Chair: Dr Glaire Anderson
Dr Mira Schwerda studies the history of art in the broader Islamic world, especially the Persianate realm and the Ottoman Empire. Her book manuscript-in-progress focuses on the imagery of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution at the beginning of the twentieth century and presents a new history of the visual narratives of political violence brought about by the triad of the telegraph, printing press, and photography. She has previously worked at the Harvard Art Museums, where she curated the photography section of the exhibition “Technologies of the Image: Art in 19th-Century Iran” and now serves as a curator for the Ajam Archive of contemporary Middle Eastern ephemera. She received her Ph.D. from Harvard University and holds two master degrees from Princeton and the University of Tübingen.
Photographs were instrumental in sparking, sustaining and memorializing the first Iranian revolution (1905-1911). My work reconceptualizes the Iranian Constitutional period as an era of spectacle, in which photography played a central role in defining and mobilizing political movements and their leaders. In contrast to earlier scholarship that approached photography as a reflection of an individual artist or place, I instead understand it as a social force in political revolution. This approach places the image at the center and presents a methodological intervention in Iranian history, in which photographs have generally been taken as mere illustrations. In my lecture I will discuss the impact of photography and especially the photographic picture postcard on the politics of early twentieth century-Iran.