BIPS 60th Anniversary

BIPS Anniversary Year

BIPS is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, having been founded in 1961 on the initiative of several influential figures in field of Middle Eastern archaeology, Sir Max Mallowen, Sir Mortimer Wheeler and Sir Maurice Bowra, the latter President of the British Academy at that time. After a period housed in Takht-e Jamshid (Taleghani), BIPS moved to its own purpose-built Institute in Qolhak, north Tehran in 1977.

While an important thrust of BIPS’s work in Iran was inevitably archaeological, there has always been a strong interest in the arts and humanities and research in these areas is reflected throughout our journal, IRAN, from the first issues. The Institute is committed to fostering first-class research and promoting the study in the UK of Iran and the Persian cultural presence in the wider world.

Events planned for our anniversary year reflect the three main areas of our activities; the first recognises the spectacular florescence of the Iranian peoples’ artistic achievements over the millennia, in connection with the Epic Iran exhibition at the V&A. The second celebrates the foundational archaeological work done in Iran in the years before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, while the third area, acknowleding the continuing vibrancy of this cultural heritage in the work of contemporary artists and musicians, will be reflected in our November events. In addition to these events, we will host a roundtable discussion on the political and cultural dynamics in Iran around the time of the establishment of BIPS in the twentieth century.

All these events provide us with the opportunity to engage with our members and attract wider audiences and support for our activities, both in the UK and in the wider Persianate world.

The Future of BIPS

Despite the presence of over 100 million speakers of Persian and Iranian languages around the world, the long and complex history of Iran and the wider Persianate region and the wealth of its culture and religious traditions, only a handful of museums and an ever-shrinking number of university courses in the United Kingdom offer access today to this rich heritage.

BIPS’s role in championing the knowledge and understanding of this region is therefore more vital now than ever before and it seeks to strengthen its activities across the UK . In the future the Institute aims to play a crucial role by focussing its research programmes not only on Iran but also on other regions of the wider Persianate world.

Support BIPS Research and Activities

BIPS’s activities and objectives are currently supported by a small working budget that comes mostly from the UK government Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy via The British Academy.

To achieve its short-term and long-term objectives, BIPS is, however, also reliant on the support of its members and others sharing their interest in the Persianate world.

To celebrate its 60th Anniversary, BIPS has adopted a programme of ambitious projects over the next three years and is launching a fundraising campaign to support it. Members and supporters of BIPS can find information about these projects and how to support them in the Anniversary Brochure.

Anniversary Events

Expand for event details

Approaches to Iranian Art: In Conversation with Robert HilleNbrand and Bernard O'Kane

Approaches to Iranian Art:

In Conversation with Robert Hillenbrand and Bernard O’Kane


29 July 2021


5 – 6PM BST


Zoom webinar

A webinar in celebration of BIPS 60th anniversary, centered around the Epic Iran exhibition at the V&A

Please join us online for a webinar featuring Professors Robert Hillenbrand and Bernard O’Kane for a conversation. Moderated by Dr Richard McClary, the two speakers will address some of the grand themes and major issues in the study of Iranian art and architecture, particularly, but not limited to, the Islamic art of the medieval period.

As two of the leading figures in the field, with extensive experience both in Iran and working with material in all the major international collections, Robert Hillenbrand and Bernard O’Kane bring many decades of knowledge and experience to the conversation. 

Forming part of the 60th anniversary celebrations of the British Institute of Persian Studies, the discussion will be based on some of the objects and themes included in the Epic Iran exhibition, and this webinar is an extension of the tour of the exhibition taking place in London in the morning, and the webinar open to anyone in the world who wants to join the event remotely.

Speakers Info

Robert Hillenbrand, MA, DPhil, FBA, FRSE, was appointed to an Honorary Vice President in 2008. He is the Chairman of the Academic Council of the Iran Heritage Foundation in London, Professor Emeritus of Islamic Art at the University of Edinburgh and Honorary Professorial Fellow of Islamic Art at the University of St Andrews.

He is actively engaged in research projects in Persian painting, Islamic iconography and Islamic architecture, notably of Syria and Iran. He taught at the University of Edinburgh for thirty-six years and has published more than 160 articles as well as nine books.

Bernard O’Kane is Professor of Islamic Art and Architecture at the American University in Cairo, where he has been teaching since 1980. He has also been a visiting professor at Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of eleven books, among the most recent being Studies in Persian Architecture (2021) and Mosques: the 100 Most Iconic Islamic Houses of Worship (2019).


Richard Piran McClary is a lecturer in Islamic Art and Architecture at the University of York. He received his doctorate from the University of Edinburgh in 2015. He has lectured extensively on the topic of Medieval Islamic architecture around the world and has conducted fieldwork in India, Turkey, Central Asia and the Middle East. He held a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship at the University of Edinburgh from 2015 to 2018, examining the surviving corpus of Qarakhanid architecture in Central Asia.

