History education and the construction of national identity in Iran

Maryam Soltan Zadeh, Florida International University


This study examined the representation of national and religious dimensions of Iranian history and identity in Iranian middle school history textbooks. Furthermore, through a qualitative case study in a school in the capital city of Tehran, teachers' use of textbooks in classrooms, students' response, their perceptions of the country's past, and their definitions of national identity is studied. The study follows a critical discourse analysis framework by focusing on the subjectivity of the text and examining how specific concepts, in this case collective identities, are constructed through historical narratives and how social actors, in this case students, interact with , and make sense of, the process. My definition of national identity is based on the ethnosymbolism paradigm (Smith, 2003) that accommodates both pre-modern cultural roots of a nation and the development and trajectory of modern political institutions. Two qualitative approaches of discourse analysis and case study were employed. The textbooks selected were those published by the Ministry of Education; universally used in all middle schools across the country in 2009. The case study was conducted in a girls' school in Tehran. The students who participated in the study were ninth grade students who were in their first year of high school and had just finished a complete course of Iranian history in middle school. Observations were done in history classes in all three grades of the middle school. The study findings show that textbooks present a generally negative discourse of Iran's long history as being dominated by foreign invasions and incompetent kings. At the same time, the role of Islam and Muslim clergy gradually elevates in salvaging the country from its despair throughout history, becomes prominent in modern times, and finally culminates in the Islamic Revolution as the ultimate point of victory for the Iranian people. Throughout this representation, Islam becomes increasingly dominant in the textbooks' narrative of Iranian identity and by the time of the Islamic Revolution morphs into its single most prominent element. On the other hand, the students have created their own image of Iran's history and Iranian identity that diverges from that of the textbooks especially in their recollection of modern times. They have internalized the generally negative narrative of textbooks, but have not accepted the positive role of Islam and Muslim clergy. Their notion of Iranian identity is dominated by feelings of defeat and failure, anecdotal elements of pride in the very ancient history, and a sense of passivity and helplessness.

Subject Area

Asian Studies|Education|Education history

Recommended Citation

Soltan Zadeh, Maryam, "History education and the construction of national identity in Iran" (2012). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3517039.