Historiography & Iran in Comparative Perspective

Institute of Iranian Studies, University of St Andrews / Iran Heritage Foundation

With the support of BIPS

10-13th September 2009


Conference Programme

Seuterri Map of Persia c1730
Seuterri Map of Persia c1730

The Persian speaking world has enjoyed a long tradition of historical writing which sought to situate the Iranian people within a particular narrative of descent and historical development. These narratives were to be challenged with the introduction of new historical methods from Europe in the late 19th century. By the late 20th century there was a dramatic increase in historical writing in Iran, partly as a consequence of the need to produce new national narratives and partly a result of the demand engendered by the growth in literacy and communications. The writing of history, reflecting the realities of the day, has more often than not proved to be a profoundly political act. Historical texts, narratives, and memoirs have all sought to shape and define the way in which Iranians have thought of themselves and their history. Yet for all the emphasis on national particularities, historical writing has also been driven by means and methods determined by the modern European tradition. Of particular importance in this regard was the distinction created between historical writing and myth; a process which resulted in much of the pre-modern Iranian historical tradition being confined tothe realm of literature.

Conference Report

Historiography and Iran in comparative perspective, sought to situate developments in Iranian historiography within the broader context of developments in historiography. Consequently non-area specialists were invited to contribute papers along with experts on Iranian history and historiography and we were fortunate enough to have the conference opened by Professor Michael Bentley who argued persuasively that the Iranian historical tradition had been heavily influenced by the French and to a lesser extent German tradition of historical writing. Other key speakers included Professor Robert Bartlett who delivered a paper on ‘Iran in the Medieval Imagination’, along with noted experts on Iranian history such as Professor Bert Fragner from Vienna, (who looked at distinctions between Iranian and Arabic prose styles and approaches to history).  Professor Carol Hillenbrand (Edinburgh) and Peter Sluglett (Utah) provided the perspective from the Arab World.

Professor Abbas Milani delivered a keynote lecture on the problems of biographical writing with reference to his current work on Mohammad Reza Shah. Professor Milani outlined the difficulties of researching a subject which is at once familiar, yet remains opaque and riddled with conspiracy theories. Overall there were over thirty papers delivered at what proved to be a diverse and intellectually stimulating conference, drawing together historians and historiographers, Iranists and non-Iranists.

Conference Programme


Perceptions of Iran: History, Myths and Nationalism from Medieval Persia to the Islamic Republi , edited by Ali Ansari, inlcudes selected papers from the conference and will be published by I. B. Tauris Publishers, in the series “Iran and the Persianate World”.

Organising Committee
Professor Ali Ansari
Professor Robert Hoyland
Professor Nick Rengger
Dr Tim Greenwood
Dr Angus Stewart
Dr Bernhard Struck
Dr Steve Murdoch

For general enquiries please contact Professor Ansari on iran@st-andrews.ac.uk

Regular updates can be found on www.st-andrews.ac.uk/~iranian