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As British efforts to secure the approaches to India intensified in the closing years of the nineteenth century, expert knowledge of the states bordering the subcontinent became an increasingly sought-after commodity. Particularly high demand existed for individuals possessing first-hand experience of Qajar Persia, a state viewed by many policymakers as a vulnerable anteroom on the glacis of the Raj. Britain's two foremost Persian experts during this period were George Nathaniel Curzon and Edward Granville Browne. While Curzon epitomized the traditional gentleman amateur, Browne embodied the emerging professional scholar. Drawing on both their private papers and publications, this article analyses the relationship between these two men as well as surveys their respective views of British policy toward Iran from the late 1880s until the end of the First World War. Ultimately it contends that Curzon's knowledge of Persia proved deficient in significant ways and that Anglo-Iranian relations, at least in the aftermath of the Great War, might well have been placed on a better footing had Browne's more nuanced understanding of the country and its inhabitants prevailed within the foreign policymaking establishment.

Corresponding author
Magdalene College, Cambridge, CB3
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Research for this article was made possible by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust, and the Canadian Centennial Scholarship Fund. It is based on papers delivered to the Nordic Summer School in Contemporary History, St Petersburg, Russia, and the World History Seminar and Churchill Era and Beyond Postgraduate Conference, Cambridge, England. I am greatly indebted to Ali Ansari, Sir Christopher Bayly, Piers Brendon, John Gurney, Edward Ingram, David Motadel, Tom Rodgers, Douglas Ross, Veronica Strong-Boag, Carl Emil Vogt, and the anonymous referees of the Historical Journal for their constructive comments on earlier drafts. All the usual disclaimers apply. As this article was initially composed in Tehran during the summer of 2007, I would also like to extend my deepest thanks to all members of the Doroudian family, whose extraordinary hospitality and stimulating conversation made for a wonderful stay in the Iranian capital.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

E. Abrahamian , ‘Oriental despotism: the case of Qajar Iran’, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 5 (Jan., 1974), pp. 331

P. W. Avery and J. B. Simmons , ‘Persia on a cross of silver, 1880–1890’, Middle Eastern Studies, 10 (1974), pp. 259–86

D. McLean , ‘A professor extraordinary: E. G. Browne and his Persian campaign, 1908–1913’, Historical Journal, 21 (1978), pp. 399408

M. Bonakdarian , ‘The Persia committee and the constitutional revolution in Iran’, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 18 (1991), pp. 186207.

H. Katouzian , ‘The campaign against the Anglo-Iranian Agreement of 1919’, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 25 (May 1998), pp. 546.

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The Historical Journal
  • ISSN: 0018-246X
  • EISSN: 1469-5103
  • URL: /core/journals/historical-journal
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