The Gibb Memorial Trust’s Centenary Scholarship of up to £2,000 is available to postgraduate students at an advanced stage of their doctoral research in any area of Middle Eastern Studies (7th century to 1918) at a British university.
The A. H. Morton Memorial Scholarship for Doctoral Research in Classical Persian Studies is for a maximum of £3,000 and can be applied to any year of a course of doctoral study at a British university, including for an approved period of study abroad.
Applicants may apply for only one of the scholarships in any one year. Previous winners may not re-apply for the same scholarship.
The Gibb Centenary Scholarship
How to apply
- Complete the application form on this page
- Submit the following supporting documents as a single PDF in email attachment to the Secretary, Zuher Hassan, at email@example.com before 1 April 2023.
- Academic resume
- Outline of doctoral research
- Intended use of the scholarship, including budget,
- Provide two written academic references (these should be confidential and sent directly by the referees to the Secretary).
Applicants may apply for only one scholarships from the Gibb Trust in any one year. Previous winners may not re-apply for the same scholarship.
Terms & Conditions
Apply to the Gibb Centenary Scholarship
Kirsty Bennett, Lancaster, 2022
Report not available
Jonathan Lawrence, Oxford, 2021
Report not available
Mohamed Ibrahim Ahmed, Cambridge, 2021
Report not available
Mariano Errinchiello, SOAS, 2020
The Gibb Centenary Scholarship meant a significant help for me to complete my thesis. In particular, it provided a substantial support during the uncertainty and turmoil generated by the pandemic Covid-19, which imposed a number of changes to my initial research plans and fieldwork. The title of my thesis for the degree of PhD, which was awarded on the 15th of September 2022, is “Ilme Kṣnum: an Esoteric Interpretation of Zoroastrianism. History and Beliefs.” My thesis examines Ilme Kṣnum, which I propose to translated as ‘Science of Bliss’, an esoteric interpretation of Zoroastrianism that emerged among the Zoroastrians of India, also known as Parsis, at the beginning of the 20th century. Ilme Kṣnum was made public by Behramshah Naoroji Shroff (1858-1927), a Parsi from Surat (Gujarat), who claimed to have spent three years in Iran where secluded sages initiated him into this esoteric interpretation of Zoroastrianism. Over the last 100 years, Parsis adhering to Ilme Kṣnum have produced a vast literature on the subject, mainly composed in Parsi Gujarati. In spite of its popularity in the community, Ilme Kṣnum has to date been little explored by scholars.
The findings of my thesis suggest that, at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, a hermeneutical plurality emerged to meet the Parsis’ need for religious authenticity. It is argued that Ilme Kṣnum originated to meet this need by operating an epistemological reconciliation between Persianate and Western forms of knowledge. By adopting the interpretive model of religious economies and cross-level analysis, this research examines Ilme Kṣnum as both a system of beliefs and a religious organisation.
The thesis develops the argument that the process of meaning-making and the organisational structure of the Christian missions provided a model that Parsis emulated, producing epistemological heterogenisation and organisational homogenisation.
Transculturation and structured relationships of exchange triggered a process of religious individualisation that displaced agency from institutions to individuals.
This interdisciplinary research introduces innovative concepts that move beyond structuralist categories and sheds light on the entangled history of Parsis. Furthermore, this thesis advances a proposal for the study of Zoroastrian esotericism which is not yet established as a field of research.
Zarifa Alikperova, Oxford, 2020
I have been awarded the Gibb Centenary Scholarship to support my DPhil thesis on the shrine of the Sufi scholar and poet Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī (d. 1273), known also as Mawlānā, in Konya.
The core of the shrine is the tomb of Rūmī, around which a complex of buildings has grown up over the centuries. The thesis examines the historical and architectural context in which the shrine was formed and transformed between the late thirteenth and the late sixteenth centuries.
Drawing on a variety of hitherto overlooked textual sources and archival data in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish, as well as on archaeological reports and material evidence, it offers the first comprehensive study of the main shrine of the Mawlawi order in the course of three centuries and contributes to our understanding of the changing politics of patronage of shrines in Anatolia in the longue durée.
The support of the Gibb Centenary Scholarship has been crucial for my research. It helped me to organise my final research trip to Turkey in 2020, when I visited Mawlawi convents and local museums in western and southern Anatolia. In addition, it helped me to cover the costs of material I ordered from archival centres and libraries in Turkey, Europe, and the United States.
Ruhollah Nasrollahi, Oxford, 2019
The purpose of this study is to investigate the process of transformation and change in the religious institutions in the city of Tehran from the mid-19th century to the beginning of the 20th century. Furthermore, its purpose is to study how religious agents, particularly the ʿulama, and socioeconomic development facilitated the process of change in religious institutions during this period.
The main religious institutions investigated in this research are: mosque, takyih, madrasa, and īmāmzādih. Historically, they were usually established by a waqf donation and supported financially by its waqf holdings. Any change or transformation of mosques and other waqf properties was subject to considerable restrictions and limitations rooted in sharia law and social support from the popular culture. The process of change in religious institutions, therefore, could have social, economic, and fiqhi implications that in depth study.
Meanwhile, the unprecedented sudden growth and modernisation of the city of Tehran in the late 19th century provided an environment conducive to changes in religious institutions. Careful review of historical censuses produced in the latter half of the 19th century and other primary sources, such as maps, shows evidence of a sudden decrease in the numbers of mosques, madrasa, and their waqf holdings. While the city structure in the four city districts of ‘Awdlajān, Chālmaydān, Sangilaj, and Bāzār grew and the new city quarter of Dawlat was added, the decreasing number of these religious institutions ran counter to the otherwise widespread growth characterising the city during this period. Furthermore, the shari‘ī documents and waqf deeds from this period illustrate various changes in religious institutions made with the permission of the ʿulama. Meanwhile, the number of takyihs and īmāmzādihs show an increasing trend throughout the period under investigation. Therefore, the process of transformation of religious institutions and the roles of the ‘ulama in fostering these changes is the central theme in this research.
The main question of this DPhil thesis is as follows: How, and with what influences did the religious institutions change in the second half of the 19th century? Two main influential factors paved the way for the transformation of the religious institutions: firstly, the modernisation of the city and the decline of the traditional functions of the religious institutions. The missing mosques recorded in the primary sources were mostly small, simple mosques and madrasas which had little support from waqf properties and were scattered around the city. They were fluid religious places that could be eliminated entirely in the passing of time due to social and environmental advancements or could even shift into other religious institutions. Combinational religious institutions, on the other hand, were usually supported with substantial waqf holdings and linked to other religious institutions such as madrasa and/or takīyyah. They were under the supervision of the well-known ʿulama. In such religious institutions, changes were more common in their components and their waqf holdings, mostly conducted under the authority of the ʿulama. Despite their conservative nature, the ʿulama facilitated various changes in the so-called unchangeable, religious institutions.
The contribution of this study lies in its focus on religious institutions in Iranian history, its methodological approach, and its use of primary and archival sources. Despite voluminous works on the Shiite Islam and the ulama, little has been written on socioeconomic changes in religious institutions such as mosques, takīyyah, madrasas, īmāmzādihs, and waqf in Qajar Iran. Findings of this research will contribute to the existing literature on Iranian Studies, Shiite Studies, and Iranian Political Sociology. Furthermore, some of the findings are also likely to be relevant to related fields such as development studies, urban history, geography, and architecture
Gemma Masson, Birmingham, 2018
My project is an up to date study on the janissaries in eighteenth-century Istanbul focussing closely upon the years 1730-1790. While my project is somewhat interdisciplinary, touching upon aspects of military, economies and institutional history, I feel it comes under the umbrella of social history. The starting point of the thesis was the ‘purity/corruption’ paradigm which has been the foundational framework of janissary studies for many years, but which has now largely fallen out of favour with the scholarly community. However, while the paradigm is considered obsolete there has been to date no concrete framework to replace it. This means that the only way we have of viewing the janissaries at this time is by seeing what they were not, i.e. corrupt. Through my study I have rebuilt the image of the eighteenth-century janissary from the ground up, setting their actions within a realistic context, allowing for the construction of a more holistic identity for this group within Ottoman society. This work examines different facets of janissary identity, such as military, economic, social and religious while highlighting where these areas overlap.
