Culture and Cultural Politics in Early Pahlavi Iran, 1921-1951
International Symposium, 26-28 June 2009
Mohammad Ali Akbari (Tehran)
Teaching History in School Books and the Project of Nation Building in the Early Pahlavi Period
The period of the first Pahlavi Shah has a particular importance in the contemporary history of Iran, especially in reviving the experience of the early constitutional period, because politicians of that era utilized the opportunity of domination through the modernist totalitarian government to make basic changes in the social, economic, political, and cultural aspects of Iranian society. The renovation and recreation of Iranian "nationality" on the basis of archaic and nationalist-oriented attitudes, was one of the basic infrastructural strategies of the Pahlavi state. This strategy caused the formation of an important project, "nation- building," which was an organized effort towards the transition from a multicultural and mosaic society to an equalized and integrated totalitarian one.
According to historical documents, the nation-building project of Pahlavi the first was based on the unity of elements such as language, race, homeland, and common historical experiences. Therefore, we can take the Persian language, the Aryan race, the Aryan homeland, and historical background as the major elements of this project. Achieving the goals of the nation-building project, for sure, was bound to designing and applying different programs in political, social, economic, and cultural fields, of which educational policies and preparation of textbooks were the best and the most suitable ones to enroll the population, especially since the government, exclusively, was in charge of programming the primary and secondary education levels. The High Council of Education was responsible for this duty on behalf of the government.
Policy-makers of nation-building knew that history, as a lesson, is of enough capacity to be used as an infrastructural thought maker to have young people accept the new project. Thus, it is not surprising that they would have paid special attention to "history" among the other classical lessons. In this contribution, the writer aims to provide, first, the basic elements and various aspects of the nation-building project in the Pahlavi the first era on the basis of archival and historical documents, second, a clear picture of the educational objectives, lesson materials, and contents of textbooks by studying the programs of primary and secondary education levels, and finally, the relations between the teaching of history and pushing forward the nation-building project.
Houchang E. Chehabi (Boston)
Mir Mehdi Varzandeh and the Introduction of Western Physical Education in Iran
Mir Mehdi Varzandeh (1880-1982) was the main architect of Iran’s modern physical education system. He spent his early years in Istanbul, where he caught the eye of Selim Sirri Turcan, the founder of modern physical education in the Ottoman Empire. Encouraged by Turcan, he went to Brussels to study at the Ecole Normale de Gymnastique et d’Escrime Militaire. In 1914 he returned to Iran and found employment as teacher of physical education for the Swedish-officered gendarmerie. His activities attracted the attention of ministry of education officials, who created a permanent position for him as physical education teacher in state schools.
Varzandeh propagated the introduction of physical education classes into school curricula, and in 1919 the system of gymnastics system developed by Per Henrik Ling in Sweden was adopted for Iranian schools under the minister of education Ahmad Bader. In 1926 he was appointed director of the new physical education teacher training college (Dar al-mo‘allemin-e varzesh). But when the Iranian state appointed an American, Thomas Gibson, to organize Iran’s modern sports, Varzandeh was offended, withdrew from public service, and concentrated on the sports clubs he had founded. In the 1970s he returned to Istanbul, where he died at the age of 102. This paper provides biographical details of his life, analyzes his ideas on the basis of his published articles, and asks why he made so little effort to integrate traditional Iranian physical culture in his system.
Roja Dehdarian (Bamberg)
„Newly Hatched Chickens“: Bozorg Alavi Remembering the Young Literary Scene of the 1930s
The reign of Reza Shah was a period of intense literary activity in Iran. In spite of censorship and state restriction some of the most influential writers of modern Persian prose literature reached the peak of their talent at that time.
This paper focuses on the circle of young, Western educated and modern-minded intellectuals, known as Rabʿeh or Group of Four, composed by Sadeq Hedayat, Bozorg Alavi, Mojtaba Minovi and Masʿud Farzad. They conceive themselves as literary rebels of their time: young, autonomous and critical of the political and literary establishment of 1930s Iran.
