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Introduction to Nineteenth Century Iran

Module Code: HIS00022I

Credits: 30

Tutor: Dr Joanna de Groot

Pre-requisites: A History first year module

Exclusions: None

This module offers students an opportunity to study an area of the world about which they may not know much using skills and insights which they have already learned.  While nineteenth century Iran may seem an exotic and unfamiliar topic, and therefore too ‘difficult’ to study, in fact students who take the module will be able to ask questions and explore issues with which they are familiar - the role of government and religion, patterns of social and cultural life, the influence of established ideas or customs and of innovation or protest – as they pursue their investigations.  Moreover that undoubtedly distinctive history is relevant to a range of related topics which students may already know about, ranging from nineteenth century European imperialism, to questions of social, political and intellectual change in ‘modern’ societies.

The module has two elements.  In the first section, taught over the spring term, students will follow a programme of weekly seminars dealing with key aspects of nineteenth century Iran as described below.  In the first month of the summer term they will work together on a project which will enable them to draw their  previous work together and use both primary and secondary material to create a serious discussion and interpretation of key themes in that history.

Learning Outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully should:

  • Acquire knowledge and understanding of social, political, and cultural developments in Iran in the nineteenth century;
  • Be able to analyse the relationships between the various elements of experience and activity in Iran at that period;
  • Be able to link the history of nineteenth century Iran to its wider context and to developments outside Iran;
  • Be able to comment critically on English language historical writing and debates on nineteenth century Iran;
  • Be able to demonstrate their knowledge, insight, and understanding through seminar presentations and written work;
  • Acquire a range of specific skills and insights through designing, researching and producing a group project

Teaching Programme

This 30-credit module is taught through a weekly two hour seminar run from weeks 2-10 in the spring term and a four week period of project work undertaken in weeks 1-4 of the summer term. Students will write and submit a procedural essay in week 7 of the spring term. Project work will be completed within the summer period and tutors should arrange to be available for consultation with students twice during that time. There will be no formal seminar teaching during this period.

The seminar programme will deal with the following:

  • Introducing Iran: images and questions

Material life in Iran

  • Peasants, nomads, artisans
  • Exchanges and networks

Social power and dependence

  • Communities and kinship
  • Class, gender, ethnicity

Cultural expression

  • Religion, revelation, and imagination
  • Popular and elite ideas

Politics and power

  • Governance and authority
  • Protest and resistance

For their project work students will work as a group, working on a topic chosen from a list of three or four possibilities, each of which will involve consideration of some of the major influences and developments affecting Iranians across the whole period, and the sources they have used during the module.


This module is assessed by:

  • A 24 hour open exam to be taken in the summer assessment period. Single subject students, who take two Explorations modules, will take two 24 hour open exams to be held on consecutive days.  
  • A group project for which a piece of written work of no more than 3,000 words will be submitted at the start of the summer assessment period (Week 5). This piece of written work might take a variety of forms such as a book or website review; a textual commentary, annotated bibliography, project report or a short essay.

The exam carries 67 per cent of assessment and the project element 33 per cent for this module.

Preliminary Reading                      

  • E. Abrahamian, Iran between Two Revolutions, pts. 1-2.
  • J. Afary, Sexual Politics in Iran, pt. 1.
  • A. Amanat, Pivot of the Universe.
  • J. Foran, Fragile Resistance, conclusion to pt 1 and 2.
  • N. Keddie, Modern Iran, chs. 1-4.
  • V. Martin, The Qajar Pact.