Remembering Homa Nategh

Homa Nategh
Public Domain

Homa Nategh, a well known and prolific social and intellectual historian of Qajar Iran, passed away on January 1, 2016 in Arro, a village located at 150 kilometers southwest of Paris, after a long period of battling with Alzheimer disease. She was born in 1936 in Urmia in western Azerbaijan. Her father, Naseh Nategh, an engineer and a man of letters, had been educated in France. He was the son of Mirza Jawad Nategh, a clerical activist in the Constitutional Revolution of 1906-1909.

Homa Nategh had her elementary and secondary education in Tehran. Having received a scholarship in 1955, she continued her studies at the Sorbonne. It was in this period that she married Nasser Pakdaman in 1956. She received her Ph.D. degree upon submitting her dissertation on the biography and ideas of Jamal al-Din Asadabadi in 1967, which was published as Djamal-ed Din Assad Abadi dit Afghani: ses sejours, son action et son influence en Perse d’après les sources et les documents persans suivi de la traduction française de ses écrits persans, with a preface by Maxime Rodinson (Paris, 1969). She began her political activities in the early 1960s by joining the World Confederation of Iranian Students, an active, leftist opposition organization during the ancient regime of Iran.

In 1969, a year after returning to Tehran, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, the dean of the Faculty of Letters and Humanities of Tehran University, who praised her book on Jamal al-Din Asadabadi, invited her to join the faculty. She taught there from 1969 to 1980. During this period, she also served as a Visiting Professor at the department of Middle Eastern Studies at Princeton University in the academic year, 1973-1974.

During this period Dr. Nategh was active in publishing a number of books and articles. These included a translation of a classic and powerful 1970 work by Albert Memmi, Portrait du colonisé, précédé de portrait du colonisateur, with a preface by Jean-Paul Sartre (Paris, 1957); with John Gurney, translation into Persian of Harford Jones Brydges’ 1833 study of the career of Lotf-Ali Khan Zand, as Akherin ruzha-ye Lotf-Ali Khan Zand (1977); Mosibat-e vaba va bala-ye hokumat, a history of cholera in Iran, based on Hasan Amin-al-Zarb’s documents (Tehran, 1978).

She also published, in cooperation with Fereydoun Adamiyat, an important collection of documents on the social history of the Qajar period, Afkar-e ejtema’i va siasi va eqtesadi dar athar-e montasher nashode-ye dowran-e Qajar, comprising unpublished manuscripts on social, political, and economic thought in the Qajar period (Tehran, 1977); Zamaneh va karname-ye Mirza  Reza Kermani  [The times and ideas of Mirza Reza Kermani, the assassin of Nasser-al-Din Shah] (Tehran, 1981; 2nd ed., Los Angeles, 1984; 3rd ed., Bonn, 1985).

When the 1978-79 Revolution came, Dr. Nategh joined a number of revolutionary organizations, including the radical faction of Fedai Guerrillas, and the revitalized Writers Association; she became one of the founding members of the National Union of Iranian Women (1979-1982). On the eve of the Revolution, she delivered scores of moving lectures, and called for rebellious actions in various colleges, universities, and government agencies. Three decades later, in 2003, she wrote an apologetic article expressing remorse for her active participation in the revolution (see “Khodam kardam keh laʿnat bar khodam bad” [May God strike me, for I myself did it], Kayhan, London, February 20-26, 2003, p. 7).

After the so-called cultural revolution in 1980 and thereafter, which was intended to purge the faculty and students with liberal or leftist leanings, Dr. Nategh and her husband fled to Paris in 1982 and in 1984 she was appointed a full-time Professor of Iranian Studies at the Sorbonne. In this period she founded the literary journal Dabireh in 1987 and published a number of articles and books, including Mirza Agha Khan Kermani: Nameha-ye tabʿid [The exile letters of Mirza Agha Khan Kermani] (1st ed., Bonn, 1987; 2nd ed. Paris, 1989); Iran dar rahyabi-ye farhangi, 1835-1849 [Iran in search of cultural development in 1835-1849] (London, 1988; 2nd ed., Paris, 1991; 3rd ed. Bonn, forthcoming); Bazarganan dar dad o setad  ba Bank-e Shahi va Regi-ye Tanbakou 1890-1914 [Merchants in transactions with the Imperial Bank and the Tobacco Company, 1890-1914] (Paris, 1992; 2nd ed., 1994); Karnama-ye farhangi-ye farangi dar Iran on the French religious and secular schools in Iran, 1837-1914 (Paris, 1994; 2nd ed., Tehran, 2002); Hafez, Khonyagari, may o shadi [Hafez of Shiraz, music, vine and happiness] (Paris, 2004; 2nd ed. Los Angeles, 2004).