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Member of the Month – Rana Daroogheh

May 9, 2015

As promised, this month’s member of the month is Rana Daroogheh. Rana has sent the following fascinating account:

A great many archaeologists have been drawn to their work by the aesthetic pleasure they experience in recovering and recreating the past. In my case, having become an archaeologist means that I have sought ways to encourage a broader public to understand how their historical past is forged and manipulated to construct a certain political image to serve the nationalistic rhetoric of their respected nations. I never gave much thought to how and why I became interested in history of archaeology. In hindsight, however, I could perhaps identify some factors in my life that may have contributed to my later interest in the discipline. For example, in Iran as a part of a generation that belonged to the so-called “children’s of Revolution,” named after those who were born after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, I grew up in a climate of opinion dominated by declarations of Iran’s greatness against a global community that supported Iraq in its eight years of War with Iran in the 1980s. The intertwined relationship between politics and everyday life in form of war or economic sanctions, heightened the degree of Iranian’s political awareness and debates about national interest and comparisons between life before and after the Revolution became the primary focus of family discussions during get togethers. This early exposure to politics, as well as the ensuing debates surrounding Iran’s demise from its ‘ancient grace’ fostered my early desires to learn about a nation that was branded as ‘axis of evil’ in contemporary politics.

This interest was combined with the additional dimension of immigrating to Western Canada and having to identify myself as an Iranian-Canadian in my early teens. Growing up with a torn identity as a Canadian who was in some ways still connected to Iranian roots led to somewhat of an identity crisis during those early years. This was when I first began to think about nationalism and Iranian identity and what happens to national identity when living away from homeland in an environment that is either hostile or provides no desire to embrace one’s national heritage. I quickly realised that the Iranian diaspora overcame this resentment through the glorification of Iran’s ancient past as a source of pride to negate Iran’s image in the Western imagination as a totalitarian State with a backward culture. Yet, others praised the Shah’s government for launching a world-wide media campaign to improve Iran’s image through various cultural activities like that of the Persepolis celebration in 1971 and scorned the Islamic government for demolishing the ‘once upon a time positive image of Iran in the West.’

This background, I now think, shaped my interests as I became an archaeologist. It made me quick to see national identity as produced by forces of political propaganda and to comprehend its fluid nature as it becomes associated with an ancient culture that made enormous contributions to human civilisation, or a dreadful totalitarian State that supports global terrorism. At the time I resolved these issues by acculturating to Canada and immersing myself into everything Canadian, from hockey to maple syrup doughnuts, but I’ll be lying if I said I became totally ambivalence towards Iranian culture and politics.

It is hardly an exaggeration to say that my first trip back to Iran in 2002 and specifically visiting archaeological sites such as Pasargadae, Persepolis, and the Mosques of Isfahan changed my life. Upon my return to Vancouver, I decided to change my undergraduate major to Iranian archaeology, but the option was not available at UBC. In addition, there was not a lot of information about career choices in the discipline. Further, not only could I find very few people who knew anything about Iranian archaeology, but most those who did, advised me against going into the field. I put off my interest in Iranian archaeology until I had a chance to meet my future supervisor, Professor Coningham, when I was enrolled at Durham University in England. Having talked to him about my interest in archaeology and politics he suggested a way out of this lingering impasse by starting on research that concentrated on the historical aspects of Iranian archaeology. He introduced me to Professor Margarita Diaz-Andreu, also later my supervisor, who was already considered a pioneer in articulating the role that history and politics play in shaping the archaeological landscape. Following their lead I began working on my PhD thesis (2014) entitled “Nationalism, Politics, and the Practice of Archaeology: The Case Study of Iran,” partially funded by the AREA Project.

