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The Tobacco Protest in Nineteenth-Century Iran: The View from a Provincial Town

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This article adopts a microhistorical lens to study the social dynamics that accompanied the eruption of the 1891 protest in Qajar Iran. Utilizing spatial and temporal limits, and a historical narrative technique, it disentangles the often overlooked or confounding aspects of popular claim-making practices in what came to be known as the Tobacco Movement in Iranian and Middle Eastern historiography. In using a bottom-up approach, the article provides ample evidence for the historical agency of the local actors on the ground and several historiographical interventions in areas such as the key social groups that partook in the protest, the tactics and strategies used throughout the agitations, and the dynamics of the Iranian public sphere at this point in time. In showing how the southern city of Shiraz experienced the earliest popular unrest in the country, the paper makes use of new archival evidence to contend that it also articulated the Tobacco Movement’s principal strategy (that of collective strikes and embargoes). The protest leaders in Shiraz never operated in isolation. They were in regular contact with fellow agitators in other parts of the country and in the neighboring Ottoman Empire. In explaining these national and transnational connections, the article makes the case that the Tobacco Protest marks an important phase in the development and maturation of what eventually came to be known as activist or political Islam.

Affiliations: 1: Kansas State


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