The analysis is based on the memoirs and writings of Bozorg Alavi pointing out the self-perception of the Rabʿeh members within the Iranian cultural sphere. Especially their positions in the predominant cultural discourse of Iranian nationalism and modernity will be discussed. The purpose of this paper is to expose the complex relationship between state-controlled cultural policy and the young writers who played an active role in the cultural life of early Pahlavi Iran.
Bianca Devos (Marburg)
Engineering a Modern Society: Regulations and Instructions on How to Adopt Technology in Iran, 1925-1941
Returning to Iran in 1931 after an absence of almost 13 years, the newly appointed German envoy Wipert von Blücher found the great number of cars and trucks the most striking change since his last stay. During the twenty years of Reza Shah´s reign, it was first and foremost the technical progress that had transformed the appearance of the country and caught the eyes of foreign travellers – to the delight of the Shah and nationalistic modernists who regarded a fast visible change of Iran and its society as pivotal in their agenda of modernisation.
Developing towards a proto-totalitarian regime and extending its control over most parts of the society, the Pahlavi state was also concerned about regulating the adoption of modern technology in everyday life. Besides that, modernists felt responsible to guide the Iranian common people, who were mostly unfamiliar with the new technology, in adapting to modern life. Mainly based on newspaper material and published official documents, this paper focuses on regulations by the Pahlavi state aimed at maintaining and extending its authority and the modernists’ educational mission to instruct the Iranian populace on how to use the new technologies in the “right“ way.
Katja Föllmer (Göttingen)
Structure and Dynamics of Communication in Public Discourse
Since the beginning of the 20th century traditional and modern forms of communication have been used in Iranian public sphere. Whereas the protest against the tobacco monopoly (1896) was shaped by traditional communications by Shiite clerics, the constitutional movement (1905-11) made use of the new print media that flourished at that time. If we look at the communication practice, we see that e.g. religious didactic and popular modes of communication were traditionally based on direct face-to-face communication. As a consequence of the development of new media such as the press, and the gradually increasing literacy of the Iranian common people, especially in the 1930s, written mass communication became more important in Iranian society and those who had traditionally been recipients became increasingly active in public communications as well as political and social self-awareness. Discourse in the print media was initially led by the growing new intellectual class in urban centres. These had access to foreign sources of information, and published their own critical newspapers that were read by a growing public.
Censorship and technical development continued, and were intensified by government measures in the Pahlavi period. The outcome of social change, migration and increasing literacy was the need for other forms of communication than the traditional ones that had been commonly used. Mass media were the preferred means of communication for both State and opposition, while the clerics generally still ignored it. On the basis of some examples of different modes of communication, the paper will examine how communication in Iran in the 1930s was structured, and what parameters were essential for it.
Roxane Haag-Higuchi (Bamberg)
Modernization in Literary History: Malek ash-sho’arā Bahār’s Stylistics
Bahār’s Sabk-shenāsi is considered a pivotal text in the formation of a coherent and still dominant view of Persian literary history. Written down as a textbook for the doctoral course in Persian Literature at the newly established University of Tehran, the institutional aspect of Sabk-shenāsi cannot be neglected. The text indicates the two basic requirements for Bahār’s work, namely, the transformation of the amorphous field of Persian prose literature into a structured academic discipline; and the propagation of Persian as a unifying national language.
A closer look, however, reveals that the three volume oeuvre testifies to a concept of modernity and national culture that is far more refined than that suggested by his political commissioners. Bahār who is primarily known as the poet who filled progressive contents into traditional poetic forms, displays considerable creativity in applying new theoretical conceptions to the large stock of literary material he is dealing with. The result is a work that surpasses the simple construction of modernization as equal to Westernization, but this work can be considered as a successful amalgamation of traditional learning and modern scientific approaches. The paper pleads in favor of a scrutiny of the cultural products of the time which illustrate that the political guidelines when put to practice, may have produced unexpected, sometimes even contradictory, nuances.
