Why did Iran become an Islamic republic in 1979?
Fourth edition. July 2019.

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. The Iranian Revolution traces the history of Iran from its early dynasties to the present. Students explore Iran’s cultural history, its efforts to establish a representative democracy early in the twentieth century, and the role the great powers played in shaping events in Iran. A central activity helps students recreate the debate Iranians had about their own future in 1979.

Preview this unit. Preview includes the Table of Contents for the Student Text and the Teacher Resource Book as well as a student reading excerpt and one lesson plan.


Iran's Constitutional Revolution: 1906-1911

Students examine documents and sources surrounding the Constitutional Revolution and create a newspaper article.

Iranian Oil Nationalization

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

The 1953 Coup

Students use primary source documents to identify the motivations and interests of the Iranian and U.S. governments in regard to oil nationalization in Iran and the coup of 1953.

The Options Role Play

Students participate in a simulation set in 1979 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 and twenty-first centuries.

Assessment Using Documents: Causes of the Iranian Revolution

Students identify the value and limitations of using different types of sources to draw conclusions about the causes of the Iranian Revolution of 1979. They integrate their findings into a coherent written response.

In this lesson, students explore their perceptions of women in Iran, gather information from videos about women living in Iran, and consider the effect of perceptions on international relations.

Supplemental Resources

Additional reference material for added context and support.


Abrahamian, Ervand. The Coup: 1953, the CIA, and the Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian Relations. New York: New Press, 2013.

Cleveland, William L. and Bunton, Martin. A History of the Modern Middle East, Sixth Edition. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2016.

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

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

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

Limbert, John W. Negotiating with Iran: Wrestling the Ghosts of History. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Institute of Peace, 2009.

This video of a news broadcast from YouTube is a good introduction to the Options Role Play. It illustrates the scope of protests and conveys the feeling of uncertainty about the future of Iran.
Extensive information on Iranian history, art, and culture.
Primary sources about the coup. Documents are near the bottom of the page.
The New York Times published secret CIA documents on the history of the 1953 coup.
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