As long as archivists keep processing new collections, the tale of a single historical event or personage is never quite put to rest, which was certainly my experience when processing the Hamid Shawkat collection. Unfortunately, for an Iranian-American, my knowledge of modern Iranian history is fragmented, at best: Mosaddeq was thrown out, the shah came to power, the shah was thrown out, Khomeini came to power, and the Islamic Republic of Iran was formed. Often it takes a modern phenomenon to awaken interest in a now distant historical event. Last year's contested Iranian election provided the fuel for a generation of Iranian students to slip beyond their firewalls and, for a brief moment, converse with a world that has otherwise labeled them as other, distant, and disconnected.
The power of the Iranian student uprising, however, is not without precedent. In 1960, a group of students came together to form what would become the most organized and democratic student group Iran had ever seen: the Confederation of Iranian Students (CIS). Originally made up of members of the Tudeh Party and the National Front, CIS expanded in 1961 to include members of the Iranian Student Association of the United States. Armed with the unifying goal of denouncing the shah and the human rights violations of the secret police, the confederation was seen by some as the only political organization capable of representing the needs of the Iranian people in a time when opposition groups were being forcefully eradicated.
To uphold this responsibility, CIS produced an assortment of printed materials, including journals, newsletters, and newspapers, that strengthened the network stretching across Europe and the United States. Those materials, many of which are included in the Hamid Shawkat collection, offer a rare glance into the organized student front that helped promulgate the tumultuous political climate that gave rise to the Iranian revolution in 1979.
In 2010, we are proud not only to have access to these records but to recognize the fiftieth anniversary of the Confederation of Iranian Students which, for the most part, has escaped the narrative of modern Iranian history.