The primary source material for this study is a comprehensive representation of that which is available to scholars at the present time, including sources only newly available to researchers. Documentary evidence for this thesis comes from the collections of the Ottoman State Archives, ISAM Library and several published historical treatises written by contemporary Ottomans. By analysing both large amounts of loose documents (evraks) alongside registers I have been able to ascertain what matters pertaining to janissaries were recorded where and create a more complete image of cases involving janissaries than previous studies which focussed solely upon registers (defters). While some previous studies have used evraks they are usually few in number and only where they corroborate register data. My methodology puts this huge volume of sources together allowing them to both corroborate and oppose each other. The evidence in these documents includes information on military wages, supply and deployment which assisted me in demonstrating the military role of the janissaries at this time. For example, certain records regarding janissary wages demonstrate their payment in a foreign coin which was domestically minted by the Ottomans for trade purposes. This corroborates the fact that janissary wages were problematic, as evidenced by petitions from the soldiers demanding their pay. Also present is a great deal of evidence regarding the probates and estates of deceased janissaries of all military and social ranks, allowing me to show the disparity in wealth between the ranks as well as painting a picture of janissary families. Alongside this are records pertaining to janissaries owned businesses licenses (gedik). These probate and business records have aided me in creating statistical data showing, for example, what percentage of deceased janissaries owned businesses, how many had families and what the conventions were for dividing a janissary estate between heirs. Inheritance and material wealth were of particular importance in the Ottoman eighteenth-century in the wake of the seventeenth-century economic crisis.
The abovementioned evidence is an example of my findings from the archives which support the notion of a, if not hostile, then certainly problematic environment which the janissaries were forced to navigate. Add into this the general trials and tribulations of urban life in addition to those of a soldier in a time when active warfare was intermittent at best, and the support grows for the image of a janissary adapting and changing to meet the requirements of the changing environment.
In addition to the more traditional portrayal of the janissaries as a homogenous group within Ottoman society I show intra-janissary relationships and conflicts as well as demonstrating why, instead of talking about an institutional transformation, as Baki Tezcan has claimed, it is more accurate to speak of an institutional fragmentation. My thesis moves the discussion of the janissaries away from a morally loaded terminology and binary mode of thinking for the first time. This work shall facilitate new and exciting directions for the discussion of Ottoman social history, particularly within an urban context. By demonstrating how the janissaries changed over time I hope that more studies will be forthcoming demonstrating how this phenomenon applies across all interest groups within the eighteenth-century.
Once again, I am grateful for the support of the Trust which has made this possible.
Janet O'Brien, Courtauld, 2018
Thesis: “Vision of a World Conqueror: Nādir Shāh (r. 1736-47) and the Emerging Body in Persian Royal Portraiture”
A self-made ruler, Nādir Shāh (r. 1736-47) deposed the Safavids to become one of the fiercest conquerors of his time. His image is captured in a richly diverse group of portraits drawn from Persian, Mughal, and European traditions. They constitute the earliest extant corpus of individualised portraits of an Iranian ruler, and yet, they have never been analysed collectively as a phenomenon linked to the emergence of royal portraiture. Before the eighteenth century, single royal portraits were virtually absent in Iran and kingship was represented as an institution. This collective body has shrunk or disappeared from Nādir’s images, allowing the conqueror’s body to expand to fill the whole vision. Theories of the body politic—never-before applied in Persian painting—provide a methodological tool to contrast Nādir’s self-display and personal hold on power with the Safavids’ courtly assemblages and polity-centered kingship. I aim to trace how the royal image was reinvented from the corporate to the corporeal under Nādir while maintaining dialogic relationships with the Safavid past (1501-1722) and the Zand (1751-94) and Qajar (1785-1925) future. The eighteenth century was also a high point in royal portraiture among the most powerful empires, from Britain, France, and Russia to Ottoman Turkey and India. With his infamous sack of Delhi in 1739, Nādir burst onto the world stage and his emergent body in painting needs to be seen in that ‘global’ picture of imperial rhetoric. My ultimate goal is to put forward a new way of seeing and thinking about the shah’s body and Persian royal portraiture, and I hope my thesis will make a meaningful contribution to the neglected eighteenth century in Persian art. The generous support of the Gibb Memorial Trust has brought me one considerable step closer to that goal.
Kumail Rajani, Exeter, 2018
My thesis examines the intellectual legacy of the famous Fatimid jurist, Abū Ḥanīfa al-Nuʿmān b. Abī ʿAbdallāh Muḥammad b. Manṣūr b. Aḥmad b. Ḥayyūn al-Tamīmī al-Qayrawānī (d. 363/974), better known as Qāḍī Nuʿmān, with a focus on the sources he consulted to construct his hadith works. His works represent the emergence of a new genre of literature promulgated under the rubric of ʿulūm Āl al-Bayt (sciences of the progeny of the Prophet) soon after the Fatimids established their hegemony over North Africa. Qāḍī Nuʿmān, the most prolific and versatile Fatimid scholar, was tasked with the responsibility of compiling a work of law that would serve as an authoritative point of reference for jurists, judges and bureaucrats in the burgeoning Ismaili state. It is evident that Nuʿmān had to have recourse to earlier collections of hadith as he cites them consistently in his writings and incorporates them into his works. These early hadith collections, most of which no longer exist, equipped Nuʿmān with the raw material from which he formulated and systematised various aspects of Ismaili belief and practice. This endeavour resulted in a corpus of works which received the imprimatur of the Fatimid state. It is detailing these lost sources and examining their role in the emergence of hadith literature that this thesis is primarily concerned.
The fundamental aim of the thesis is to examine the historicity of Qāḍī Nuʿmān’s sources in his voluminous legal work, Kitāb al-īḍāḥ, by cross-examining its contents with other contemporary hadith collections of Zaydi and Imami provenance. Although the extant fragment of this work offers some valuable information on its sources, studying al-Īḍāḥ is beset by serious challenges to its authenticity, given that many of the original sources on which it was based are no longer extant. Furthermore, it is claimed that the alleged sources were collected in the first half of the second/eighth century in the East (Medina and Kūfa), whereas the text in question was composed in North Africa during the early fourth/tenth century. This thesis investigates the missing links between al-Īḍāḥ’s origins and its later dissemination throughout North Africa.
This thesis also analyses Nuʿmān’s ambitiously eclectic framework for the contextualisation of hadith, borne out of his access to an unusually broad range of literature, encompassing Zaydi, Ismaili and Imami hadith corpora. Furthermore, his writing style evinces clear similarities, both stylistic and structural, to North African Sunni writings of the period. By examining the materials in al-Īḍāh in this comparative manner and placing the work in a wider context, we gain a clearer notion of Nuʿmān’s sources, and therefore the spread and dissemination of these literary forms. This thesis serves as a useful point of departure for future work on cross-regional and inter-sectarian—namely, Zaydi, Imami and Ismaili—modes of transmission in Islamic literature more broadly.
