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Historian lectures on British colonialism in Middle East

A University of Chicago historian visited IWP on October 24 and delivered a lecture on British colonialism in the Middle East.


Doctoral candidate Lyman Stebbins gave a historical tour of the British empire in the Middle East and Iran from 1600 to the end of the pro-Soviet Mossadegh government and restoration of the Iranian monarchy in 1953.


Stebbins is completing his dissertation on “British Consuls and Informal Imperialism in Iran, 1889-1921,” in which he discusses the ways in which Britain maintained and expanded its influence in southern Iran in the late Qajar period.


In his talk, the scholar discussed the role of the East India Company (EIC), which built its own fortresses and had its own equivalents of private military contractors, and raised its own forces when India became a front between Great Britain and France. British colonial role spread in India largely through private companies, such as the EIC, which was financed by agrarian land taxes. The EIC became a territorial power.


Stebbins also discussed British rivalry with Russia in Iran and Afghanistan, when Russia sought to pin Britain down in India and keep it out of continental Europe, and when the tsar became a protector of Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire. Tsarist Russia turned Georgia, a Christian country surrounded by Muslims, into a protectorate. Britain feared Russian expansion into the Middle East and India, he said, and generally saw Russia as a bad actor politically and strategically through the 19th century. The British were wary of  Iranian power due to the strength of Iran’s ties to Russia, he said.