Teaching about the Iranian Hostage Crisis 30 years later

Yesterday marked the 30th anniversary of the Iranian hostage crisis and takeover of the US embassy, which is celebrated as an official holiday in Iran. On November 4, 1979, Islamic students stormed the U.S. Embassy and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.

In remembrance of this event, November 4th is observed as a national holiday in Iran and anti-American speeches are delivered in front of the building that once housed the U.S. diplomatic corps.  However this year, the anniversary has been used as an opportunity to reignite the anti-government protests that were sparked in June, following  the disputed presidential election. According to CNN, Thousands of protesters ignored warnings from Iranian authorities to stay home, many chanting “Death to the Dictator” and others saying, “Obama – Either you’re with us or with them,” referring to the U.S. president.

Iran has been in the news a lot lately, but historical context is all too often missing from new analysis of the latest violence or political unrest in the country. When teaching students about Iran, it is critical to talk out the current situation in context.  The March 2009 edition of the World Savvy Monitor provides a useful overview of US-Iranian relations over history as well as a number of excellent curriculum units and lesson ideas in the classroom companion. Here is one particularly useful resource for teaching about the history of US-Iranian relations:

Coup to Revolution: US Foreign Policy in Iran, PBS Global Connections – the Middle East
Though a three-part lesson, students will examine the factors that shape US foreign policy, using Iran as a case study.  A comparison of Iranian governmental politics in the 1950s and 1970s will help to illuminate the key issues.  This lesson is available online, with additional multimedia resources available on the site as well.

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