Farshad Sonboldel, St Andrews, 2018
Report not available
Margins, Resistance, and Transformation in Classical Persian Poetry: Transforming the forms and functions of Persian Poetry in the Works of Early Qajar Poets
University of St. Andrews
The formation and reception of Persian Poetry during eighteenth and nineteenth centuries does not follow a linear course of development. In fact, there are numerous groups and individuals representing various perspectives that undermined, ignored, or supported each other and in the process constructed a major part of early modern Persian literature. If we describe these groups or individuals in terms of parallel or crossing lines, almost in every period of the history of Persian poetry, one finds a bold line representing the mainstream and several narrow and relatively unknown but highly innovative lines which shape the marginal forms. The primary aim of my project is to identify, analyse and explore the influences of these marginal lines during certain periods of Persian poetry just before the so-called “the constitutional revolution literary period”. In the process, I analyse the relationship between the mainstream and marginal poets as well as the role of margins in shaping the poetry of the following generations. I demonstrate how the margins were the actual voices that initiated the evolution of Persian poetry. In my essay, therefore, I will demonstrate how resistance against the state and the domination of the literary mainstream of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (The Return School of Poetry) can be seen as the first steps that set Persian poetry on its path towards transformation.
My case studies for this purpose are Abolqasem Qaem Maqam of Farahan, Fathollah Khan Sheybani, and especially, Abolhasan Yaghma of Jandagh. In my essay, I will illustrate how the conflict with the state led these poets to protest not only against the power of the state but also against stilted Persian poetic traditions. Although a considerable number of scholars in this field recognised these poets as influential figures on the constitutional revolutionary poetry because of their language, I will try to show how their conception of resistance resulted in a kind of poetry in which they make the veiled wishes of society public, a very important legacy that in time transformed the forms and functions of Persian poetry.
The intended use of the award:
The grant will help me to attend conferences and workshops that will increase my research skills and enable me to pay travel and research expenses for finding, photocopying and purchasing unpublished manuscripts and books that are out of print. It will, therefore, be mostly used to pay my travel expenses for my field research and help me secure the research materials that have not been studied before.
In addition, since the Department of Arabic and Persian at the University of St Andrews lacks funding, PhD students in the department have little financial support. Thus, in the last 15 months, I have been under constant pressure to meet my financial obligations while conducting my research. The grant offered by your organisation will enable me, as a self- funded PhD student, to focus more on my research.
Yeliz Teber, Oxford, 2018
Kamaluddin Ahmed, Oxford, 2017
Laura Hassan, SOAS, 2017
Cailah Jackson, Oxford, 2016
Analyses are based on the codicological examination of sixteen illuminated Persian and Arabic manuscripts, none of which have been published in depth. Based on this evidence, this dissertation demonstrates that Rūm’s towns had active cultural scenes despite the frequent outbreak of hostilities and the absence of an effective imperial government. The lavishness of some manuscripts from this period also challenges the often-assumed connection between dynastic patronage and sophisticated artistic production. Furthermore, the identities and affiliations of those involved in the production and patronage of illuminated manuscripts reinforces the impression of an ethnically and religiously diverse environment and highlights the role that local amīrs and Sufi dervishes in particular had in the creation of such material.
Peyvand Firouzeh, Cambridge, 2015
This interdisciplinary PhD project at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge – under Professor Charles Melville’s supervision – lies at the intersections between the arts, political power, and Sufism between Iran and India. It branches out into literary as well as religious and political studies, and examines the social role of Sufism through their architectural heritage. I focused on four Sufi shrines in southern Iran (Mahan and Taft) and the Deccan Plateau (Bidar) that come together under their
association with a specific Sufi order – namely, the Ni’matullahiyya – founded in central Iran in the fourteenth century. I examined the forms, functions and meanings of these shrines and their evolution over time in their Indo-Persian artistic, cultural, social, and political milieus.
The project focused on a span of about fifty years during which the order changed drastically from a local order to a trans-local institutionalised one. I structured the dissertation around the relationship between buildings and people – i.e. patrons and the Sufi order. This allowed me to conduct an in-depth study of the issue of patronage, and to show how Sufi shrines extend beyond objects of popular piety and veneration, and turn into potentially crucial sites, whose foundation and development process are tied to both the institutionalization of Sufi communities, and to the construction of a dynastic ideology on the part of the rulers. The movements of the order within central and southern Iran, and between Iran and the Deccan, and how these relate to their architectural program, as well as the role of their mobility in shaping the cross-cultural connections between central-south parts of Iran and India were
other important aspect of this project.
Shivan Mahendrarajah, Cambridge, 2013
The grant helped to defray expenses incurred during the write-up of my dissertation. I examined the mystical community at Turbat-i Jam in Iran that venerated Shaykh al-Islam Ahmad-i Jam (d. 1141). The period of inquiry is from the Mongol irruptions (ca. 1220-21), to the collapse of the Timurid dynasty in Persia (ca. 1506). The saint, his many descendants, and the winsome shrine-complex at Jam, are examined. Explicated is the patronage that the shrine-complex received as mosques, portals (iwan), domes (gunbad), hospices (khanaqah), and madrasas; and pious endowments (waqf) and royal land grants (soyurghals) as described in Islamic legal instruments, and in Mongol and Timurid chancery documents.
In the 9th /15th century, certain Shaykhs of Jam affiliated with the inchoate Khwajagan-Naqshbandiyya. A select history of these Khwajagan mystical currents, from their hazy Transoxianan origins, to their spiritual endeavors in Cisoxiana; and explications of their evolving doctrines and hybrid practices, are proffered in the dissertation.
I am honored to be the recipient of an academic grant from a memorial endowment being devised in A.H. ‘Sandy’ Morton’s name. I regret that I never had the privilege of knowing Mr. Morton, who became terminally ill sometime after I matriculated at Cambridge. Scholars in Persian Studies, notably my supervisor and my external examiner, independently stated that Sandy Morton would have enjoyed reading my dissertation. Moreover, one scholar commented when I was battling a particularly stubborn medieval Persian manuscript, that ‘Sandy Morton would have been the best person’ to assist me with de-ciphering barely legible Perso-Arabic orthography, and in interpreting abstruse Persian prose. I have, however, made profitable use of Mr. Morton’s scholarship on Sarbadar numismatics. Nevertheless, I regret that Mr. Morton did not have the opportunity to critique my scholarship – for better or for worse – nor have the opportunity to read with me tracts from my eclectic collection of Persian manuscripts.
Ourania Bessi, Birmingham, 2012
Wagheeh Mikhail, Birgmingham, 2011
Antonis Hadjikyriacou, SOAS, 2009
Francesca Biancani, LSE, 2008
Georgios C. Liakopoulos, Royal Holloway, 2007
The study comprises two Parts (I-II), in two volumes respectively. Part I contains an Introduction, three Chapters (1-3) and a Conclusion. The Introduction presents the aims, scope and methodology adopted, followed by a survey of previous scholarship conducted on the subject, and a brief historical examination of the late Byzantine Peloponnese and its conquest by the Ottomans. It concludes with a brief codicological and palaeographical description of the cadastre. Chapter 1 is devoted to the historical geography of the Peloponnese. All place-names mentioned in the cadastre are listed in the sequence they appear therein, accompanied by topographic and linguistic notes. This is followed by a set of digital maps of the Early Ottoman Peloponnese using GIS (Geographical Information Systems). Chapter 2 is a demographical investigation of the cadastre, including the settlement patterns, the density of population and its categorisation into urban/rural, sedentary/nomadic, concentrating in particular on the influx and settlement of the second largest ethnic group in the peninsula after the Greeks, namely the Albanians. Chapter 3 explores the economy and administration of the province concentrating on the Ottoman t?m?r system and the economic mechanisms. A detailed presentation of the level of agricultural production, types of crops, livestock, fishing, commerce, industrial development, etc. is illustrated with tables and charts. The Conclusion summarises the findings of the research and suggests areas for further investigation. Part II comprises a diplomatic edition of the transliterated Ottoman text, preceded by a note on the principles and conventions adopted in the edition. The thesis closes with a full bibliography followed by selected samples of facsimiles of the cadastre.
