, the expansion of reading publics, and the adoption of reformist and internationalist revolutionary ideas. These structural transformations made it possible for history to move out of the court and into the hands of amateur writers, private educators, and activists who introduced the nation as a central historical framework.

Previous studies on Iranian historiography have focused on how top-down authoritarian reforms of the late Qajar and Pahlavi periods were responsible for writing nationalism into the history books. Vejdani, however, utilizes a wide variety of source materials, such as historical textbooks, training manuals, periodicals, correspondences, and school curricula to argue that such a view excludes a larger pool of autonomous contributors who were indispensable to the writing of history before the professionalization and standardization of the field in the 1920s.

The book opens with the late nineteenth century, when historical writing's primary objective was to legitimize the Qajar dynasty (1875-1925) through religious and pre-Islamic understandings of kingship. Such works were deeply rooted in the king list and "mirror for princes" traditions-established eclectic genres that drew on poetry, religious sayings, court chronicles, and the biographies of past kings to instruct monarchs on good governance (19). After the state established translation bureaus, reform-minded court historians and translators were able also to draw upon texts about modernizing European autocrats worthy (and unworthy) of emulation.

At the same time, technological innovations in printing and papermaking as well as economic transformations helped foster an "emerging public sphere" for which independent historians such as Jalal al-Din Mirza and Mirza Khan Kirmani could write (26). By the beginning of the 1905 Constitutional Revolution, "the mirror for princes" had shifted to "the mirror for nations" as these independent translators and writers looked toward the histories of democratic struggles in Europe, the Ottoman Empire, Japan, and China in order to introduce and propagate constitutional and anti-imperialist ideals inside Iran (29-32).

The reception of pro-constitutional national histories within the independent public sphere, as Vejdani demonstrates in chapter two, was influenced by new educational networks. At the turn of the century, with the Qajar state strapped for cash due to decades of foreign concessions, reformists were able to create private schools with nominal state support. In these schools, educators like Muhammad Husayn Furughi and his son Muhammad 'Ali wrote history textbooks that centered the "people" (mardum) and presented learning history as a civic duty that allowed students to advance the nation by identifying and removing the barriers to education and political participation that had plagued the country in the past. These schools also introduced the notion of universal progress, positioning Iran on a developmental trajectory to "join the community of 'civilized countries'" (54). The adoption of world-history models did not, however, necessarily produce a singular vision of history and civic development; instead, it led to a diversity of historical narratives and formats.

This plurality in history writing was ultimately short-lived. During Riza Shah Pahlavi's reign (1925-41), the central government finally became the driving force behind education, and state ideology was incorporated into a newly standardized historiographical narrative and pedagogy. …

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