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Travel Report: Khashayar Hemmati, Department of History

November 10, 2015
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Khashayar Hemmati, a Master's student in History, received a Graduate International Research Travel Award (GIRTA) to further his research in the United States and the United Kingdom. His report:

My Master’s Thesis focused on the history of the creation of a national monument in Tehran during the 2500th Anniversary of the Persian Empire in 1971. On October 16, 1971, the Shah of Iran inaugurated the Shahyad Aryamehr Monument. Less than nine years later, with Iran engulfed in the revolutionary events of 1979, the Shah would catch one last glimpse of this structure while leaving for exile.

In my thesis I explore the projection of this monument’s image by the Pahlavi monarchy and later its usage and appropriation following the Iranian Revolution to explain its greater role in Iranian cultural politics of nation building. By examining the different ways in which the monument was fashioned, re-fashioned and represented, this thesis demonstrates that Shahyad/Azadi played a central role within larger efforts of two Iranian regimes to define the nation’s past, present, and future.

After receiving the GIRTA, I had the opportunity to conduct my research by travelling to Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts, the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, and the National Archives in the UK Government in Kew, England. At Harvard, I conducted my research at the university’s various libraries including  the Fine Arts Library and the Widener Library, with its large collection at the Middle Eastern Division. In particular I found many sources dealing with Iranian construction, nation-building, urban planning, and architecture during the time of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s reign.

After spending a week in Boston, I then travelled to Washington, DC. In the capital city, I conducted research at the Library of Congress, the largest library in the world. In particular, I spent time in the Thomas Jefferson Building and mostly in the James Madison Memorial Building. Despite the rigorous security checks, my time in Washington was a huge success for my research. The extensive collection of newspapers at the Library of Congress, both the digitalized and the collections on microfilm, provided me with much data and strengthened my already large collection of primary sources, including many Iranian newspapers, which I had been able to receive through SFU’s interlibrary services thanks our librarian Sonny Wong. In addition, I was lucky to receive a rare film brought over for me from the collections held in the state of Virginia, which I was able to view at the Motion Picture and Television Reading Room, providing me with televised footage which I used for my thesis.

After returning to Vancouver briefly, I left for my third and final destination of London, England. While I had in my possession many sources, in order to provide a well-rounded view for my research, I sought to visit the National Archives of the UK Government in Kew. The ease and comfort offered by the services of the archives allowed me to take thousands of pictures of confidential, secret, and private memos, letters, and reports by the British Government and diplomats on Iranian events. These sources not only strengthened my methodology, but also allowed me to present many of these files for the first time in my thesis contributing to an original historical work.

I successfully defended my thesis on August 20, 2015 and without GIRTA this would not have been possible. After conducting numerous interviews with the architect of the monument—Hossein Amanat—he could not believe the amount of research material I had been able to gather. Towards the end of one our meetings, just before I was about to leave, he said, "Thank you for bringing back memories I had lost with your work and the pictures of myself I had never seen." My eyes welled up seeing his reaction. At 24 years of age, I made a very small contribution to the rich Iranian history of 2500 years, and at 24 years of age Hossein Amanat made history as he gave us the most recognizable single structure in contemporary Iran; a monument which has defined the nations' past, present, and path towards the future through its very existence.

Khashayar Hemmati's thesis: A Monument of Destiny: Envisioning A Nation’s Past, Present, and Future Through Shahyad/Azadi

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