Amina Elbendary, Cambridge, 2006
Urban protest took a variety of forms including complaints and petitions, rioting, direct physical attacks on officials, and market strikes. Different motives spurred these protests, including fluctuations in the grain market or recurrent debasing of the currency or perceived injustice by government officials. However, all reported protests had a legitimizing justification. Reports of protest bring to light the different roles played by various social groups in medieval Egypt and Syria. Rather than paint a picture of pre-modern Arab- Muslim societies as neatly divided between autocratic exploitative governments and disempowered exploited subjects, an analysis of protest offers a more dynamic portrayal that brings out the roles of merchants, craftsmen, tradesmen, scholars of various standing, pious men, Bedouin, government officials and military officers. During a time of economic crises and recurring plagues, this portrayal shows that far from silently and stoically enduring the hardships of the times, the common people of Egypt and Syria were actively protesting, voicing their demands and manipulating the political, social and economic system to better their living conditions. This further complicates modern historiographical paradigms such as Oriental Despotism and the political quietism of Sunni Muslim political thought.
Murat Mem Menguc, Cambridge, 2006
During the second half of the century, Ottoman historiography was marked by a debate that took shape in the hands of the literary elite who discussed the content of all types of Ottoman histories with which they were familiar. In this debate, the anonymous Ottoman histories became quintessential texts. These texts neither represented the Ottoman palace nor its elite servants. They were texts meant for the general Turkish- speaking community written by unknown and less educated scribes. They had an inclusive discourse, a populist style, a genuine concern about the well-being of the common people and advocated the disgruntled subjects of the empire who considered themselves alienated by a centralized state. Also, a number of historians who came from educated backgrounds and wrote in Turkish integrated the content of these anonymous texts into their own work, thus initiating a transition to a new period of historiography. A transformation occurred in Ottoman historiography during the late 15th century, not as a result of an ideological shift in the palace as is argued by modern scholarship, but from an internal debate which took place among the historians themselves.
The A. H. Morton Scholarship for Doctoral Research in Classical Persian Studies
Alexander (Sandy) Morton (1942-2011) worked at the British Museum and as Senior Lecturer in Persian at the London School of African and Oriental Studies. His interests ranged widely over the field, from glass weights and numismatics to Persian literature and the history of Iran from the Saljuqs to the Safavids. He was a long-standing Trustee of the Gibb Memorial Trust.
The award is for a maximum of £3,000 and can be applied to any year up to the final completion of a course of doctoral study at a British university, including for an approved period of study abroad; it will be paid at the start of the academic year in question, up to the submission of the dissertation.
The award is open to all students undertaking doctoral research at a British university in the field of classical Persian studies, loosely defined to embrace Persian literature and history of the pre-modern era but not excluding other areas of study.
Recipients of the award will not be eligible to reapply another year. Those unable to take up an award will need to reapply.
Applications must be submitted by 1 April 2023. The result will be announced at the end of June and posted on our web site.
How to apply
- Complete the application form on this page
- Submit the following supporting documents as a single PDF in email attachment to the Secretary, Zuher Hassan, at firstname.lastname@example.org before 1 April 2023.
- Academic resume
- Outline of doctoral research
- Intended use of the scholarship, including budget,
- Provide two written academic references (these should be confidential and sent directly by the referees to the Secretary).
Applicants may apply for only one scholarships from the Gibb Trust in any one year. Previous winners may not re-apply for the same scholarship.
Apply to the A. H. Morton Scholarship
Ali Shapouran, St Andrews, 2022
I was awarded the The A.H. Morton Scholarship in 2021 to facilitate my PhD study.
I began my research with review of literature, and then a case study on one of the Shahnama manuscripts (MS Cairo Dar al-Kutub 6006, dated 741/1341). There is not much literature for the reception of the Shahnama based on its own textual content (mostly in its copies but also quotations in other works). However, the review of literature significantly helped me improve my understanding of Ilkhanid and post-Mongol Iran by gathering information from different disciplines, including comparative literature, philology, historiography, art history and intellectual history. This gave me a firm grip on how to see my data in a broader context.
The case study demonstrated the identity of the scribe of the MS Cairo (MS Q in the study) as the son of one of the scholars related to the famous Ilkhanid vizier Rashid al-Din Fazlullah, and the grandson of a decorated Shafi’i scholar in the 13th century, Shams al-Din Muhammad Qarashi Kishi. I established that the scribe modified the text heavily to omit anything problematic from a critical Islamic viewpoint. Later I found out that he has also modified the preface of the Shahnama. This preface – which is a later addition and not an initial part of the Shahnama – was edited based on the MS Cairo by Muhammad Amin Riyahi in 1993, and the scribe’s additions have been considered a fundamental part of it ever since. Together with the evidence in the Shahnama’s own text, the preface helped me demonstrate that the scribe was indeed a Shi’a, which raises new questions about sectarian movements and expansion of Shiism in Ilkhanid and post-Mongol Iran.
Further survey shows that the scribes tended to modify the additions to the text more freely. this turned my attention to the prose prefaces. Consulting a manuscript copied almost a decade after the MS Cairo (and both in the same city: Shiraz), I found the original form of a preface, of which only a much later – presumably early 17th century – version had been identified before. Thanks to a travel grant by BIPS, I found the opportunity to travel to Istanbul and consult another manuscript of 14th century Shiraz which contains yet another version of the prose preface. I am currently working on the relationships between the prose prefaces, to find out where, when, how and why they were created and evolved. This takes my study to the Seljuq period and beyond the textual history of the epic itself. Subsequently, I hope to be able to contextualise these findings in the broader picture of intermingling and interacting identities and ideologies of the medieval Middle East
The PhD thesis study has also lead to some by-products; a paper about the so-called “Freer Small Shahnama” which proposes it was created in north-western Iran, possibly Tabriz, and in the early-fourteenth century (and as a result, not in Baghdad, Herat, or Shiraz, as suggested before). The paper will be published in the Digital Philology Journal by Johns Hopkins University. I also presented a paper in the 10th ECIS (European Conference of Iranian Studies) on the possibility and benefits of re-creating the archetypes of the Shahnama manuscripts, which was a subsidiary question raised and answered during the textual study of the thesis. Meanwhile, I got a full scholarship to attend a summer school in the CEU, Vienna, titled “thinking with Islamicate manuscripts”, which proved very fruitful indeed. I also finalised a paper, presented in 2021, on preparation of new texts in Baysunghur’s library, which deals with the Baysunghuri Shahnamas but also consults other manuscripts produced for him and discusses the concept of edition and textual scholarship in early 15th century Timurid Herat. The paper will be published in an Edited book about Baysunghur’s atelier by Brill. I translated of a review (written by Francois de Blois) into Persian and wrote a review myself, both of which were published in Iran during the last year.
Marc Czarnuszewicz, St Andrews, 2021
I was awarded the 2021 A. H. Morton memorial scholarship to facilitate research into UK manuscript collections in support of my PhD thesis “Connecting the Plateau: Evolving socio- economic networks across the Central Iranian Deserts during the Early Seljuq period”. To try and turn the Covid situation of the summer of 2021 into an opportunity, I proposed to take advantage of the relatively empty reading rooms of the British Library, Wellcome Trust Library, and the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, identifying understudied manuscripts in their collections with a view to comparing them with others held abroad once international travel again became feasible.
