The U.S.-Iran relationship has long been staggered by each nation's misconceptions about the other. Missed opportunities for improvement rose not merely from bad luck, but from knowing too little vital information about the other. Forty years after the Iranian revolution, we still have much to learn about this complex relationship.
To address this knowledge gap, John Tirman, Malcolm Byrne, and Hussein Banai have approached this topic in a novel way. They conducted several critical oral history conferences bringing together policymakers from several countries. Most participants were from Iran and the United States. Others involved in negotiations from Britain, France, and Italy also contributed. In various sessions, they interviewed key players and drew from contemporary scholarship to identify hidden perspectives and missed opportunities.
As a basis for the conversation, they provided a collection of documents procured through Freedom of Information Act requests and open-source documents, such as published interviews, analyses, memoirs, and more, including transcripts of the critical oral history conferences. This archive of documents is the bulk of what is now accessible on this platform, which is accessible to other scholars and the public. It creates a framework to explore the material—much of it available publicly for the first time—and deep dives into specific historical events.
The project team set out to create a single, inclusive narrative of the relationship. The documents, film, and photography all contribute to understanding the U.S.-Iran confrontation as a single story with multiple perspectives. At the same time, we came to realize that each country was approaching the relationship constrained by their own national narrative, their story about their nation-state, and that these narratives clash in significant ways. Narratives are not “hidden” but they are so woven into the fabric of society and culture that they are not always recognized as such.
However one defines the confrontation—whether a clash of geostrategic interests, a succumbing to domestic spoilers, or a struggle of resistance to hegemony—the resources on this platform should be of immense value to policy professionals, journalists, students, and scholars.
The digital archive consists of hundreds of documents, dating from 1971 to 2012. They are summarized and enhanced with additional metadata. A thousand event entries ranging from 1975 to 1999 extend the dataset.
We made connections between documents and events to uncover patterns within the archive. We also used a process called named entity extraction to identify protagonists involved in the dataset. While the dataset might contain human biases and automation mistakes, it serves as an initial foundation for further investigation and will be updated and expanded regularly. We welcome suggestions, annotations, and additional archival material.
Understand the chronology of events, documents and the involvement of protagonists.