Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Eve M. Troutt Powell


This dissertation explores conceptions of blackness in Iran through a visual, textual, and spatial analysis of enslavement and manumission during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This dissertation asks the critical question: how and why did the abolition of slavery in Iran fail to unravel forms of racial difference, instead making them more powerful and persuasive? Departing from previous studies that cast Iranian slavery and society as unencumbered by racism, I argue that mass media technologies, particularly photography, communicated clear racial hierarchies, crystallizing a particular language of slavery that racialized Africans as slaves even as the legal institution of slavery was being dismantled. This racial visibility allowed other slaves, particularly Caucasians, to disappear from visual sources, further reifying blackness as equivalent to enslavement. Abolition efforts focused on erasing the history of slavery and ultimately failed to address these racial dynamics. Drawing on analyses of photographs, architecture, theater and circus acts, newspapers, memoirs and sports clubs, I show how mediated understandings of blackness produced multi-dimensional forms of social exclusion. Each chapter of the dissertation examines a crucial period, from the last decades of legal slavery, to the manumission of slaves in 1929, to the subsequent reverberations of abolition. This study on the racialization of blackness and its legacies expands current discourses on race and racism to Iran and challenges popular and academic notions that undermine the trauma of Iranian slavery.

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