Rather than focus on a single text or genre, my approach was to find texts and manuscripts in Arabic and Persian which related in some way to the area around Iran’s Dasht-i Lut and Dasht-i Kavir in the 11 th and 12 th centuries. While our corpus of prose histories which relate to the Seljuq presence in Iran is now fairly well established, thanks in part to publications like A. H. Morton’s translation of Zahir al-Din Nishapuri’s Saljuqnama, my hope was that a broader bibliographical investigation beyond the histories might better illuminate the social and cultural dynamics at play.
At the British Library, one of the focuses of my research was to be the numerous diwans and anthologies relating to poets in my period of study. While the work of such poets has been typically published in modern editions if they wrote in Persian, only a handful of these editions can really be considered critical. If one is to use poems as a historical source, then it becomes essential to divest the versions in published editions from any additional lines they may have acquired in the process of their transmission, lines which are often not present in the oldest manuscripts. At both the British Library and the Wellcome Trust, I particularly benefited from the number of rare manuscripts they held attributed to the Seljuq poet, vizier and alchemist al-Tughra’i. Previous scholarship had recorded his whole of extantoeuvre as being in Arabic, but I discovered a short alchemical epistle attributed to him in a manuscript of North African origin in Persian.
During my period of research at the Bodleian Library, I continued recording relevant poetic diwans but my focus shifted to their manuscripts from the early Persian-language encyclopaedia tradition. My best find here was undoubtedly an uncatalogued manuscript of Shahmardan ibn Abi al-Khayr al-Razi’s Nuzhat-nama-yi’Ala’i, one of the first Persian encyclopaedias. While defective, disordered, and undated, on palaeographic grounds it would appear to be one of the oldest if not the oldest copy of this text in existence. The fact that such a significant manuscript should appear in neither the printed nor digital catalogues of the Library’s holdings nor be recorded elsewhere attests to the how much unexplored material remains in UK collections.
In the University of Cambridge Library, I found a number of useful manuscripts which fell within my scope in the fields of astrology, encyclopaedia, and medicine. But the standout manuscript I came across was an excellent copy of the dream interpretation text Tuhfat al-
Muluk fi Ta’bir al-Ru’ya. The text is attributed to Khalaf ibn Ahmad, the last Saffarid Amir of Sistan before Mahmud of Ghazna’s conquest, while the manuscript was produced in the 14th-century for the Mamluk Amir Yalbugha al-Umari. I presented on this manuscript at the Sufi Manuscript Cultures workshop at the University of St Andrews in September 2021.
Subsequently, I found further copies of this text at Princeton University and in Iranian and Turkish collections, and I plan to use this text in a future article on literary patronage and the transmission of knowledge under the Saffarid dynasty.
Fuchsia Hart, Oxford, 2020
In the last sixth months, I have made considerable progress with my thesis, despite the continuing challenges of restricted access to libraries and workspaces. Following the feedback I received on my submission for my confirmation of status, I have been able to hone the emphasis of my research further. My thesis is now focused on an exploration of the role of the major Shiʿi shrines of Iran and Iraq in Fath ʿAli Shah’s efforts to shape his image as a legitimate Perso-Islamic ruler.
In terms of the outline of the thesis, I have reworked the layout of the chapters. It begins with a short introduction to present the scope and aims of the project, as well as my methods and to appraise the existing scholarship. The four main chapters which follow each address a different site, while also supporting a chronological progression through Fath ʿAli Shah’s reign. Chapter One explores pilgrimage of and patronage to the shrine of Fatima Maʿsuma in Qom – the shrine with which the Shah had the closest relationship. Chapter Two analyses patronage of the shrines in Irāq-i ʿarab, with a detailed study of the Shah’s response to the Saudi-Wahhabi sack of Karbala in 1802. Chapter Three discusses patronage of the shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad, particularly in the context of the almost continuous state of unrest in Khurasan and the concomitant Qajar military operations. With Chapter Four, we return to Qom, for an examination of the tomb which the Shah commissioned for himself within the shrine of Fatima Maʿsuma, to end the thesis with his death. Having submitted Chapter Three for my confirmation of status, I have received extensive and valuable feedback which I am now implementing, before my examiners look at the chapter once more. Shortly, I will move on to completing the remaining three chapters, which are all partially written – I currently have c.35,000 words of an estimated 80,000 total. My deadline for submission is currently still October 2021, but I expect to receive a one term grace-period, which is being given to all students due to the ongoing disruption to our studies, and I will be aiming to submit in January 2022.
So far this academic year, I have presented my research in two online lectures. I gave a lecture to the Virtual Islamic Art History Seminar Series on Fath ʿAli Shah’s patronage of the shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad. In December 2019, I was invited to give a lecture to the Royal Asiatic Society, which I titled ‘Fath ʿAli Shah Qajar and the Shrine of Fatima Maʿsuma, Qom’. Around 70 members of the Society attended the talk and my research was well-received. Alongside my studies, I have been teaching Persian Literature for Islamic Art and Architecture for the MPhil in Islamic Art and Architecture here in Oxford. I have also had a chapter (‘Religious Rituals and Cholera in the Shrine Cities of 19th-Century Iran’) accepted for publication in the edited volume Epidemic Urbanism. Looking ahead to the 2021-2022 academic year, I plan to complete the full DPhil process. I also hope to continue teaching Persian Literature in Oxford, while applying for any other available research, curatorial, or teaching positions.
The funds I have received so far from the Gibb Memorial Trust have contributed to my living costs, in conjunction with my other partial scholarship from the Middle East Centre, St Antony’s College, Oxford. The remainder of the scholarship will continue to help me support myself through the rest of the academic year.
Farshad Sonboldel, St Andrews, 2019
Marginal Literary Movements and Transformation in Classical Persian Poetry:
Reconsideration of the History of Transformations in the Forms and Functions of Persian Poetry in the 18th, 19th and Early 20th Century
Iran Farshad Sonboldel
University of St. Andrews
The proposed research project is to rewrite the history of Persian poetry during the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries which, unlike what is illustrated in previous literary histories, does not follow a linear course of development in terms of transformation. In fact, there are numerous, simultaneous groups and individuals representing various angles of literary modernisation that undermined, ignored, or suppressed by the mainstream. In other words, almost in every period of the history of early modern Persian poetry, there are several parallels or crossing poetic movements, having a polemical dialogue with the bold line representing the mainstream. The marginal lines have always been narrow and formed by less-known but highly innovative poets while the mainstream contains a considerable number of activists whose popular works are relatively conservative.
The primary aim of this project is to identify, analyse and explore the influences of marginal lines on shaping the poetry of the young generations during the Literary Return Movement (Maktab-e Bazgasht) in mid-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries until the post-constitutional era in the early 20th century. Indeed, this thesis demonstrates how these marginal, pioneer poems initiated the so-called literary revolution of the modern era. Therefore, this research investigates in transforming literary forms as a rebellion against the domination of literary traditions of classical poetry.
In order to analyse these literary movements which in turn are means of resistance against the hierarchical structure of power in society I have used the ideas of political philosophers such as James C. Scott, Jacques Rancière as well as literary theoreticians such as Richard Sheppard, Ahmad Karimi Hakkak and Reza Barahani.
To obtain works of marginal poets of each era I have conducted research in a variety of libraries and archives from the University of Arizona in the US to the University of Tehran, the Iranian Parliament Library and the National Library of Iran. I have also researched in a considerable number of private collections and archives to find some of these rare materials.