Elham Malekzadeh (Tehran)
How to give Birth to a New Generation: Midwifery in Reza Shah's Health Care System
The reign of Reza Shah in Iran was an era where the government decided to change the situation of women in society. According to the rules of the Pahlavi Shah, women could become active in social, economic and even political fields. In the course of the government's actions, specific problems of women regarding hygiene and health care were also addressed. In order to meet with success, both step by step and long-ranging measures had to be taken. One of the most important steps in this course was the integration of midwifery as a new profession into Reza Shah´s health care system.
By analyzing unpublished documents from the National Archives of Iran as well as newspaper articles and other published sources, this paper examines the influences which the profession of midwifery had on the new generation of Iranian children, who were born into a period of radical change. The paper will address the following questions: What impact had the change of the profession´s name from shoghl-e qābelegī to māmāʾī? What attitude had intellectuals and women involved in social issues towards the new profession of midwifery? Which governmental programs for the establishment of obstetric schools and their curricular can be defined on the basis of foundation charters and provisions? Which information can be found in minutes of the examinations about the curricular and the procedure of examination? How can the field of activity of graduates from the new obstetric schools, their admission to practice and their employment in state-owned and private medical centers be described? How did foreign media report about the profession of midwifery in Iran? And what result gives the comparison of the new system of midwifery with the traditional form of it? What impact had this new profession on the changing social order as well as on the childcare for the new generation in Iran? Moreover, approximate statistics of Iranian and non-Iranian women who were trained and worked in obstetrics will be given.
Afshin Marashi (Sacramento)
Imagining Hafez: Rabindranath Tagore in Iran, 1932
In April and May of 1932, Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), the Indian poet, playwright, novelist, and 1913 Nobel Prize laureate, traveled to Iran on an official visit. He had been invited to Iran as the official guest of Reza Shah and the Pahlavi state. Using an array of primary source material, including newspapers, memoirs, official pronouncements, and Tagore's own travelogue of the journey, this article examines the cultural, political, and ideological implications of this trip for the emerging discourse of nationalism in interwar Iran and India. The article argues that both Tagore and his Iranian hosts conceived of the trip as an occasion to assert the existence of “Indo-Iranian Civilization” as the common moral and aesthetic basis of their respective nationalisms. Indian and Iranian intellectuals of the era were experimenting with a variety of claims of authenticity as the cultural-ideological basis for their newly emerging polities. These claims sought to assert the political independence of their emerging nation-states while also crafting those claims within assumptions common to the global system. Tagore’s 1932 visit to Iran provides one occasion for examining the articulation of these claims. The article, therefore, has implications for understanding the relationship between the global interwar discourse of “civilizations” and the emerging discourse of non-western nationalism during the early twentieth century.
Cyrus Schayegh (Princeton)
From Bio-medical to Social Sciences: The Shifting Frameworks of Iranian Sociocultural Reforms, 1930s-1950s
This talk forms the base of a chapter of a current book project on Pahlavi Iran. Departing from conventional views of the (autocratic monarchic) Pahlavi state as a unit that barely changed form from its rise in the early 1920s to its fall six decades later, I explore a variety of decisive transformations of governmental practice during this period. The process I am interested in here revolves around the slow decline of bio-medical sciences and the concomitant advance of social sciences as main matrix of reform in Iran from the 1930s to the 1950s (crucially, the rise of social sciences affected governmental practices; as importantly, however, it was by no means limited to that sphere).
