Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet


This dissertation examines the history of natural gas in twentieth-century Iran, foregrounding the interactions between energy technologies, the natural environment, and the politics of national development. In joining Iran-as-state, Iran-as-society, and Iran-as-geology, it argues that modern Iran has been co-constituted with natural gas and its infrastructures of use, both reflecting the hopes of Iranians and constraining what was possible with their physical and technological properties. Over the past seventy years, Iranian society has become increasingly ordered around the consumption of gas energy, a result of the decades-long efforts of both the pre-revolutionary Pahlavi monarchy and the post-1979 Islamic Republic to make the resource a pillar of Iranian society. Under these two regimes, gas energy—seen as abundant, inexpensive, clean, and modern—became a crucial embodiment of official commitments to national development and public welfare, both informing and being harnessed by a developmental vision for Iran that remained remarkably stable across the violent revolutionary divide. Drawing on analyses of internal correspondence and reports produced by officials working in Iranian ministries, the National Iranian Oil and Gas Companies, and British Petroleum; scientific articles published by Iranian experts; magazines, photographs, and promotional materials produced by the NIOC and the Ministry of Petroleum for public audiences; and articles appearing in national dailies, this dissertation brings together the political, technological, social, geologic, and climatic histories of Iran to chart in a largely chronological manner the transformation of natural gas from a waste product into the centerpiece of the industrialization, environmental, and legitimation strategies of two regimes. United by natural gas, the enmeshing of these perspectives reflects the crucial role of nonhuman factors in this story, significant but heretofore largely overlooked elements of Iranian history. Going beyond the questions of geopolitics and religion that have largely dominated discussions of the country’s modern history, this dissertation argues that factors like the volatility of natural gas, the fractured rock of limestone formations, the height of mountain ranges, and the hot sun of a semi-arid climate all worked to push Iranian policymakers toward identifying natural gas as the energy source around which to build a new society.

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