Ann Lambton

The late Professor Ann Lambton, who passed away at the age of 96, was the foremost British specialist in Persian studies during the latter half of the 20th century. As a professor of Persian at the University of London from 1953 until her retirement in 1979, she wielded significant influence through both her teaching and writing.

Certainly, her understanding of Iran, its history, population, and society, was unparalleled among Western scholars. Subsequently, successive British administrations acknowledged her expertise, and she was sometimes consulted during moments of crisis. For instance, in 1951, she provided recommendations about how to handle Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq after the nationalisation of the Iranian oil industry, which William Roger Louis described in The British Empire in the Middle East 1945-1951 (1984) as the starting point of the 1953 coup. As a result, Royalists, with the support of the US and UK, forced Mossadeq out of office and imprisoned him. Nonetheless, she did not hold the Shah in high regard, and this sentiment was reciprocated. She initially sympathized with the 1979 revolutionaries led by Ayatollah Khomeini, but soon became disillusioned. She declined to visit Iran after that moment, saying, "I have never worn a chador in my life, and I do not intend to start now."

Her elementary Persian course, which she taught for several years to university students and diplomats destined for postings in Iran and Afghanistan, was notoriously tough and, by today’s standards, old-fashioned in approach (she was unlikely ever to use the phrase "language laboratory"). Nevertheless, those who completed it – not everyone did – gained knowledge of the Persian language that proved almost unshakable. Her Persian Grammar (1953) and Persian Vocabulary (1954) were extensively utilized throughout the decades. Her first book was a linguistic one: Three Persian Dialects (1938). As a lecturer, technically, she was not particularly gifted. Many students who previously snoozed through her lectures, however, discovered that their notes were clear, well-informed, and well-organized when they revisited them – precisely what they required. As a research guide, she was outstanding.

Her initial study area was Persian Middle Ages: her 1939 doctoral thesis revolved around Seljuk Institutions in Iran during the 11th and 12th centuries. Although she did not publish it in its entirety, the 1950s and 60s saw a slew of chapters and articles in that subject, many of which were ultimately compiled into a book, Theory and Practice in Medieval Persian Government (1980). As the title suggests, she focused not just on the practice but also on political thought. The pinnacle of her interest in this area was her book State and Government in Medieval Islam: An Introduction to the Study of Islamic Political Theory: The Jurists (1981). She also researched and wrote about 19th-century Iranian history, culminating in a book of collected articles (Qajar Persia, 1987). Her other main area of interest was agriculture and land tenure. Her most influential book was Landlord and Peasant in Persia (1953: expanded edition, 1991), followed by an account of The Persian Land Reform (1969), in which, despite her shyness and lack of demonstrativeness, she expressed her "esteem and affection" for the Persian peasants with whom she had spent a lot of time over the years.

Ann Lambton, known among her close friends as "Nancy" (and "Miss Nancy" among the villagers in Northumberland where she resided after retirement), was the first daughter of the Honorable George Lambton, fifth son (of nine) of the second Earl of Durham, and Cecily Horner. George Lambton was a horse trainer, and, in his day, was the most well-known Lambton, surpassing even Radical Jack, the first Earl of Durham of the Great Reform bill and the Durham report on Canada. As a result, she was given the name "Swynford" after the finest racehorse her father ever trained (a St. Ledger winner), with her name’s "Katharine" component also harking back to John of Gaunt’s third wife – Swynford’s sire being John o’ Gaunt, though Swynford was born a colt.

Throughout her lengthy retirement, Ann Katharine Swynford Lambton persisted in her research and writing. During this time, she authored one final book on Iranian history, titled "Continuity and Change in Medieval Persia (1988)," which many consider to be her most exceptional work. Despite her literary endeavors, Mrs. Lambton prized her role within the Anglican church in Northumberland above all else. Until quite recently, she preached within Northumberland’s village churches with a great sense of purpose. Mrs. Lambton was a distinguished scholar, a person of integrity, and one of the most extraordinary and unassuming individuals one could have the pleasure to encounter.

Ann Katharine Swynford Lambton, a Persianist, was born on February 8, 1912, and departed on July 19, 2008.


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    Adam Lewis is a 34-year-old school teacher and blogger who focuses on education. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education from the University of Central Florida and a Master of Arts degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of South Florida. Lewis has been teaching since 2004 and has taught in both public and private schools. He is currently a teacher at a private Christian school in Florida.