Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet

Dr. Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet

Walter H. Annenberg Professor of History

Modern Middle East with a focus on Iran and its borderlands, the Persian Gulf, and the Ottoman Empire


St. Leonard's Court, Room 300.3

Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet received her B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she was a Morehead Scholar. She completed her M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. in history at Yale University. Her book, Frontier Fictions: Shaping the Iranian Nation, 1804-1946 (Princeton University Press, 1999) analyzes the significance of land and border disputes to the process of identity and nation formation, as well as to cultural production, in Iran and its borderlands. It pays specific attention to Iran's shared boundaries with the Ottoman Empire (later Iraq and Turkey), Central Asia, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf region. Her book was translated into Persian by Kitabsara Press, Tehran, Iran and has been released in paperback by Princeton in 2011. The Turkish translation of this book was published by Istanbul Bilgi University Press. To read about the impact of her work as a “locus classicus” when it was first written, see the following study by renowned Iranologist, the late Dr. Bert G. Fragner.


Kashani-Sabet’s article, “Fragile Frontiers: The Diminishing Domains of Qajar Iran," undergirded an art exhibition entitled: “Fragile Frontiers — Visions on Iran’s In/Visible Borders" (ZƏRİF SƏRHƏDLƏR – İRANIN GÖRÜN[MƏY]ƏN SƏRHƏDLƏRİNƏ BAXIŞ) at the Yarat Centre in Baku, Azerbaijan, where artists interpreted the notion of frontiers through multi-media works that explored borderland migrations, shared historical and cultural experiences, as well as the unnatural separation of local communities.


Building on this body of research, Professor Kashani-Sabet is completing a forthcoming book, Tales of Trespassing: Borderland Histories of Iran, Iraq, and the Persian Gulf (under contract to Cambridge University Press), in which she expands on her arguments about frontiers, nature, and border communities in Middle Eastern modernity. She spent the 2015-16 academic year at the Institute for Advanced Study's School of Social Science in Princeton, New Jersey participating in the School's designated theme, "Borders and Boundaries." During the 2021-2022 academic year, she was a fellow of the Wolf Humanities Center’s forum on “Migration.”


In addition, Dr. Kashani-Sabet has worked extensively on the histories of disease, science, and reproductive politics. She published a book entitled, Conceiving Citizens: Women and the Politics of Motherhood in Iran (Oxford University Press, 2011), which received the 2012 book award from the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies for outstanding scholarship in the field of Middle East gender studies. She has also published articles on disability, hygiene, humanism, and quarantines in the context of the Persianate world.


Her new book, Heroes to Hostages: America and Iran, 1800-1988 (Cambridge University Press) analyzes the ties between America and Iran not only through international diplomacy, but also through cultural and social history, with a focus on race, gender, and ethnic relations. It draws on a wide array of sources in Persian and English. Dr. Kashani-Sabet worked on this project for two decades, publishing peer-reviewed excerpts from it and delivering numerous public talks related to it, including at Penn.


In addition, her co-edited volume with Dr. Robert Steele, Iran and Global Decolonisation: Politics and Resistance After Empire, is being published by Gingko Press – St. Andrews Series. The contributors to this volume provide fascinating and deeply researched perspectives on Iran’s experiences during the Second World War, Iran’s relations with formerly colonized communities, as well as Iran’s engagement with race, gender, and economic inequality.


Professor Kashani-Sabet has written several fictional pieces. Her first novel, Martyrdom Streetwas published by Syracuse University Press in 2010, and an excerpt from this work is available for download below. She is in the process of writing another novel that grapples with the complexities of modern Iranian society. Kashani-Sabet views fiction as a creative medium through which to explore the human and emotional dimensions of social upheaval. She also published a poem, “A Sestina in 1979,” which explores the beauty and burden of creating “boundless music.”


