A Common Bond, Three Americans in Iran: Terence O’Donnell, Howard Baskerville and Curtis Harnack

John Lorentz and Tom Ricks.

The presenters will share their admiration for three Americans who, during their time in Iran, developed a special appreciation for the Iranian people and culture.


To view a video of this presentation provided by Nathan Lorentz, click here.


  • Terence O’Donnell, the subject of Lorentz’s talk, spent fifteen years of his life in Iran. This is the story of how that came to be, the man himself, and the origins, the nature and the publication of his unique book on Iran, The Garden of the Brave in War, which provides keen insight into the character and personality of the Iranian people.
  • Thomas Ricks will draw parallels between Howard Baskerville’s life and that of Curtis Harnack, both as teachers and as American observers of Iranian society and its political culture.
    • Howard Baskerville lived and taught in 20th century Persia (1907 to 1909). His brief stay in Tabriz, Azerbaijan in the midst of the Iranian Constitutional Movement of 1906-1911 is remembered to this day by Iranians and, in his death, he is seen as the “martyred American who died for us.” The presentation focuses on Baskerville’s life in Tabriz, and how Peace Corps-like his life in Iran had become in terms of his political and social “awakening” to the Middle East world and to the global dimensions of U.S. diplomacy.
    • Curtis Harnack arrived in Iran in the fall of 1958, on leave from Grinnell College, to begin his one-year Fulbright Scholarship grant at the University of Tabriz. With little orientation about Persian society or culture and even less preparation for a year among the Azeri Turks, Harnack nevertheless left with a lifetime of memories collected and articulated in his book, Persian Lambs, Persian Lions: An American Odyssey in Iran (NY, 1965). His narrative of the late 1950s amid the Cold War and pre-Peace Corps decade resonates with many astute insights, recalling Howard Baskerville’s early 20th century account of Iranian society and culture, and a passion for self-determination and poetry.

Lorentz, John

John was a Peace Corps volunteer in the early 1960s (Iran Group I) and has returned three times since to do research on a PhD dissertation, a visit as a Senior Fulbright-Hays Research Fellow (1975-76), and most recently as the tour scholar for a Distant Horizons Cultural Tour in April-May of 2014. He has a PhD from Princeton University in Near Eastern Studies (history) and earned his MA in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard University. From 1971 to 1984 he held teaching and administrative positions at Portland State University before becoming the executive director of American Aid for Afghans and working as a consultant involving trade development and political risk analysis in the Middle East. In 1990, he joined Shawnee State University where he became Founding Director of the Center for International Programs and Activities and taught Middle East history. For the past six years he has been Associate Provost for International Education. He is fluent in Farsi and is the author of various articles on Iran and the books, The Historical Dictionary of Iran and The A to Z of Iran.

Ricks, Thomas

Tom served in the Iran III TEFL program in Mashhad (1964) and in Mahabad (1965-66). He came back to the United States for graduate studies at Indiana University (Bloomington), with a master’s degree in Persian Studies and a PhD in Middle East History. He returned to Iran in 1971 with his wife, Janice, to work on his thesis; eventually, they both taught at the Tehran International School (Iranzamin). In 1973, he and Jan returned to the States to continue their academic careers in Minnesota, in the D.C. area, and in Philadelphia. Tom also taught for two years at Birzeit University in the West Bank, Palestine before both retired from teaching. Tom has published a number of books and articles on the social and cultural history of modern Iran and Palestine. He is currently completing works on Howard C. Baskerville and Tabriz during the Iranian Constitutional Movement, and on the life of Sarah Wright McDowell, for nearly 40 years a social worker in Iran.