The Historical Journal

Research Article



a1 Magdalene College, Cambridge


As British efforts to secure the approaches to India intensified in the closing years of the nineteenth century, expert knowledge of the states bordering the subcontinent became an increasingly sought-after commodity. Particularly high demand existed for individuals possessing first-hand experience of Qajar Persia, a state viewed by many policymakers as a vulnerable anteroom on the glacis of the Raj. Britain's two foremost Persian experts during this period were George Nathaniel Curzon and Edward Granville Browne. While Curzon epitomized the traditional gentleman amateur, Browne embodied the emerging professional scholar. Drawing on both their private papers and publications, this article analyses the relationship between these two men as well as surveys their respective views of British policy toward Iran from the late 1880s until the end of the First World War. Ultimately it contends that Curzon's knowledge of Persia proved deficient in significant ways and that Anglo-Iranian relations, at least in the aftermath of the Great War, might well have been placed on a better footing had Browne's more nuanced understanding of the country and its inhabitants prevailed within the foreign policymaking establishment.


c1 Magdalene College, Cambridge, CB3 0AG


* Research for this article was made possible by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust, and the Canadian Centennial Scholarship Fund. It is based on papers delivered to the Nordic Summer School in Contemporary History, St Petersburg, Russia, and the World History Seminar and Churchill Era and Beyond Postgraduate Conference, Cambridge, England. I am greatly indebted to Ali Ansari, Sir Christopher Bayly, Piers Brendon, John Gurney, Edward Ingram, David Motadel, Tom Rodgers, Douglas Ross, Veronica Strong-Boag, Carl Emil Vogt, and the anonymous referees of the Historical Journal for their constructive comments on earlier drafts. All the usual disclaimers apply. As this article was initially composed in Tehran during the summer of 2007, I would also like to extend my deepest thanks to all members of the Doroudian family, whose extraordinary hospitality and stimulating conversation made for a wonderful stay in the Iranian capital.