Researching Persian literature, history and art

Researching Persian literature, history and art

  • A piece of Persian art
    Ancient manuscripts can be found in libraries around the world

The 11th-century epic poem the Shahnama holds a hugely important place in Persian culture. Richly illustrated manuscripts of the work, by Firdausi of Tus, can be found in libraries around the world, recounting the history of the ancient kings of Iran from mythical beginnings to the Arab conquest in 651 AD.

Last year study of the Shahnama in Cambridge received a welcome boost thanks to a gift from Bita Daryabari that enabled the establishment of the Shahnama Centre for Persian Studies at Pembroke College. The Centre, which opened in May last year, aims to encourage research on Persian literature, history and art in Cambridge and the UK under its director of research, Dr Firuza Abdullaeva. It grew out of the Cambridge Shahnama Project founded in 1999 by Professor Charles Melville and originally funded by the British Academy. Professor Melville said: “Bita Daryabari’s handsome benefaction is an example of her proven commitment to the study of Persian culture especially at a time when modern Iran is isolated and largely misunderstood."

An epic endowment

“At the same time, the endowment secures for Pembroke and Cambridge the ability to make a long-term commitment to engage with Persian literature and art, including contemporary arts that draw on the themes and images of the past. For me, it is a wonderful endorsement of years of work and the reassurance that this can now continue and develop in years to come.”

At the heart of the project is an online corpus of illustrated manuscripts of the Shahnama, or Book of Kings, the completion of which continues to be a main focus of the Centre’s activity. But the gift has now enabled the Centre to broaden its scope, to highlight the continuing importance of the Shahnama and its world today and stage a programme of conferences, lectures and outreach events to promote Persian studies. Pembroke College has a tradition of academic leadership in Persian studies, with previous scholars such as EG Browne and AJ Arberry studying and working there.


The endowment secures for Pembroke and Cambridge the ability to make a long-term commitment to engage with Persian literature and art.

Professor Charles Melville, Founder of the Cambridge Shahnama Project

A library filled with history

The Centre is acquiring an excellent library of books and other publications, both printed and digital, on Persian and Islamic art as well as works devoted specifically to the Shahnama, currently being catalogued and soon to be put online.

Further reading

Read more about the impact of giving to Cambridge

Stay informed

For regular updates about the impact of giving to Cambridge, follow @yourscambridge on Twitter.