In “The Politics of Historical Interpretation”, his essay of 1982,Hayden White proposes, that one of the criteria measuring the validity of historiographical writings in general is the extent to which the authors preserve their autonomy from competing ideologies and politics. The other is the extent to which their works rely on the Western classic texts of 19th and 20th century, considered to be self-interpreting and self-referential.
In the same vein, the cultural and intellectual historians of modern Iran validate their theories and methods explicitly or implicitly in a dialogue with these decontextualised and seemingly apolitical texts, since these texts inspire ‘right’ questions to ‘relevant’ historical documents, assess the validity of the documents and elevate their status as historical data to historical evidences. The historians of modern Iran construe theories that accord either with the concept of cultural lag and intellectual stagnation, or with the idea that modernity is expressed through multiple forms of cultural development and intellectual invention. The authors preoccupied with both interpretative strategies consider themselves as professional seekers of truth, epistemologists and ethicists. As a seeker of true knowledge, the historian claims to possess authority that is in contradiction to the established political authority of his or her society. The distinction the historian draws between his or her own authority and the established political authority is a result of the assumed distinction between an interpretation that is the property of the historical method, and a force considered to be the sole property of politics. A historian's independence from the established political power, and from other historians who might act as advocates for the established political authority, is supposed to constitute his or her autonomous interpretative authority. But this ‘autonomous interpretative authority’ can be undermined by the ideological order that is shaped, to a certain extent, by the classic texts, and whose function it is to protect the established political authority and power. The paper investigates whether the historical knowledge, produced during the past two decades by the two distinctive modes of cultural and intellectual history of modern Iran, has succeeded in distancing itself from the political and ideological order of the society whose member the historian is, or has yielded to that order.