Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Postcolonial Iran

Unlike the diverse regions of the modern world this module has considered, Iran was not formally colonized nor did it form part of any empire in the late 19th and 20th centuries. However, imperial histories often frame this period as one about the role of British Empire in the Middle East with Iran serving as a buffer region between Russia and India. In a parallel move, historiographical studies of post-colonial Iran (in the 20th century) are dominated by narratives about oil governance and the limited possibilities for democracy. This week considers the role of internal and outside forces in shaping the history of modern Iran and the consequences for democratic possibilities in the post-colonial era.


Seminar Questions:

  1. To what extent did empire and oil play a role in the post-colonial politics of Iran in the 20th century?
  2. In what ways did the 1953 Anglo-American engineered coup d’état shape the post-colonial politics of Iran?
  3. What features of Iran’s recent history and governmental structure help us to understand possibilities for democracy in the late 20th century?


Seminar Reading:

Nikkie Keddie, Modern Iran: Roots and Results of Revolution (New Haven, Mass.: Yale University Press, 2003): chapters. 4 (61-72), 5 (80-104), 7 (132-169).

Ramin Jahanbegloo, “Pressures from Below,” Journal of Democracy 14, no.1 (Jan. 2003): 126-131.

Mehrangiz Kar, “The Deadlock in Iran: Constitutional Constraints,” Journal of Democracy 14 no.1 (Jan. 2003): 132-136.


Recommended Reading:

Ervand Abrahamian, “The 1953 Coup in Iran,” Science & Society 65, no.2 (Summer 2001): 185-214.

Katayoun Shafiee, Machineries of Oil (MIT Press, 2018).

Roxanne Varzi, Warring Souls: Youth, Media, and Martyrdom in Post-Revolution Iran (2006)

Arash Khazeni, Tribes and Empire on the Margins of Nineteenth-Century Iran (Univ. of Washington Press, 2009)