Slavery in 19th and 20th Century Iran

This panel was compiled by the Conference Program Team from independently submitted paper proposals

Personal Information (Panel Organizer)

Pedram Khosronejad
Oklahoma State University


Thomas Ricks


Room 31
Wed, 2016-08-03 08:45 - 10:30


by Thomas Ricks / Independent Scholar

The paper investigates and explains the extent to which the Iranian diaspora trading communities in the Indian Ocean ports and hinterland market towns of India and part of the Arabian Peninsula were involved in the early modern slave trade of the 16th to 19th centuries with emphasis on the 19th. While general historical narratives describe the Iranian merchant families involvements in transshipping and selling of slaves from Ethiopia (Abyssinia-Red Sea region), and from parts of East Africa and Western India into the Persian Gulf, there remains a number of questions about the Iranian diaspora's financial, shipping, and selling arrangements. Finally, the paper examines the extent of the commercial activities of the Iranian diaspora trading communiities along the East African, Arabian and Indian coastal regions with the homeland Iranian merchant communities particularly in Southern Iran and its ports up to the end of the nineteenth century. Trading bonds assisted the diaspora Iranians to maintain continuous ties with the Iranian homeland and with each other throughout the Indian Ocean trading network. The paper relies on key Persian and European traveler accounts, the East India Company records, the Augustinian Archives in Villanova University and, the Presbyterian Historical Society's archives along with the pertinent US records in the National Archives of College Park.

by Heidi Walcher / LMU Munich (University of Munich)

With Britain’s politics of abolitionism since the beginning of the 19th century and a growing, worldwide politicization of the issue, slave trade and slavery became an international concern. Britain’s interference in slavery in Iran was a corollary of her immediate interests in the Persian Gulf and the Ottoman Empire; without Iranian cooperation, the abolition of the slave trade in Ottoman domains was not feasible. In 1847 Sultan Abd al-Majid issued a decree for the prohibition of the import of slaves through the Persian Gulf, agreements had also been concluded with the Imam of Muscat in 1845 and again in 1847. In 1846 Britain began to pressure Muhammad Shah (1843-1848), who reacted defensive. Britain’s attempt to draw in high ranking Shi’i clerics to support the prohibition of the slave trade led to a few standard Islamic statements about the positive aspects of freeing slaves, but otherwise had little effects and rather engendered tacit resistance. Under the sustained diplomatic pressure, Muhammad Shah, shortly before his death in 1848, gave in and issued a decree for the prohibition of the import of slaves via the sea, but explicitly authorized the continued trade of humans via the land routes. Historians who have worked on the slavery of Iran have called this decree the first „abolitionist decree.“ However, a more precise reading of the accessible reports makes clear that this was a measure which had been suggested by the British to the shah very early on in the debate and that the decree was a canny diplomatic move to end constant British pressure.
Pursuing the discussion about slavery and the abolition of slavery in Iran through the available archival sources shows internal Iranian criticism on traditional social hierarchies, including slavery, emerged extremely slowly. Decisive changes toward the abolition of slavery and trade in humans were introduced only during the Constitutional Revolution and even in the 1930s slavery was still common in certain areas (i.e. Baluchestan).
The paper will be based on European archival repositories (BNA and IOL) and published Persian materials. Depending on the possibilities of access to materials in early 2016, the discussion of the paper will be able to draw on those sources or not.

by Pedram Khosronejad / Oklahoma State University

It all started with a conversation about photography in Qajar Iran and how the concept of African slavery could be documented through that medium by King, his court photographs and other slaveholders. Then there was another conversation about representation and presentation; and yet another conversation about the archive and the photographic object, about slavery and memory, personal and collective; and a conversation about photographs of the past and their historical, social and cultural values today. This paper explores the ways in which African slaves were represented, documented, debated, and asserted in a wide range of photographs from the 1840s through the 1960s. We see these images as historically situated representations, created mostly by slaveholders. We also view them as powerful images with enduring meanings and legacies.