Why did Iran become an Islamic republic in 1979?
Third edition. May 2012.

In 1978, millions of Iranians risked their lives to protest against the shah. Marching in the streets, Iranians sought to end repressive rule, bring justice and opportunity to Iranians, and rid Iran of the influence of foreign powers – particularly the United States. But Iranians were not unified about how to achieve these goals. Nor were they sure what kind of government they wanted. With the departure of the shah in January 1979, a tremendous struggle began for the future of Iran.

Iran Through the Looking Glass: History, Reform, and Revolution┬átraces the history of Iran and then engages students in the choices considered during this period debate and uncertainty. Students explore Iran’s cultural history, its efforts to establish a representative democracy in the twentieth century, and the role the great powers played in shaping events in Iran.


Three readings trace the history of Iran from its early dynasties to the present. Part I explores the origins of the values of social and economic justice that shaped Iranian political life. Part II examines the period from the end of World War II to the 1979 revolution. Students consider the origins of upheaval and change in Iran during this period. A final reading surveys the Islamic Republic of Iran since 1979, and helps students to understand the significance of the Iranian Revolution.


Iran's Constitutional Revolution: 1906-1911

Students examine documents and sources surrounding the Constitutional Revolution.

Iranian Oil Nationalization

Students explore the points of view of the parties involved in the Oil Nationalization Movement led by Mohammad Mossadegh.

U.S. Documents of the 1953 Coup

Students analyze classified U.S. documents and newspaper articles on the 1953 coup.

Role Playing the Three Options

Students participate in a simulation in which they assume the roles of Iranians at Tehran University debating their future.

Charting Iran's Political Climate

Students chart Iran's swings between representative and authoritarian politics during the twentieth century.

Human Rights in Iran

Students consider human rights in Iran under the shah and today.

Supplemental Resources

Additional reference material for added context and support.


Cleveland, William. A History of the Modern Middle East (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2000). 585 Pages.

Bill, James A. The Eagle and the Lion: The Tragedy of American-Iranian Relations (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988). 520 pages.

Keddie, Nicki R. Modern Iran: Roots and Results of a Revolution (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006). 408 pages.

Kinzer, Stephen. All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror (Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, 2003). 258 pages.

Gheissari, Ali and Vali Nasr. Democracy in Iran: History and the Quest for Liberty (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006) 214 pages.

Mottahedeh, Roy. The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1985). 416 pages.

This video of a news broadcast from YouTube is a good introduction to the roleplay. It illustrates the scope of protests and conveys the feeling of uncertainty about the future of Iran.
This video of the shah can be used in conjunction with the Day Five lesson "Human Rights in Iran."
Extensive Information on Iranian history, art, and culture.
Primary sources about the coup.
The New York Times published secret CIA documents on the history of the 1953 coup.
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