Iran Heritage

Persian Manuscript Digitisation Project at the British Library

Digital Archive

Completion date: August 2015

The Iran Heritage Foundation is fundraising for this important project, which will catalogue and digitise some of the many Persian manuscripts in the British Library's collection, making these freely accessible to scholars and enthusiasts worldwide via the Internet.

Organised by

British Library in partnership with Iran Heritage Foundation.

Supported by

In addition to IHF, the following donors have very generously supported this project:

  • PARSA Community Foundation,
  • Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation
  • The Bahari Foundation
  • Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute
  • Barakat Trust
  • Friends of British Library
  • Soudavar Memorial Fund
  • Khayami Foundation
  • Individual private donors

Project Overview

The British Library Persian manuscript collection is one of the largest and best known in the world. It includes over 11,000 manuscripts originating from all over the Persian-speaking world, ranging in time from the 12th century onwards. Many of the manuscripts are very rare texts, and illustrated volumes include some of the most famous miniature paintings of the Persian and Mughal schools.

Launched in August 2011, this 4–year project is working to make important works from the British Library's Persian manuscript collection freely accessible via the Internet to a worldwide audience of researchers and enthusiasts. A dedicated curator has been appointed and tasked to make the material available through online catalogues, and helping to safeguard this part of Iran’s heritage for future generations, while promoting the research and study of these manuscripts and their relevant subject areas on a worldwide basis.

The archive as a whole will be a unique cultural resource which can both be enjoyed by students and lovers of Persian culture and also used as a teaching tool.

Programme Objectives

  • to construct reliable and consistent metadata for the manuscripts collections and to have about a third of the collection catalogued in digital format by the end of 2015, subject to funding.

    This laborious but essential task is of utmost importance for providing researchers around the world with basic information on the collection. The online catalogue is being created simultaneously in Persian and Romanised script with descriptions in English. This means that for the first time, from anywhere in the world, people will be able to search and access details about Persian manuscripts in the British Library by doing a simple author or title search in Farsi or English.

    Details of over 2,600 catalogue records contained in 1,642 volumes have already been prepared and uploaded, including some printed hand lists and catalogues, as well as some unpublished catalogues of Persian manuscripts. This material has been added to FIHRIST, the national union catalogue of manuscripts in Arabic script currently in development by Oxford and Cambridge Universities ( Through this programme, the British Library currently is the largest contributor of Persian manuscript records to the Fihrist Project.
  • to digitise some of the most important manuscripts in the collection, providing worldwide access in perpetuity to these works and contributing to their future preservation.

    To date 27 manuscripts have been digitised and uploaded onto the British Library website. A full list of the available manuscripts can be viewed here.

    For example, the entire text of Shah Tahmasb’s copy of Nizami’s Khamsah has already been digitised, and can be viewed from cover to cover here.

    A digital version of Iskandar Sultan’s illustrated pocket encyclopedia of 813-14/1410-11 has been uploaded and can be viewed here.

This path-breaking project is unique in its nature and scope. It aims, by using modern technologies, to combine heritage preservation with making this material freely available worldwide for study and research. With your support we can make this vast Persian manuscript heritage universally available, facilitating research in Persian Studies and making this precious material more accessible to the general public. There are many more important manuscripts available for digitisation, and the more funds we are able to raise, the more we can digitise.

Work is on going and progress can be followed on the British Library’s dedicated project page Digital Access to Persian Manuscripts. The Persian curators have also been writing about new acquisitions and discoveries in the Asian and African Studies Blog, for example a new illustrated Shahnameh discovered in the course of routine work on the project.

Please consider making a contribution to help fund this important project by clicking on our VirginMoney fundraising page below. Gifts of any amount are welcome. For other ways of giving, and for US donors to give tax efficiently please visit our Giving page.

Programme Video

Please view our short Programme Film to learn more about the project.

Further fundraising is urgently needed to achieve the objectives of this project.

Please support this valuable programme

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Iran Heritage Foundation, 63 New Cavendish Street, London W1G 7LP
Tel: +44 (20) 7493 4766