Current Institutional Affiliation
Associate Professor, Art History, University of Massachusetts / Dartmouth

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2006
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Exporting the American Dream: The United States and the Making of the Modern Iranian Home

Postwar American domesticity is much studied, but we know little about how exporting it abroad has altered other nations' cultures and built environments. Iran is a perfect locus for examining this process because nowhere in the Middle East did the U.S. push more persistently for modernization after WWII than Iran, and nowhere did America fail more spectacularly. During the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (1941-79), Iran underwent a profound economic and social transformation, buoyed by its oil resources and American economic support. Along with railroads and dams, President Truman's Point IV Program for Iran (1946-67) established several home economics programs, housing developments and shopping centers, directed and designed by American specialists. American aid pushed Iranians into a new space, in concrete as well as abstract terms. "What is going on in Iran," said President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, "is about the best thing going on anywhere in the world." Forty years later, Iran is perceived in a radically different way. This dissertation illuminates a neglected aspect of these changes by examining the culture of the Shah's era as it manifested itself within the home. I will relate the roots of U.S. intervention in "reforming" Iranian domesticity to the Cold War context, and analyze how conservative and revolutionary forces, like the fundamentalist Fadaian-i Islam and the Marxist Tudeh party, contested concepts of gender, class, consumption, and national identity as they took shape within the domestic realm. Finally, I will explore how changes promoted by the U.S. and its allies inadvertently fueled religiously-motivated efforts to return the Iranian home life to its "traditional" roots. My dissertation is a contribution to the historiography of post-WWII modernization of the Third World. Considered in the context of current international tensions, it also sheds light on the ways in which Muslims today view the United States' role in the Middle East.