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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Middle Eastern Studies
Emeritus Professor of Persian History
President, British Institute of Persian Studies
Director, Shahnama Project
Email address: 
+44 (0)1223 338141
Fellow of: 
Pembroke College

Born London on 10 May 1951, educated at Wellington College and Pembroke College, Cambridge (1969-72), BA Hons. (1st) in Oriental Studies (Arabic & Persian); University R.A. Nicholson Prize, Pembroke College E.G. Browne Prize (1972).  MA (Islamic History), London SOAS (1972-3). PhD, Cambridge, on “The historical seismicity of Iran from the 7th to the 17th century” (1978).  Research Assistant, Imperial College, London (1974-82); seismic hazard research consultant, CEGB-Nuclear Electric, etc. (1982-86); Assistant Lecturer in Oriental Studies, Cambridge (1984-8); University Lecturer (1988-2001); Reader (2001-8); Professor of Persian History (2008-18). Fellow of Pembroke College (1985-present).

He has been a long-serving member of the Governing Council of the British Institute of Persian Studies and is currently (since 2017) President. He has also served on the Board of the Societas Iranologica Europaea (1995-2003) and was President of The Islamic Manuscript Association (2006-19) and a trustee of the Gibb Memorial Trust until 2019. Since 1999, he has been Director of the Shahnama Project, based in Cambridge. In 2010 he was behind an exhibition of Persian manuscripts and paintings of the Shahnama (Persian Book of Kings) at the Fitzwilliam Museum. He is series editor of 'Studies in Persian Cultural History' (Brill, Leiden) and the 'Idea of Iran' symposia (Soudavar Memorial Foundation). He is a Permanent Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures (CSMC) at Hamburg University and currently has a Leverhulme Trust Emeritus Fellowship with a project on 'Visualising Persian history'.  He has travelled widely in Central Asia and Iran (both before and after the Islamic Revolution).

Research interests: 

Professor Melville’s main research interests are in the history and historiography of medieval Iran, with a concentration on the Mongol–Safavid periods (13th-17th centuries), and text-image studies of Persian manuscripts, particularly the Shahnama of Firdausi and historical texts (chronicles).

His publications include edited volumes of Safavid Persia (1996), Shahnama Studies (2006) and Shahnama Studies II (2012) and III (2018), and ‘Millennium of the Shahnama of Firdausi’ (Iranian Studies, 2010, with Firuza Abdullaeva). Co-authored books include The Persian Book of Kings. Ibrahim Sultan’s Shahnama (2008, also with Firuza Abdullaeva) and Epic of the Kings. The art of Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh (2010, with Barbara Brend). Edited volumes on Persian Historiography (vol. X of the History of Persian Literature) and Kingship from Antiquity to the Medieval World ('Every Inch a King', with Lynette Mitchell) were published in 2012, and The Mongols' Middle East: Continuity and transformation in Ilkhanid Iran (with Bruno de Nicola) in 2016.

A Chronicle of the reign of Shah ‘Abbas. Fazli Beg Khuzani Isfahani, was published in 2015, with Kioumars Ghereghlou for the Gibb Memorial Trust. Two articles arising from this research are “New light on Shah ‘Abbas and the construction of Isfahan”, Muqarnas 33 (2016), pp. 155-76 and "Shah ‘Abbas’s patronage of the dynastic shrine at Ardabil”, Muqarnas 37 (2020), pp. 109-36.

Further publications