Behnaz Mirzai


My primary interest is the history of the Middle East in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with a focus on former African slave communities and their relationships with other ethnic groups, as well as African-derived religious practices, various forms of African spirit-possession cults, and the transformation of these cults in Iran and the Middle East in the modern period. I have also examined the circumstances of various enslaved ethnic groups in Iran and around the Indian Ocean.

My book, A History of Slavery and Emancipation in Iran, 1800–1929, was finalist for the 2018 Canadian Historical Association Wallace K. Ferguson Prize. It is the first systematic exploration and the only book wholly dedicated to slavery in Iran in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Relying on historical and anthropological methodologies, I have conducted fieldworks in Sistan and Baluchistan, and southern provinces in Iran and produced two documentary films, Afro-Iranian Lives, and The African-Baluchi Trance Dance. The former film won the prize Special Mention at the 10th annual Zanzibar International Film Festival.

My book project, The Life of an Enslaved African in the Ottoman Empire and Iran: Autobiography of Mahboob [Beloved] , will be published by University of Toronto Press.

I am currently working on my new book, Cultural Identity of the Saharan and Indian Ocean Communities.

Online interview entitled “’We are Iranians’: Rediscovering the history of African slavery in Iran,” published by Middle East Eye, May 9, 2016.

Behnaz Mirzai is an historian of modern Iran, who teaches Middle Eastern history at Brock University. Her areas of specialization include comparative and cross-cultural studies, ethnicity, slavery, gender, as well as social, economic and religious interactions in the Middle East. Her dissertation was entitled “Slavery, the Aboltition of the Slave Trade and Emancipation of Slaves in Iran 1829-1928”.


HIST 2P72 Modern Middle East
HIST 2P70 The Middle East, 600-1800
HIST 3P86 Cultures and Societies of the Middle East
HIST 3P85 Minorities of the Middle East
HIST 4V64 Slavery in the Middle East
HIST 4V59 Women of the Middle East


HIST 5V30 The Iranian Revolutions
HIST 5V11 Women and gender in the Middle East


  • Co-edited volume with Bonny Ibhawoh, Africa and Its Diasporas: Rethinking Struggles for Recognition and Empowerment, Trenton NJ: Africa World Press, forthcoming 2018.
  • Bahnaz A. Mirzai. A History of Slavery and Emancipation in Iran, 1800-1929. Austin: University of Texas Press. 2017, 324 pp.
  • Shortlisted for the 2018 Canadian Historical Association Wallace K. Ferguson Prize.
  • Behnaz A. Mirzai ed. “The Baluchi and Baluchistan.” Special issue,
    The Journal of the Middle East and Africa, 4:2 (2013).
  • Co-edited with Ismael Musa Montana, and Paul Lovejoy, Slavery, Islam and Diaspora, Trenton NJ: Africa World Press, 2009.

Book Chapters

  • The Persian Gulf and Britain: The Suppression of the African slave Trade.” in Abolitions as A Global Experience. ed. Hideaki Suzuki. National University of Singapore. 2016. pp. 113-129.
  • Identity Transformations of African Communities in Iran.” in The Persian Gulf in Modern Times: People, Ports and History. ed. Lawrence Potter. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 2014. pp. 351-376. 
  • Qajar Haram: Imagination or Reality, In Behnaz A. Mirzai, Ismael Musah Montana and Paul E. Lovejoy eds., Slavery, Islam and Diaspora, Trenton NJ: Africa World Press, 2009. pp. 77-89.
  • The Trade in Enslaved Africans in Nineteenth-Century Iran, In Kiran Kamal Prasad and Jean-Pierre Angenot, eds., TADIA – The African Diaspora in Asia: Explorations on a Less Known Fact, Bangalore: Jana Jagrati Prakashana, 2008,pp. 220-235.
  • The 1848 Abolitionist Farmān: A Step Towards Ending the Slave Trade in Iran,” in Gwyn Campbell ed., Abolition and its Aftermath in Indian Ocean Africa and Asia, London: Routledge, 2005, pp. 94–102.

Journal Articles

  • Baluchi Identity and Culture: An Introduction.” in The Baluchi and Baluchistan. ed. Behnaz A. Mirzai. Special issue. The Journal of the Middle East and Africa. 4:2 (2013). 121-125.
  • Emancipation and its Legacy in Iran: An Overview. Cultural Interactions Created by the Slave Trade in the Arab-Muslim World. Paris: UNESCO, 2008.
  • Le commerce des esclaves africains dans l’Iran du XIXème siècle, Les Cahiers des Anneaux de la Mémoire, 9, 2006, 29–40.
  • The Slave Trade and the African Diaspora in Iran. ZIFF journal2, 2005, pp. 30–4.
  • African Presence in Iran: Identity and its Reconstruction, Société française d’Histoire d’Outre-mer,  no. 336-337, 2002, pp. 229-246.
  • Documentary film “Afro-Iranian Lives,” Production, script, direction, and presentation, 2008, 45 minutes.
  • Photography Exhibition, “Eyes in the Desert”.
  • Workshop on Baluchi Identity and Culture
  • Documentary film “The African-Baluchi Trance Dance,” Production,
    narration, script and direction, 2012, 27 minutes.
  • Conference on People of African Descent: Recognition, Empowerment and Equity, Sept. 22-23, 2014.
  • SSHRC Connection Grants “People of African Descent: Recognition,Empowerment and Equity,” 2014
  • SSHRC Connection Grants “Baluchi identity and culture”, 2012
  • Brock SSHRC Institutional Grants (BSIG), 2011
  • Brock Humanities Research Institute (HRI), 2011
  • SSHRC Standard Research Grants “Iranian Borderland: Baluchi Identity and Culture”, 2010-2013
  • Brock University Advancement Fund (BUAF), 2008
  • Zanzibar International Film Festival, 2007
  • Brock SSHRC Institutional Grant (BSIG), 2007
  • Brock Humanities Research Institute (HRI), 2007
  • The Stevenson Scholar in African Studies, York University, 1999-2000

Co-ordinator and member of the preparatory Committee for the Slave Route project, UNESCO.

Arabic, Turkish (Azari, Osmanli), Persian, English, French.

Books and publications