From Persia to Iran: A short history


Using a historical context this course will provide you with a greater understanding of current events in this important country in the Middle East. You will hear a narrative of Persian history from ancient times to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Target audience:
This course will appeal to anyone who enjoys history, particularly with an interest in the Middle East.

Learning objectives:
By the end of this course, you will:

  • Understand the basic narrative of Persian/Iranian history from ancient times to the present.
  • Appreciate the importance of Shia Islam in Iranian politics, culture and society.
  • Appreciate the impact western powers have had on Iranian domestic politics.

Course outline:
Each session includes two one-hour lecture presentations and time for questions and discussion.

Session 1

  • Persia in the Ancient World 
  • Medieval Persia: the Islamic Conquest

Session 2

  • The Safavids and the rise of Shia Islam
  • The Qajars and the Constitutional Revolution

Session 3

  • Pahlavi Iran and the Importance of Oil
  • Khomeini's Revolution

Session 4

  • The Islamic Republic of Iran 
  • Iran in international politics

There is a short break halfway through each session and you are welcome to bring your own refreshments if you wish.

Alexander Maxwell teaches history at Victoria University, including an overview of the Middle East called “Arabs, Persians, Turks.” He has published widely on the origins of nationalism, and has also written about the interplay between secular nationalism and Islam.

“The lecturers clearly both had a passion of the subject and a vast amount of knowledge of the topics covered. Thanks for an informative and enjoyable course”, Science and the Stars: A brief history of astrophysics participant (2018)

“Great course! Alexander made the topic easy to understand”, Science and the Stars: A brief history of astrophysics participant (2018)

“Hope there are more courses run by Dr Maxwell. His teaching style is excellent and engages us, the audience. His research was excellent”, Science and the Stars: A brief history of astrophysics participant (2018)

Relevant links:
School of History, Philosophy, Political Studies and International Relations

For further information:
Continuing Education, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140.
Phone 04 463 6556,  Email:

Please note: Courses need a minimum number of enrolments to go ahead. If your course doesn’t reach the number required, we’ll have to cancel it. If this happens, we’ll contact you by phone or email about a week before the scheduled start date and arrange a full refund. Please check your emails regularly.