This research focuses on the developments of the form and function of Persian poetry in works of marginal pioneers and their impact on the following generations of poets.
In the first era, the Literary Return Movement, topical poems of Abolqasem Qaim Maqam Farahani and Fathollah Khan Sheybani are studied. Also, Abolhasan Yaghma Jandaghi’s experiments in new forms of socio-political poetry are discussed. I argue that Yaghma’s works are the most innovative poems of the era which criticise the form and function of Return Movement poetry. Yaghma adopted folklore literary forms such as Ta’zie passion plays and Nowhe (laments) to publicise the hidden and subordinate voice of ordinary people. He uses popular forms in which, because of the relative freedom in terms of language and poetics, the poet is able to convey the message of resistance to subordinates.
In the next period, the thesis illustrates how the conflict with the state led a group of poets during the constitutional revolution to protest not only against the power of the state but also against solidified Persian poetic traditions. A considerable number of scholars in this field recognised classical poets such as Malek al-shoar Bahar and Iraj Mirza as influential figures on the constitutional revolutionary poetry because of their fine and well-structured poems. However, I show how some lower quality but innovative works of Aref Qazvini and Mirzadeh Eshqi are more successful to make the veiled wishes of society public. In fact, one may argue that having a strong sense of reconstructing the literary traditions in comparison to traditional ones, these experimental poets play a more significant role in provoking the society to break free from hierarchical social structures. Besides, the radical changes made in classical poetry by these pioneer poets led to a literary revolution in the next generation that in time transformed the forms and functions of Persian poetry entirely.
In the prominent literary histories, this young generation are mostly mentioned as those who constantly fought with classical authors and academics as well as gradualist moderate poets of the time. Although the historians of Persian literature condemn this group as illiterate and unfamiliar with the capacities of the classical Persian poetry, they were the first ones who experienced in the main aspects of traditional poetic, such as rhyme patterns and prosodic meters. The leading poets of this movement are Abolqasem Lahuti, Taqi Rafa’t, Shams Kasmaei and Ja’far Khamenei. These poets’ experiments can be seen as the root of avant-garde poetic movements in later periods, mid-20th-century. Avant-guard poets who were not as involved in political activities as the previous generations; however, they rebel against the literary mainstream which reproduces the power relation in the structure of autocrat governments.
This research will propose some changes to the canon of the conventional Persian literary history where modernism is defined through the gradual reformation of classical poetry by moderate reformists. Indeed, this thesis highlights the superiority of some marginal, radical poets over the gradualist mainstream paving the path of modernisation for Persian literature.
William Rees Hofmann , SOAS, 2019
Singing Sus in Text: Indo-Persian Music and Su Poetics ca. 1250-1600
William Rees Hofmann
My research thesis, titled “Singing Sus in Text: Indo-Persian Music and Su Poetics ca. 1250-1600”, currently being conducted in the School of Arts at SOAS, traces the history of performance practices between Su networks and the courts of the Delhi Sultanates and early Mughal Empire.
By scrutinising Persian archival material relating to Sus, poets, and courtiers, I seek to interrogate the historiography concerning the study of music and performance practices of the Sultanate period in the environs of Delhi, Gujarat, and the Deccan.
The historical narrative concerning the development of Indian classical music is largely based on uncritical readings of 17th and 18th century texts produced in Mughal courts, which focus on the role played by 13th century Sus and courtiers of the Delhi Sultanates. My research foregrounds primary sources of cultural and political history from the 13th to 16th centuries, delving into contemporary accounts of cultural practices to understand how these figures understood and wrote about their own world. By doing this I also consider more modern historiographical approaches to the music of this period, which often describe its development as a product of ‘Indo-Persian synthesis’ or hybridity. These approaches are often simplistic and essentialist understandings of the complex and nuanced processes of cultural ow and exchange.
My thesis also brings into question the notion of ‘Indo-Persian’, engaging with recent work on the idea of the Persianate World. While recent scholarship has sought to extend the boundaries of what the term ‘Persianate’ means, it is often in view of the Mughal patronage of Persian literature and art, or considers the ‘sabk-e hind’ of Indo-Persian poetry. A handful of scholars, including Sunil Sharma and Thibaut D’Hubert, have looked at the Sultanate Period and vernacular performance traditions, yet the period remains largely overlooked.
I also engage with current historiographical conversations regarding South Asian history, after Richard Eaton and Aditya Behl, looking at Su aesthetic practices and their role in cultural and political history beyond its isolation into religious studies. It is through this lens that I investigate the connections between Sus, political actors, and courts, and the ways in which religious art and courtly politics influenced the history of music and elite culture. My work takes into account performance practices between various frontiers and spaces of interaction – the ‘frontiers’ of the Persian world in the 13th century (Multan, Lahore, and Delhi), and Sus moving between and within the spaces of the khanqāh, or Su hospice, and the Sultanate courts.
By utilising sources of religious, social, and political history for information on music and sound practices, I explore various traditions of music-making, what they meant for the performers and the audience, and how memory was constructed around these practices.
Amir Khusrāw Dehlavi (b. 1245 – d. 1325) is particularly remembered within Mughal texts as being the originator of the khayāl and qawwālī genres, as having introduced the qawl and tarāna forms to Su samā’, or audition, and having composed music and Hindavi-language poetry in Indian song-genres. However, scholars such as Katherine Schoeld and Sunil Sharma have shown how his role may have been more complicated: the khayāl and qawwālī genres developed with musicians performing in the ravīsh, or ‘way’, of Khusrāw, while his Hindavi-language verses are later creations, yet much imbued with the poetic word-play and cosmopolitanism for which he is remembered.
The thesis aims to address a lack of scholarship regarding the period in question, from the actual performance practices of Khusrāw and his contemporaries, to Sus and courtiers composing music and poetry in Persian and early Hindavi around the turn of the 15th century. While Su literature from this period has been excavated for its religious, social, and literary history, the musical component has often been overlooked.
The texts I look at are contemporary, or near-contemporary, records of the cultural lives of Sus and courtiers, including religious discourse collections, biographical dictionaries, music-theoretical texts, and local political histories. A number of texts feature some of the earliest Hindavi-language poetry and song-texts meant for performance within the Su environment, yet have been largely ignored within music history. They tell us about a shifting world of performance practices and meaning-making in the Indo-Persian environment, from the performance of Perso-Arabic song and poetic genres to the accommodation of vernacular traditions. By locating these texts and traditions in their contemporary context but also within Mughal historiography, we stand to gain a better understanding of the ways in which techniques of Mughal ‘self-fashioning’ re-ordered their cultural environment. This self-fashioning also informed the writing of later, post-colonial musical history and became crucial in national identity formation through cultural practices.
By focusing on a hitherto overlooked period of musical history, I hope to uncover and unpack the numerous strands of historiography which informed both Mughal conceptions of music-making as well as modern, post-colonial discourse.
Majid Montazer Mahdi, Exeter, 2018
Politics of Biographical Dictionaries in the Safavid Period
The Safavid dynasty (1501-1722) has been the focal point of the myriad of studies in various fields
such as literary, political, economic, and religious historical studies. One of the popular topics
among these studies has been the process of mass conversion of the people from Mesopotamia in
the West up to the northern frontiers of Khurāsān. The mainstream narrative proposes that the
predominantly Sunni Persian territory became dominantly Imamite Shiʿi under the rule of the first
Safavid Shah Ismāʿīl (r. 1501-1524), and during a process of conversion that took a few decades.