Professor Kashani-Sabet teaches courses on various aspects of modern Middle Eastern history, including ethnic and political conflicts, borderlands, gender and women's issues, popular culture, diplomatic history, revolutionary ideologies, and general surveys. Dr. Kashani-Sabet directed the Middle East Center at the University of Pennsylvania as a National Resource Center from 2006 - 2019. In that role, she also successfully received competitive FLAS funding for the study of less commonly taught Middle Eastern languages.  In 2006, Dr. Kashani-Sabet launched the Modern Middle Eastern Studies (MMES) undergraduate program and served as advisor to the major and minor program until 2019.


Dr. Kashani-Sabet has received funding from various entities, including the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), to initiate cultural programs related to the Middle East (S0uthwest Asia and North Africa). In 2010, she launched an Artist-in Residence program at Penn with support from the SSRC.


For media inquiries, please contact the Office of University Communications:

Ms. Kristen de Groot



Office Hours
By appointment via Zoom

Ph.D. Yale University

M.Phil. Yale University

M.A. Yale University

B.A. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Research Interests
  • Frontier history of Iran & its borderlands
  • Race, ethnicity, identity, and citizenship
  • Women's and gender history
  • Nationalism, state formation, and resistance
  • Ottoman-Iranian relations; Iranian-Afghan relations
  • Social history of health and body
  • US-Islamic relations
Courses Taught

HIST 081 History of the Middle East since 1800

HIST 082 Islam in Global Perspective

HIST 083 Diplomacy in the Middle East

HIST 088 From Oil Fields to Soccer Fields: The Middle East in the 20th Century

HIST 106 Revolutionary Ideas, Ideas of Revolution in the Middle East

HIST 106 Women and Gender in the Middle East & North Africa

HIST 206 Middle East and the United States

HIST 206 Nationalism in the Middle East

Selected Publications

Selected Academic Articles

  • The Anti-Aryan Moment: Decolonization, Diplomacy, and Race in Late Pahlavi Iran,”  International Journal of Middle East Studies, 53 (4), 691-702. doi:10.1017/S0020743821001069. 
  • “Before ISIS: What Early America Thought of Islam,” Sociology of Islam, 8:1, pp. 17-52
  • "Colorblind or Blinded by Color? Race, Ethnicity, and Identity in Iran," in Sites of Pluralism: Community Politics in the Middle East, edited by Firat Oruç (Oxford, 2019)
  • Roundtable -- Echoes: Iranian Uprisings and the Arab Spring: "Freedom Springs Eternal" in International Journal of Middle East Studies / Volume 44 / Issue 01
  • "The Politics of Reproduction: Maternalism and Women's Hygiene in Iran, 1896-1941," International Journal of Middle East Studies (IJMES), February 2006. Nominated by IJMES for the Berkshire Article Prize.
  • "Hallmarks of Humanism: Hygiene and Love of Homeland in Qajar Iran," American Historical Review, October 2000.
  • "Picturing the Homeland: Nationalism and the Geographic Discipline in Iran," Journal of Historical Geography, October 1998. Translated into Persian as "Jughrafiya-yi Vatan," Guftugu (Tehran, Iran), 1999.
  • "Fragile Frontiers: The Diminishing Domains of Qajar Iran," International Journal of Middle East Studies (IJMES), May 1997.
  • "The Frontier Phenomenon: Perceptions of the Land in Iranian Nationalism," Critique: Journal for Critical Studies of the Middle East , Spring 1997.

Op-Ed Piece

Online Opinion Pieces:

  •  “Election Blues: Iran’s Mixed Legacy of Constitutional Rule.” Posted on Gulf/2000 15 June 2009.
  •  “The Beckoning,” Posted on Gulf/2000, 21 June 2009.

  • "What Now? Lessons on How to Engage Iran,” New Horizons (July 6, 2009). Published in Penn Alumni Magazine (2010). 

  • “Rethinking the Arab/Persian Binary and the Modern Middle East” — Posted on Gulf/2000, 19 May 2015 (originally written in 2014).

  • "Narrative on Iran Defective at its Core," May 10, 2018, LobeLog: