This talk will look at the conditions of the urban poor in Iran at the end of the nineteenth century, focusing in particular on the repeated crises caused by sharp rises in the price of bread. It examines the evidence which supports the notion that Iran experienced a “golden age” of bread riots in the 1890s and early 1900s, just before and indeed contributing to the outbreak of the constitutional revolution. The 1890s are often seen as an interregnum, a period between the Tobacco Protest of the early 1890s and the constitutional revolution of 1905, when political activity was in abeyance or semi-clandestine, revolution finally galvanized as much by external events as domestic politics. Yet the story of the bread riots paints a different picture, and writes into the narrative of these years the experience of the urban poor. Iran’s cities in these years were convulsed by popular protests at intolerable conditions. From the perspective of the hungry poor, the revolution of 1905-6 appears, not as the project of a discontented intelligentsia, dazzled by European constitutionalism, nor of a modernist, oppositional clergy, but as the logical outcome of a deepening political and social crisis.
Stephanie Cronin holds the Roshan Institute Visiting Research Fellowship at St Antony’s College and is a member of the Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford. She has also held an Iran Heritage Foundation fellowship for many years. She is the author of Armies and State-building in the Modern Middle East: Politics, Nationalism and Military Reform (I. B. Tauris, 2014); Shahs, Soldiers and Subalterns in Iran: Opposition, Protest and Revolt, 1921-1941 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); Tribal Politics in Iran: Rural Conflict and the New State, 1921-1941 (Routledge, 2006); and The Army and the Creation of the Pahlavi State in Iran, 1910-1926 (I. B. Tauris, 1997). She is the editor of Subalterns and Social Protest: History from Below in the Middle East and North Africa (Routledge, 2007); Reformers and Revolutionaries in Modern Iran: New Perspectives on the Iranian Left (Routledge, 2004); and The Making of Modern Iran; State and Society under Riza Shah, 1921-1941 (Routledge, 2003). She is currently working on a social history of modern Iran “from below”.