Iran has a long history of ancient civilizations and a rich traditional knowledge in domesticating wild plants and using soil and water resources for production of food, feed, and fiber. The development of early soil knowledge in the Iranian history goes back to the Achaemenid dynasty in 550 BC. However, the modern and formal scientific attempt to conduct soil research and studies in the country was in the early 1950s in conjunction with modernization of agriculture sector and construction of big dams.
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In 1964, the first English book on soils of Iran and the accompanied maps at a scale of 1:2,500,000 was published after several years of field studies and soil characterization through the joint collaboration between Soil Institute of Iran and FAO. Since then, soil survey projects have been conducted in many regions, and soil maps at reconnaissance and semi-detailed scale of 1:50,000 are available for most of the agricultural plains. Moreover, the land resource and potentiality maps at the scale of 1:250,000 have been prepared for all the provinces. In addition, universities and research institutes have carried out many studies and research projects on different aspects and properties of soils in different regions of the country.
Modern Iranian historiography has been dominated by a number of prominent themes, most importantly nationalism, modernization, religion, autocracy, revolution and war, which have led to animated debates and controversies among historians. These debates have often been conducted within a limited theoretical framework informed by civilizational approaches (pre-Islamic versus Islamic), Orientalism and other forms of essentialism, while the expansion of the state encouraged a top-down view that privileged the role of elites and marginalized the subaltern.
Echoes of ancient civilisations resonate down through the ages in Iran. Some of history’s biggest names – Cyrus and Darius, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan – all left their mark here and the cities they conquered or over which they ruled are among the finest in a region rich with such storied ruins. Walking around the awesome and beautiful ancient capital at Persepolis, experiencing the remote power of Susa (Shush), and taking in the wonderfully immense Elamite ziggurat at Choqa Zanbil will carry you all the way back to the glory days of Ancient Persia.
Covering half a millennium of history of any country or region is a formidable task. When it comes to the history of early modern and modern Iran, it becomes daunting. It took nearly two decades for me to try to cover a complex period that witnessed five dynastic changes, at least three revolutions, three civil wars, four episodes of foreign occupation, and the inception of a new Islamic government. I hope I have produced a coherent narrative that threads the events of this past into meaningful themes, just as every knot feeds into the larger pattern of a Persian carpet. Yet history, as historians are anxious to caution their readers, has many random twists and turns, which seldom lend themselves to an orderly design. What emerges, as in this book, may seem to be disarray up close, but from afar, with the benefit of hindsight, it reveals a pattern with many discernable paths.
For many years, Iran has been closed off from much of the rest of the outside world, but now the country is opening up. The conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in July 2015 and the consequent implementation of commitments for the removal of sanctions on Iran in January 2016 have opened up a range of new opportunities— especially commercial opportunities— in relations between Iran and the rest of the world.
IN THE FIRST week of December 2011, in London, I was approached by a stranger with a proposition that would eventually lead me on a journey of thousands of miles to a land of secrets, fear and an irrepressible lust for life.
The Safavid dynasty’s period of rule (1501–1722) is one of the most important epochs in Iran’s religio-political history as well as in the history of Shiʿi higher learning. It was during the Safavid period that Twelver Shiʿism gradually transitioned from being a minority sect to constituting Iran’s official religion. This transformation was facilitated by the evolution of Shiʿi educational and scholarly undertakings. Not only did Twelver Shiʿi religious scholars have the opportunity to spread their knowledge on a wider public scale, but during Safavid rule Shiʿi literature also grew remarkably. Thousands of treatises were written both in Arabic and in Persian on legal, philosophical, and theological subjects, and many compendia on various scholarly subjects were produced. This literary corpus helped establish and sustain systems of religious authority that persist in Iran to this day.
Oriental studies in general, and Iranian studies in particular, has been a stronghold of micro-specialists for much of its history. Scholars in the tradition of European ‘classics’, concentrating on primary sources and trained vigorously in ancient and modern languages and other methods of source analysis, scrutinise sources that are ‘recovered’ from the east, looking for details of the lives of the distant Orientals. This is much the same way that scholarship has long been conducted for European history itself, going back to what sources were available and trying to reconstruct how things might have been.1 In this approach, ‘history’ was something that emerged from the convergence of knowledge created by philologists, archaeologists, scholars of religion, numismatists, and other scholars concerned with ‘primary’ sources.
By 1206, Temüjin, a young Mongol prince, had concluded his military campaigns in the Mongolian steppes, finding himself enthroned by his peers and rivals and renamed Chinggis (usually known as Genghis) Khan from then on. While this date marks the end of a bloody period in Mongolian history, it also symbolises the beginning of an even bloodier era in the history of Eurasia. The Mongol armies, now united under Chinggis Khan would, over the course of three generations, conquer all that lay in their path from the Yellow Sea to the Danube in Central Europe and from Siberia to the Indus. Yet, when speaking of nomadic empires, conquest does not necessarily lead to territorial unity. As soon as Chinggis Khan died in 1227, the conquered territories were divided among his four sons and their descendants, prompting the fragmentation of the empire into four khanates (China, Central Asia, Iran and the Golden Horde of Russia) that would be fighting each other only a few years after the death of Ögetei Khan (d. 1241), first successor of Chinggis Khan.
I reached into my carry-on to feel for two items I had brought with me, wanting to reassure myself that they were still there: a black headscarf and a long black overcoat. The flight attendant passed by, collecting plastic cups and wrappers of overly sweet breakfast pastry. I looked around the cabin and saw only two women wearing headscarves. When was the right time to change? I had not wanted to show up at the airport in full fieldwork garb. That somehow seemed inappropriate, as though I were trying too hard to blend in. But now that we were getting close to landing, I wondered when I was going to put on my hijab, and who was going to make sure I was covered properly.