Iranian and American Narratives: Personal Witness, Engagement and Community
Mary Catherine Bateson, William O. Beeman, John Limbert, Hamid Naficy. Moderator, Ann Johnston.

This session brings together four speakers with very different backgrounds and professional perspectives in a discussion designed to help us all examine how Americans and Iranians, and our governments, understand each other. The panel, moderated by Ann Johnston, will take up such questions as:

  • What keeps the existing narratives (beliefs, stereotypes, and assumptions) alive in discussions about Iran, and in Iranian perceptions of America?
  • What changes in existing narratives would provide a better basis for better relations between our countries and citizens?
  • How do we go about changing narratives that are counterproductive but deeply entrenched?


To listen to the audio recording of this panel discussion, click here.


 Beeman, William O.    

               William O. Beeman is Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, where he was department chair from 2007-2013, a position he resumed in 2014. Best known as a Middle East specialist for more than 30 years, he has also worked in Central Asia, the Caucasus, Japan, China and South Asia. Recognized for special expertise in Iranian culture and linguistics, he is the author or editor of more than 100 scholarly articles, 500 opinion pieces and fourteen books, including Language, Status and Power in Iran, and The “Great Satan” vs. the “Mad Mullahs”: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other. He has been a consultant to the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the United Nations and the European Union on Middle Eastern affairs. He has also written extensively on music and performance traditions both in Western and non-Western traditions. His latest book on this topic is Iranian Performance Traditions. His co-authored book with Daniel Helfgot, The Third Line: The Singer as Interpreter has been widely used in teaching and research. His forthcoming book: The Meistersingers: Opera Performance in Germany centers on his experience as an opera performer in a leading German opera house.

 Bateson, Mary Catherine

Mary Catherine Bateson is an anthropologist and linguist. She grew up in New York City, spent her senior year of high school in Israel and learned Hebrew, then studied Arabic in college, receiving a PhD in Linguistics and Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard in 1963. She lived in Iran from 1972 to early 1979, learning Farsi, teaching anthropology at Damavand College, and becoming involved in higher education planning for the Ministry of Education. In the United States she has taught at Harvard, Amherst, and George Mason University. She also spent two years in the Philippines where she taught at the Ateneo de Manila, the Jesuit University. She is the author of several books dealing with life history materials, including With a Daughter’s Eye: A Memoir of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson and Composing a Life. She is currently a visiting scholar at Boston College.

 Limbert, John

John Limbert is Class of 1955 Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he teaches courses in history and political science. During a 34-year career in the United States Foreign Service he served mostly in the Middle East and Islamic Africa, including at posts in Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. He was president of the American Foreign Service Association (2003-05) and ambassador to Mauritania (2000-03). In 2009-2010, while on leave from the Naval Academy, he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary, responsible for Iranian affairs, in the State Department’s Bureau of Near East Affairs. A native of Washington, D.C., Limbert earned his BA, MA and PhD from Harvard University, the last degree in history and Middle Eastern studies. Before joining the Foreign Service he taught in Iran as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kurdestan (1964-66) and as an instructor at Shiraz University (1969-72). He has written numerous articles and books on Middle Eastern subjects including Iran at War with History, Shiraz in the Age of Hafez, and Negotiating with Iran: Wrestling the Ghosts of History. John Limbert holds the Department of State’s highest award – the Distinguished Service Award – and the department’s Award for Valor, which he received in 1981 after fourteen months as a hostage in Iran. His foreign languages are Persian, Arabic, and French. He is married to the former Parvaneh Tabibzadeh, and they have two children and four grandchildren

 Naficy, Hamid

Naficy is Professor of Radio-Television-Film and the Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani Professor in Communication at Northwestern University, where he also has an appointment with the Department of Art History. He is a leading authority in cultural studies of diaspora, exile, and postcolonial cinemas and media and of Iranian and Middle Eastern cinemas. Naficy has published and lectured extensively, nationally and internationally, on these and allied topics. His English language books are: An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking; Home, Exile, Homeland: Film, Media, and the Politics of Place; The Making of Exile Cultures: Iranian Television in Los Angeles; Otherness and the Media: the Ethnography of the Imagined and the Imaged (co-edited); and Iran Media Index. His latest work is the award-winning four-volume book A Social History of Iranian Cinema, published in 2011-12. He has also published extensively in Persian, including a two-volume book on the documentary cinema theory and history, Film-e Mostanad. He has also produced and directed many educational and documentary films.

 Johnston, Ann Buessing

Ann was an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in eight girl’s high schools in Shiraz from 1965-1967 as a member of the Iran VI group. She worked with Iranian ESL teachers to improve instruction, taught demonstration classes for faculty, and developed summer programs for girls. Returning from Iran, she taught English as a foreign language for a number of years until, in 1981, she began the party supply business she has owned and managed for 34 years. Ann’s experiences in Iran led her to become active in local politics, serving thirteen years on a local school board, eight years on the Stockton City Council, and four years as mayor of Stockton, California.