In my talk, I will first outline why bio-medical sciences became a dominant matrix of reform following the Constitutional Revolution; by way of example, I will also demonstrate how a particular bio-medical field, developed on the intersection between medicine, genetics, and the pseudo-science of eugenics, was applied. Then, in the talk’s main part, I will show how a number of social, cultural, and occupational factors (accelerating urbanization; resulting fears of new social pathologies; the rise of new urban middle class professions) expedited the rise of social sciences starting in the 1930s and 40s; how particularly sociology, influenced by Durkheimian models and American modernization theory, informed a new understanding of societal processes; and how, from the 1950s onwards, that understanding was integrated into new governmental practices.
Karim Soleimany (Tehran)
Press Censorship under Reza Shah (1925-1941)
Reza Shah came into power due to a coup d´état on Esfand 3rd, 1299 (February 21, 1921), in which he himself was actively involved. After the downfall of the Qajar dynasty, he gradually consolidated his political power and distributed many governmental and administrative posts among his military comrades. Under military regimes, the press often does not enjoy freedom and has to be in compliance with the government. Oftentimes, the press is even entrusted with the task to praise and justify the ruling elite. Probably for this reason, Reza Shah never got the idea to act in accordance with an already existing (halfway positive or progressive) press law which had been passed in the aftermath of the Constitutional Revolution on Moharram 5th, 1326 (February 8th, 1908). Reza Shah hardly showed the intention of respecting the existing laws. In addition, he established a censorship apparatus, which acted arbitrarily and functioned according to the will the respective persons, who headed the apparatus.
Regarding press censorship, the entire reign of Reza Shah can be divided into three phases: The first phase began with the appointment of Taimurtāsh as court minister (Āzar 28, 1304 / December 19, 1925) and lasted up to his dismissal at the Dai 3rd, 1311 (December 24th, 1932). During this time Taimurtāsh played a crucial role in the strict practice and spreading of the press censorship. The second phase started with the dismissal of Taimurtāsh from his post and ended with the establishment of the so-called "Office for Press Guidance" (Edāra-yi rāhnamā-ye nāma-negāri) in 1316 (1937). In this phase especially police headquarters (Edāra-yi koll-i shahrbāni) and the Ministry of Culture (Vezārat-e ma’āref / farhang) were responsible for censoring the press. The third phase began with the establishment of the “Office for Press Guidance" (Edāra-yi rāhnamā-ye nāma-negāri) and continued until the abdication of Reza Shah on Shahrīvar 25th, 1320 (September 16th, 1941). Finally, in the winter of 1317 (1938), the Sāzmān-e parvareš-i afkār was created in close cooperation with " Office for Press Guidance " to provide a comprehensive censorship practice and to intersperse it on all public levels.
Christoph Werner (Marburg)
Drama and Operetta at the „Red Lion and Sun“: Theatre in Tabriz 1921-51
There appears to be a general consensus among those writing on the history of drama in Iran that theatre in the early Pahlavi period was either unspectacular or virtually inexistent. This negative evaluation is ascribed to the general intellectual climate of the time, the rigorous censorship under Reza Shah and the premise that the idea of modern theatre in the European tradition, unrelated to either religious practices (ta’ziya) or folklore remained widely alien to Iranian culture and public interest.
However, recent collections of primary sources in Iran present a completely different picture. In many cities a number of independent groups of actors existed as well as troupes that were regularly on tour throughout the country. It also becomes obvious that theatre during this time was not part of an intellectual framework of high culture or participated in literary discourses of modernity. Theatre had its place in the middle of society where it was appreciated largely because of its entertaining qualities and thus served the needs of a general public. The line between theatre, drama and operetta was not clearly drawn at this time. Theatre should thus be seen as a precursor to cinema as a popular pastime, at a time when neither radio nor television really existed. This paper takes a closer look at the situation in Tabriz. In the capital of Azerbaijan the theatre scene was particularly vivid because of a longstanding tradition inside the strong Armenian community, the vicinity to Turkey and the Caucasus and the multilingual setting. Themes, venues, programs and troupes in Tabriz at their most active time in the 30s and 40s will be of particular interest.