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Study information

Introduction to Persian History and Culture

Module titleIntroduction to Persian History and Culture
Module codeARA1021
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Dr Michael Noble (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This module introduces you to the great civilization and culture of Persia (including modern-day Iran, as well as historically speaking parts of Central Asia such as Afghanistan and Tajikistan, not to mention much of modern-day Anatolian Turkey and Iraq) from ancient until modern times. The module covers about 7000 years of Persian history, proceeding chronologically, beginning with pre-Islamic Persia around 5000 B.C.

The study of Iranian civilization and culture is the most neglected aspect of Islamic Studies today. This course remedies this shortcoming, introducing you to one of the world’s greatest empires, its classical Islamic civilization, its contemporary body-politic and its vibrant national culture.

This is primarily a discussion-seminar course, and the small-group format will require your intensive, active participation in and preparation for the class. Classes will be introduced by 45-60 minute powerpoint-illustrated lecture, followed by directed discussions based on pre-assigned questions drawn from the readings.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The class covers about 7000 years of Persian history, proceeding chronologically, beginning with pre-Islamic Persia around 5000 B.C. The first class concentrates primarily on giving students an outline of the glories of pre-Islamic Iran during the Achaemenian – followed by the Parthian and Sassanian – Empires. We will examine the wars between the Persians and the Greeks and Alexander the Great’s conquest of Persia and its aftermath as well. The following two classes cover the rise of Islam, the Arab conquest, the Islamization of most of Iran, with the emergence of local Iranian dynasties and the appearance of the ‘New Persian’ language out of the fusion of Middle Persian with Arabic. Class four gives an overview of both the role of the indigenous Persian religions (Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism) in Persian history, as well an account of the place of Christianity, Gnosticism and Judaism in ancient and medieval Persia. Classes five through seven attempt to summarize the history of the various dynasties who ruled Iran during the twelfth through fifteenth centuries—Ghaznavids, Saljuqs, Mongol Il-Khans and Timurids—highlighting some of the great poets, historians, theologians, scientists, Sufis and philosophers who flourished during this renaissance period. Class eight is devoted to the culture, society, politics and literature of Safavid Persia (1501-1722). The final three classes treat Iranian history and culture during the 17th-19th centuries (the Afsharid, Zand and Qajar dynasties) and in modern times, from the Pahlavi monarchy during the twentieth century down to the clerical coup d’Etat of 1979, concluding with an overview of the last three decades of the Ayatollahs’ dictatorship down to Ahmadnejad. At the end of the course students will have gained a thorough acquaintance with both the classical history and contemporary politics and culture of one of the greatest of the world’s civilizations.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. demonstrate introductory level skills of historical and cultural analysis, with reference to the history of Iran;
  • 2. demonstrate introductory understanding of Iranian history, in both the pre-Islamic and Islamic periods;

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. understand historical change and develop a coherent argument based on secondary sources;
  • 4. develop critical approaches to the historiography of Iran;

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. develop analytical and writing skills through reading assignments
  • 6. compose essays;
  • 7. participate in directed class discussions; and
  • 8. manage time and observe deadlines.

Syllabus plan

Week 1. Introductory – Overview of Iranian History

Week 2. Pre-Islamic Iran

Week 3. The Coming of Islam

Week 4. Iranian local dynasties, Turks and Mongols, and the emergence of New Persian literature

Week 5. The Safavids - literature and history

Week 6. The Fall of the Safavids, Nader Shah and the 18th century Interregnum

Week 7. The Qajars and the Constitutional Revolution

Week 8. The Pahlavis

Week 9. Literature and politics in 20th century Iran

Week 10. The Revolution of 1979

Week 11. Iran since the Revolution

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching activity 22The module will consist of lectures and regular class discussions of assigned reading with a view to monitoring the assimilation of material
Guided Independent study55Students will need to spend time researching in the library while reading the required text
Guided Independent study20Students will need to spend time in the library researching on their term paper
Guided Independent study53Private Study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Classroom discussions based on study questions to be answered by small groups of students in class in response to the assigned readings 30 minutes per class1,2,7The teacher's response to the students' discussion will initiate a Q&A dialogue between us that allows the student to better digest, understand and critically evaluate the readings, history and historical concepts at play

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay501,500 words1-8Written feedback
Essay501,500 words1-8Written feedback

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay (1,500 words)1-8August/September reassessment period
EssayEssay (1,500 words)1-8August/September reassessment period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Michael Axworthy, Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran (London: Hurst 2007).

Alessandro Bausani, Religion in Iran, trans. J.M. Marchesi (New York: Bibliotheca Persica 2000).

The Cambridge History of Iran. Multiple Editors. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1968-91), 7 volumes.

Richard Foltz, Spirituality in the Land of the Noble: How Iran Shaped the World's Religions (Oxford: Oneworld 2004).

David Morgan, Medieval Persia, 1040-1797 (London: Longman 1988).

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

 ELE –

Key words search

Persian History Culture Achamenids Iran

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date