As I began field-work (funded by BIPS) in Iran during the summer of 2010, my ideas began to form and I became more convinced of the many impacts of socio-political factors, such as nationalism and political ideologies, on the formation of a ‘unique tradition’ in Iranian archaeology. I soon realised that being an Iranian diaspora who studied at a British Institute posed serious constraints on the kind of data I was ‘allowed’ to consult. Few months later Durham’s team of excavation was banned from carrying research at the prehistoric site of Sialk due to allegations that they were British spies collecting information from a nearby Nuclear facility. These events further convinced me of the restrictions that politics posed on Iranian archaeology. I began mapping out the Iranian archaeological tradition by presenting the prevalent trends that shaped the discipline and analysing the impact of competing interpretations of nationalism (ethnic, dynastic, Islamic) on its foundation and development. Following an interpretive analysis it was concluded that the discipline was born out of nationalistic traditions, and remains exploited as an instrument to construct particular State-sponsored narratives (Dynastic or Islamic State) through selecting different ‘golden ages’ (pre-Islamic or Islamic). I argued that during certain periods of modern Iranian history, the employment of particular aspects of Iranian identity resulted in the institutionalisation of the discipline. In contrast, during periods when authenticity was sought in ‘charismatic leadership’ or ‘populism,’ archaeology was cast aside as a pseudoscience to legitimise the ‘tyranny’ of Iranian dynasties or, alternatively, employed for populist projects to assert a particular impression of Iran as the protectorate of Shi’a Muslims across the globe. The Nationalistic tradition of Iranian archaeology was asserted through three case-studies that articulated the appropriation of prehistoric (Sialk), pre-Islamic (Persepolis) and Islamic (Friday Mosque of Isfahan) past to legitimise contemporary political discourse and competing brands of nationalism during the Qajar (r.1785-1925 AD), Pahlavi (r.1925-1979 AD), and post-Revolutionary (r.1979 AD-present) periods. It was suggested that the prevalence of this trend was the result of: 1) an overemphasis on historic periods (Achaemenids, Sassanids, Safavids) and in turn the vulnerability of the past for manipulation by certain political regime’s to gain credibility as rightful sovereign of the nation; 2) the government’s efforts (both pre and post-Revolutionary) in resurrecting Iran’s ‘glorious past’ to counter Western antagonistic rhetoric against Iranian culture. Venturing into these topics, I felt, could provide important additional insight into the complex landscape of Iranian archaeology given that due to social constrains and career-threatening repercussions of interpreting the influences of socio-political influenced on archaeology, Iranian archaeologists have refrained from becoming acquainted with more interpretive approaches. My intentions were, and still are, to demonstrate that the articulation of subjective biases that threaten the discipline can raise awareness in the promotion of a more objective approach to Iranian archaeology. I have recently turned my attention to the influence of various theoretical schools, particularly those introduced by the French and American teams, and the extent to which they were co-opted into the Iranian theoretical tradition, in order to draw a clear understanding of the current lack of theoretical debates in Iranian archaeology. Meanwhile, during the coming academic year, as an Iranian Heritage Foundation (IHF) Visiting Fellow at SOAS, I will be working on the underestimated role of archaeology as an instrument that facilitated the construction of a new identity in Iran under the doctrine of ‘Dialogue among Civilisations’ put forward by President Khatami (r. 1997-2005 AD).

Thank you Rana for such an interesting and thought-provoking summary. Any comments please write them below or email Rana or

Have a great weekend


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jen Bracewell permalink
    May 11, 2015 2:18 am

    So interesting! What were the primary ways in which these “archaeological agendas” we’re transmitted to the public?

  2. Rana Daroogheh permalink
    May 16, 2015 6:28 am

    Dear Jen

    Different administrations had different policies. On a macro-level one could distinguish between the pre and post Revolutionary (1979) governments’ policies. The pre-Revolutionary government’s narrative of “iranianness” was heavily invested in the promotion of various ancient festivities and Zoroastrian customs, the employment of neo-Classical Achaemenid element of design in majority of the principle public buildings, the replacement of the Muslim lunar calendar with a solar one which began on the first day of Ancient Persian New Year, and the vast adoption of Achaemenid motifs on logos, stamps and banknotes. After the Revolution the detection of such political transmissions to public becomes more difficult as the mainstream ideology relied on the promotion of an Islamic identity. However, the populist nature of the post-Revolutionary governments allowed for further investments in pre-Islamic Iranian identity given the Iranian young generation at large tried to negate the global resentment towards Iran’s negative image as a totalitarian backward nation through the glorification of the Ancient Persian Empires. The government too, took advantage of this public interest through sporadic promotion of this period mainly by organizing domestic and international exhibitions. These included the Forgotten Persian Empire 2005, Glory of Persia 2007, The Sassanid Persians: Splendors of the Forgotten Empire 2007 and most importantly the showcasing of the Cyrus Cylinder at the National Museum in Tehran in 2010. One could argue that after the Revolution it was the public interest in the pre-Islamic past that spurred the government’s investment in this period rather than the other way around. If you are interested to discuss this further I’ll be happy to provide you with more details.


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