His first monograph, entitled Rum Seljuq Architecture 1170-1220. The Patronage of Sultans was published by Edinburgh University Press in 2017, and his second, Medieval Monuments of Central Asia. Qarakhanid Architecture of the 11th and 12th Centuries, also with EUP, came out in 2020. He has co-edited a volume with Andrew Peacock, entitled Turkish History and Culture in India, Identity, Art and Transregional Connections (Brill, 2020), as well as numerous articles and book chapters on the topic of medieval Islamic architecture and ceramics.


Champagne breakfast and private viewing of the exhibition Epic Iran

Champagne breakfast and private viewing of the exhibition Epic Iran


30 July 2021


8:30 – 10 AM


Victoria and Albert Museum, Exhibition Rd entrance, London SW7 2DA


Members only

To open the celebrations for its 60th anniversary, BIPS invites you to a special members-only champagne breakfast and private view of the iconic Epic Iran exhibition at the V&A. The event will take place on 30th July.

During the breakfast, which will take place in the beautiful tiled café of the museum, Dr John Curtis will introduce the exhibition.

Members will be then invited to enjoy a viewing of the exhibition before the opening of the museum to the public.

Speaker Info

John Curtis was Keeper of the Middle East Department at the British Museum 1989-2011. He is presently Chief Executive Officer of the Iran Heritage Foundation, President of the British Institute for the Study of Iraq, and a Trustee of the Honor Frost Foundation.

He specialises in the archaeology and history of Iraq and Iran c. 1000-330 BC and has written or edited 23 books and more than 100 articles. He directed excavations at eight different sites in Iraq on behalf of the British Museum between 1982 and 1989, including the important Assyrian sites of Khirbet Qasrij, Khirbet Khatuniyeh, Nimrud and Balawat. He has also curated a number of significant exhibitions including ‘Art and Empire: Treasures from Assyria in the British Museum’ that was shown at nine different venues worldwide, ‘Forgotten Empire: The world of Ancient Persia’ at the British Museum 2005-6, ‘The Cyrus Cylinder’ at the National Museum, Tehran, 2010-11, and ‘The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia’ that was shown at five different US museums in 2013.

He was the first Western archaeologist to enter the Iraq Museum after the looting in 2003, and since then has played an active role in attempts to protect the cultural heritage of Iraq.


Reflections on Pahlavi Iran: roundtable on 60th Anniversary of BIPS

Reflections on Pahlavi Iran: roundtable on 60th Anniversary of BIPS


15 September 2021


4-5:30 PM BST


Zoom webinar


Please join us online for a roundtable discussion with Professor Ali Ansari, Dr Evaleila Pesaran, and Dr Robert Steel and chaired by Dr Shabnam Holliday.

Based on their own research on the Pahlavi period, the panellists will reflect on the dynamics in Iran around the time of the establishment of the British Institute of Persian Studies.

Speakers Info

Ali M. Ansari, PhD (SOAS), FRAS, FRSE, served as BIPS President from 2013-2017.

He is Professor of Iranian History and the Founding Director of the Institute for Iranian Studies, University of St Andrews, Member of the Academic Council at Iran Heritage Foundation, and Senior Associate Fellow of the Royal United Services Institute.

He has written more than five books and his research interests include the development of the state in Iran; historiography, ideology, myth and nationalism; social and intellectual history; and Iran’s relations with the West.

Evaleila Pesaran is a Fellow and Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge.

She is the author of Iran’s Struggle for Economic Independence: Reform and Counter-Reform in the Post-Revolutionary Era (Routledge, 2011). Dr Pesaran is interested in international hierarchies and the impacts of foreign economic involvement in the Global South, with a particular focus on Iran.

Her current research project focusses on the place of oil in Iran’s international relations, looking at both the pre- and the post-revolutionary periods.

Shabnam Holliday is Associate Professor in International Relations at the University of Plymouth. She completed her PhD on Iranian national identity discourses (2008) at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, under the supervision of Professor Ali Ansari and Professor Nadje al-Ali. She was awarded the six-month Residential Post-doctoral BIPS fellowship in 2007/8. In 2014, she was a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Political Thought, University of Exeter.

Her publications include Defining Iran: Politics of Resistance (Routledge, 2011) and ‘Populism, the International and Methodological Nationalism: Global Order and the Iran–Israel Nexus’, Political Studies, 2020. She is the co-editor (with Philip Leech) of Political Identities and Popular Uprisings in the Middle East (Rowman and Littlefield International, 2016).

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