University of California, Irvine
School of Humanities
Date: 5/30/2012
Department: Center for Persian Studies and Culture
Title: Center Directorís Report on the Asthma Files
Following up on the workshop jointly held with the UCLA von Gruenbaum Center that launched the oral history of Iranian scientists, engineers, and medical professionals in 2011, the Samuel Jordan Center held a two-day multidisciplinary workshop on May 17 and 18, 2012 focused on the problems of asthma in Tehran (Tehran Asthma Files). Building on the collaboration established in 2011 with the UCIís Center for Ethnography, Mazyar Lotfalian, the Centerís Assistant Director, and I established a link with the Rensselaer Polytechnic Instituteís (RPI) The Asthma Files ( artcenterkey=2699). Project directors, Kim ( and Mike Fortun (, Professors at RPI, and Tahereh Saheb, a graduate student at RPI, attended the workshop. Other participants included George Marcus, Chancellorís Professor and Director of Center for Ethnography at UCI, Mike Fischer Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Humanities at Massachusetts Institute of Technology ( ple/fischer.html), Sharon Traweek, Professor of History at UCLA (, Shervin Takyar, a physician and professor of pulmonology at Yale ( akyar.profile), Reza Rahani, an Independent Scholar who was involved in building infrastructure for the study of sciences in Iran, Narges Bajoghli, graduate student at NYU who has worked on the effects of chemical weapons on the veterans of the Iran-Iraq war, and Arash and Kamiar Alaei, two physicians with experience establishing primary care clinics in Iran.

The discussions on the first day focused both on how the Tehran Asthma Files would build on the Samuel Jordan Centerís oral history project and how it could partner with the RPI Asthma Files. One of the most exciting aspects of our discussions centered around establishing a dynamic mode of collaboration that enables participants from a diverse range of expertise and knowledge to work on the same project and according to common criteria. One of the first common concerns raised was the reliability of data available on asthma in Tehran. We worked through some scientific publications in Iran as a means of grappling with the methodological challenges. There is an obvious need for us to establish direct links with scientists and physicians working in Iran as well as the need to contextualize and interpret the data. The participants from humanities and social sciences offered unique insights into the social, cultural, and political determinants that affect studies conducted in Iran. Issues like urban planning, air pollution, types of fuel and vehicles available, and the growth of Tehran over the past few decades in the context of a revolution, war, and political uncertainty are all important layers of the Tehran Asthma Files.

On the second day we identified the next steps for the participants who were tasked with establishing contact with individuals we had identified in the fields of medicine, architecture, city and urban planning, and cultural studies. In a virtual meeting planned for the end of July 2012 we will report to the group on the outcomes and chart out the next phase of development. Given the sense of excitement and potential shared by the participants, we plan on meeting in person again next spring.