This conversion was ideologically fed, it is argued, by the Shiʿi ʿulamā who migrated from Jabal
ʿĀmil in Southern Lebanon, and were appointed by the Safavid authority in charge of religious
offices in Safavid state(1). From the mid-1990s onward, the aforementioned narrative has been
subject to several modifications instigated by nuanced studies of the documents and sources that
have been published in recent years(2).
The Safavid era, similar other phases in the pre-modern periods in Iranian history, suffers from a
lack of official archival documents. As a result, the main sources that have been utilized for
historical studies were court chronicles and biographical dictionaries devoted to the learned
members of the scholarly class and their works in various fields. The court chronicles and
biographical dictionaries have been treated as a factual basis for the historical writing of this
transformative period of Iranian and Islamic history. While many scholars have found these
narrative sources problematic, thus far scant attention has been paid to the technics and methods
these sources deployed in order to narrate the past(3).
Sholeh Quinn was the first scholar who turned to court chronicles in order to scrutinize these texts
and the context within which they were written during the reign of Shah Abbas (1588-1629) (4). Her
main aim is to examine the methods and organization of the historiographical works of this forty-year period(5). Quinn’s research has attempted to reveal the ideological and intellectual premises of
these historiographical works and is keen to contextualize them in the grand narrative of the
Islamicate historiographical writings.(6)
I would ask the similar set of questions Quinn raised concerning Safavid historical writings, but
instead of directing them at court chronicles I will explore them in regards to the biographical
dictionaries written in the same period: “Finally, how did Safavid historians represent the past and
the present in their historical narratives? It is curious that no one has asked this very basic question
since scholars of Safavid Iran have relied primarily on narrative sources in their studies.”(7)
The first step in the study of biographical dictionaries in Safavid era is Majālis al-Muʾminīn by
Nūr Allāh Shūshtarī (1019/1610). Shūshtarī originally from Persia migrated to India probably to
seek patronage there, wrote this book there in Persian. The book in the 17th century became famous
in both Persia and India and resulted in the fluorescence of the genre among Shiʿi ulama during
Safavid era. My intention is to study this significant text in detail as the first case study of the
A close study of this genre of text, i.e. biographical dictionaries, and other related materials, in
addition to contextualizing the content of these texts in the period in which they were written,
would reveal the methods and organization that the authors used in order to present the past as the
main source of religious legitimacy and claims for religious authority.
This scholarship will help me to extend my study more into Persian materials, besides the Arabic
texts of the same period. It also gives an opportunity to extend my studies to the Persian documents
of the local archives in Mashhad and other Iranian archives to elucidate the social and political
context of the texts.
Majid Montazer Mahdi
University of Exeter, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies
1 Edward Granville Browne, A Literary History of Persia (London: T. F. Unwin, 1902), vol. 4, p. 406-7; Jean Aubin,
‘La politique religieuse des Safavides’ in Jean Aubin, ed., Le Shiʿisme Imamite (Paris: Presses Universitaires de
France, 1970) (especially 239); Roger M. Savory, Iran Under the Safavids (Cambridge University Press, 1980), 28–
30; Mohammad-Ali Amir-Moezzi and Christian Jambet, Qu’est-Ce Que Le Shî’isme ? (Paris: Fayard, 2004), 299–
300. The latest work that can be identified in line with these work is: Rula Jurdi Abisaab, Converting Persia: Religion
and Power in the Safavid Empire (London: I.B. Tauris, 2004). Although Abisaab subscribes to the mass migration of
ulama from Jabal ʿĀmil, even her account revealed a more intricate picture in regard to the formation of the religious
2 For example these works have critical approaches: A. J. Newman, “The Myth of the Clerical Migration to Safawid
Iran: Arab Shiite Opposition toʿAlī Al-Karakī and Safawid Shiism,” Die Welt Des Islams, New Series Vol. 33, no. 1
(1993): 66–112; D. J. Stewart, “Notes on the Migration of ʿĀmilī Scholars to Safavid Iran,” Journal of Near Eastern
Studies 55, no. ii (1996): 81–103; K. Babayan, “The Safavid Synthesis: From Qizilbash Islam to Imamite Shiʿism,”
Iranian Studies 27, no. i– iv (1994): 135–61.
3 For examples with regard to the issue of ethnicity in religious hierarchy, see: “The Myth of the Clerical Migration
to Safawid Iran: Arab Shiite Opposition toʿAlī Al-Karakī and Safawid Shiism,” passim; “Notes on the Migration of
ʿĀmilī Scholars to Safavid Iran,” 87. Also for critical treatment of an specific narrative, see: Devin J. Stewart, “The
Ottoman Execution of Zayn Al-Dīn Al-ʿĀmilī,” Die Welt Des Islams 48, no. 3/4 (2008): 289–347.
4 Sholeh A. Quinn, Historical Writing During the Reign of Shah ʿAbbas: Ideology, (Salt Lake City, UT: University of
Utah Press, 2000).
5 ibid, 5-6.
6 ibid, 7-8.
7 ibid, 5.
Marta Marsano, Exeter, 2017
Thanks to the generous help of the Gibb Memorial Trust, I was able to undertake one year of ethnographic fieldwork in Ahvaz, Khuzestan’s biggest city, among the smallest ethno-religious community able to preserve itself and its rituals intact for millennia even after an officially Islamic Republic was installed: Iranian Mandaeans, or Subbi, as they are called by their Muslim neighbours, mostly inhabited and still live along the banks of the river Karun to be able to perform their baptist rituals and to be near their sometimes enormously extended families.
My doctoral thesis will be focused on Mandaean women as teachers of ritualistic practices to their children and as carriers of many different cultural traditions. In fact, Khuzestan is an oil border region where the war with Iraq is still in the memories of everybody born before the end; here Mandaeans are traditionally silver and goldsmiths; Bakhtiari and other nomads, still living according to their traditions, descend from their mountains to sell their animals and goods; Lurs and Iranian Arabs communicate here in a broken Persian, and the flows of Iraqi and Pakistani refugees gave name to specific sections of the bazaar. Mandaeans have never been understood in the context of this cultural mixture and mutual exchanges of goods and ideas; therefore their variety of cultural practices has never been reported, not even seen.
In this year spent in Ahvaz, not only was I able to collect an immense amount of voice recordings and interviews, but I also became a part of this increasingly endangered group of people. I lived in what is called “The Subbi Alley” (kuce ye subbiha), in the very centre of Ahvaz, and near the river. I rented a small room on the upper floor of a very old house, with a Mandaean family of four downstairs and three geese on the rooftop. My neighbours in the alley and in the mahalle (quarter) all had incredibly interesting life stories, that I collected, and written in Persian anonymising them. I translated the most significant interviews into English and I am in the process of incorporating them inside the main structure of my work. All of them will be safely stored in the University of Exeter digital archive when I hand out my first draft.
Due to the length of my fieldwork I am now in the process of dismantling the data I have gathered and recomposing them in structured chapters and subchapters. Not only my interviews have to be placed in the right position but also an immense amount of participant observation memories has to transfer from my brain to a screen of a laptop, and I am currently finding this late chore a painful one. I can fully understand (but I do not dare to make a comparison) why, after coming back from years of fieldwork, anthropologists in the past faced difficulties in writing their celebrated books. If my life changed in a year, if my cultural values where challenged, if my feminist approach gave way to a highly relativistic one, I cannot imagine what six or seven years might have done. This is an example taken from one of my notebooks, not edited:
I am in a falafel shop in Lashkarabad, Ahvaz. The police has closed the road because they are afraid of trafic jams and of the amount of people gathering here every night. The air is warm, we are near the Persian New Year and people are cheerful and happy to enjoy the night with their families. The temperature just cooled down and reached a bearable 30 degrees. Lashkarabad is one of the predominantly Arab quarters, like many in Ahvaz and many in Khuzestan. I hear Arabic spoken everywhere, words that still I cannot understand shouted loud at the crowd. It is past midnight and the city is more alive than ever. The selling of felafel is getting frenetic, like here an eternal Ramadan was present, forbidding people to eat and have fun during the day and reserving the night to enjoy these earthly pleasures.
