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Great Britain has a long history in Iran; the first British ambassador visited the country at the end of the sixteenth century. British diplomats had a regular presence in Tehran from the nineteenth century on, and many of them left detailed accounts of their experiences.[1] In contrast, the social and cultural interplay of the two countries has received considerably less attention.

Martin, a University of London historian, fills this gap with Anglo-Iranian Relations since 1800, a collection of short articles by prominent historians. Her own contribution describes the mid-nineteenth century British presence in the Iranian port city of Bushehr. University of Bristol religious studies professor Robert Gleave explores the growing realization of British officials that they needed to consider Iran's religious clerics when making policy. Stephanie Cronin, author of Army and the Creation of the Pahlavi State in Iran,[2] rehashes old territory with a chapter on "Britain, the Iranian Military, and the Rise of Reza Khan," the Iranian military officer who in 1925 would declare himself shah. St. Andrews University historian Ali Ansari writes about Iran in the Western "imagination," a topic that could be interesting except that it lacks any quantitative analysis, so his essay contributes little.

Far better is an essay by Jennifer Scarce, formerly of the National Museum of Scotland, who writes about Sir Robert Murdoch Smith, the military officer and diplomat who helped the Scottish museum assemble its impressive collection of Persian art. Also valuable is a short contribution by the late Sir Denis Wright, who headed a team of British diplomats to reopen the British embassy in Tehran following the 1953 coup against Prime Minister Muhammad Musaddiq.

Some contributors lend historical analysis to more contemporary issues. Oxford Oriental Institute scholar Hossein Moghaddam summarizes some long-forgotten Anglo-Iranian diplomatic wrangling of the nineteenth and twentieth century to reinforce Iran's claim to the Tonb Islands and Abu Musa, the Persian Gulf islands to which the United Arab Emirates also lay claim. Less helpfully, Reza Nazarahari of the Center for Documents and Diplomatic History in Tehran restates the Iranian claim using largely secondary sources and suggesting a British conspiracy.

Indeed, some of the most interesting chapters come from historians living in Iran. Using untapped Iranian archival documents, University of Isfahan historian Morteza Nouraei writes about how ordinary Iranians received British culture. Mansoureh Ettehadieh Nezam Mafi, a well-known historian and publisher, examines the archives to explore relations between the governor of the southern Iranian province of Fars and British officials during and immediately after World War I. Using British Petroleum archives, Gorgan University historian Mohammad Malek gives a snapshot of the activities of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in Iran between the world wars. But this has been done before[3] and his work adds little new.

Thus, Anglo-Iranian Relations since 1800 is a mixed bag. Most articles are useful to historians, but only a few deliver the promised new insights into the interplay of Anglo-Iranian social and cultural ties. The publisher's absurd asking price—about 60 cents per page of text—will keep even these out of reach.

[1] See Sir John Malcolm, History of Persia (London: Murray, 1829); Harford Jones Brydges, An Account of the Transactions of His Majesty's Mission to the Court of Persia (London: J. Bohn, 1834); Reader Bullard, Letters from Tehran, ed. E.C. Hodgkin (London: I.B. Tauris, 1991).
[2] London: Tauris Academic Studies, 1997.
[3] James Bamberg, The History of the British Petroleum Company, Volume II: The Anglo-Iranian Years, 1928-1954 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).