The Mandaean community belongs to this place like this place of cultural melting pot belongs to the Mandaeans, themselves victims and at the same time cultural and social products of this marvellous Babel of languages, cultures and traditions. Here the Arab patriarchal structure overcomes everything, it is not even imaginable for a woman to go out alone, especially at night, without taking on herself the risk of being harassed or pointed by the same neighbours. It is not praiseworthy to go alone to the bazaar after 7 pm or to go alone, without a male escort, out of your house after 11 pm. All this was told me by my neighbour, she does not want me to get in trouble and she is very protective of me despite the fact I am four years older than her. She has the idea that since I do not have a husband, yet, I am the one to protect, and to feel worried about.
What I achieved so far is: a life-changing experience; an impressive collection of first hand data on a topic that no scholar before has ever examined; learning Ahvazi Arabic; a half way through doctoral thesis which will be the frame to collocate the things I saw and felt as well; at least two papers written and due to be published soon, the first in cooperation with Professor Arabestani from the Anthropology department of the University of Tehran; several public presentations of my findings and public discussions on a variety of topics concerning Iranian Mandaeans, from food prohibitions to marriage rituals; presenting my research in the BRISMES Conference held in Edinburgh University, in the Social Science department of Tehran University, and in the University of Malaysia for the Food and Society Annual Conference.
My scheduled date for the completion of my doctoral thesis is this next September, if all goes as planned. I hereby would like to thank with all my heart my first supervisor Christine Robins, who patiently supported me during sandstorms and still encourages me when I lose my compass. Of course, all these adventures and experiences and brand new discoveries would not have been realised if I had not had the economic support of the prestigious scholarship honouring Professor Morton. I felt and keep feeling blessed by the pioneering vision of all the members of the Gibb Memorial Trust, who believed in my peculiar research project. You believed in me as a fieldworker, I will not disappoint you as an academic.
Naciem Nikkhah, Cambridge, 2017
A trip to Iran in November marked the ending of my fieldwork travels. Since December, I have been cataloguing the 172 pages of the album; this process involves in identifying the text that has been penned on the elaborately illuminated folios of the album. While most of the textual pages of the album are verses from lyrical poems, some are written in prose with specific historical references. This close reading of the album’s text made me realise that, while most of the painted pages of the album were produced in India, the calligraphic folios were added in Iran in the nineteenth century. This preliminary finding was presented at the College Art Association Conference, in California, in February 2018. Later on, in May 2018, I also presented my research at the British Institute of Persian Studies.
Currently, in my fourth, and final year of PhD I’m finishing my dissertation three body chapters. Chapter one will argue that in order for the calligraphers and painters of the early modern Persianate world to stay bīqarīna—or unique—practitioners invented styles and techniques that allowed the artists to exercise creativity within the framework of traditions. Chapter two discusses single-page paintings that are composed of a central panel of a painted figure, surrounded by cutout pieces of paper with calligraphy. While exploring the relationship between text and image in a series of case studies, I will discuss the importance of reading both text and image in order to understand the intention behind the creation of each page. Chapter three explores three separate groups of single-page compositions of text and image; each one of these groups was created for compilation within an album. In
examining each grouping, either still bound together, or found in separate collections, it is evident that calligraphy is considered as a device to bring the collected pages together as a single unit. Precisely the calligraphy that has been written on cutout paper pieces and pasted around the central panel of each folio is the concern of this chapter. A careful reading of the calligraphy shows that words do not complement the visual content of the pages they are glued on; however, their meanings intertwine the pages together. These three groups of folios have been selected for this chapter mainly because it can be determined with certainty that they were made to be compiled together as an album. Furthermore, each album shows three possible approaches to using calligraphy for making meaning and uniting the individual folios together as an assemblage of artworks with varied subjects and techniques.
Shiva Mihan, Cambridge, 2015
The age of digitisation and accessibility of online catalogues has been a great aid to scholarship in general and to the field of codicology in particular. Searching the databases of different libraries, along with extensive fieldwork to delve into catalogues of archives in Istanbul in September last year, helped me to discover a few previously unknown Baysunghuri productions, which shed a new light on Baysunghur’s library and court staff. The result of this discovery was recently presented in a one-day seminar organised by the British Institute of Persian Studies and an article that will be published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society in the coming year.
After completing my fieldwork by the start of the academic year in October, I started writing my dissertation and have prepared a first draft of three chapters:
Chapter I: The Patron
This chapter first gives a chronology of Baysunghur Mirza’s life including all related events with a specific date that is recorded in historical primary sources, and then investigates his talents and the artistic aspect of his life, as well as his role and taste in the organisation of royal library-workshop, according to art historical sources. It also discusses his calligraphic oeuvre in detail to clarify the authenticity of some of the works attributed to him, such as the Baysunghuri Qur’an and the inscription on the Gauhar Shad Mosque in Mashhad.
Chapter II: The Library-workshop
The second part of my dissertation is about the structure of Baysunghur’s royal library, which also functioned as an atelier or workshop to produce manuscripts and other exquisitely artistic objects. Apart from art historical sources, the data used in this phase is based on a contemporary document written by the head of Baysunghur’s library. It is a fragment of a regular report on the progress of projects at hand addressed to the prince and is called the ‘Arzeh-dasht’. This document not only presents valuable information on the performance of the workshop, but also contains several technical terms that have long been ambiguous to scholars and require explanation. The rest of the chapter accumulates the information about calligraphers, artists, poets and other staff of the royal library and court, extracted from all the available primary sources.
Chapter III: The Productions
The first part of the third chapter presents an updated list of all so-far-known productions, comprising of 30 dated and 5 undated manuscripts associated with Baysunghur’s library. This expands the latest number of 22 manuscripts listed by Roxburgh in 2014. The rest of the chapter concentrates on each production and discusses codicological and stylistic aspects of all the manuscripts, some of which have been previously studied in Thomas Lentz’s PhD dissertation (1985) or in different monographs; I also give a complete study of my recently discovered manuscripts.
The last six months have also seen the completion of three articles that contribute to the topic of my dissertation and have helped me clarify my ideas and the development of my research. A further short paper is also nearly ready for publication.
In the coming half of the year I need to make a field trip to Herat (where Baysunghur maintained his atelier), for which I have obtained a grant from the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, before devoting the rest of my time to finishing my thesis. I am hoping to submit it in early 2017.
Terms & Conditions
Applications will be reviewed by the Trustees and shortlisted applicants may be called for an interview in person, if in the UK or, if overseas, by Skype.
Awards will be paid in two installments, depending on the nature of the support requested. The first will be made on proof of commencement or continuation of the doctoral programme at the start of the next academic year; the second installment will follow receipt of a satisfactory progress report supported by the dissertation supervisor(s), to be received by the 30 April following.
In the event of applications including an approved period of research abroad, the first installment will be made on receipt of proof of travel arrangements and the second installment on submission of a final report with proof of the expenditures borne. Money not spent within the academic year in question should be returned.
All recipients of the A.H. Morton Scholarship will be required to acknowledge this support in their dissertation and to write a final report on their grant and how it furthered their work, for publication on the website of the Gibb Memorial Trust.
Applicants may apply for only one of the two Gibb Memorial Trust scholarships in any one year. Previous winners may not re-apply for the same scholarship.