Ehsan Yarshater

Professor Ehsan Yarshater, a distinguished scholar of Persian language and literature, and the founder of Encyclopaedia Iranica was born in Hamedan, Iran in 1920. He received a Ph.D. in Persian language and literature from the University of Tehran in 1947. He then moved to England to pursue his studies with W. B. Henning at London University, where he received an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Old and Middle Iranian in 1960. He was invited by Columbia University in 1958 as a Visiting Associate Professor and was later appointed to the Kevorkian Chair in 1961. He founded the Center for Iranian Studies at Columbia University in 1968 and served as its Director until his retirement in 2016. The center was recently named Ehsan Yarshater Center for Iranian Studies.

Professor Yarshater founded the Encyclopædia Iranica in 1973 and remained its Editor-in-Chief until his retirement. Encyclopædia Iranica is arguably the most significant, extensive and comprehensive scholarly work dedicated to the study of Iranian civilization in the Middle East, the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Indian Subcontinent. The academic reference work will eventually cover all aspects of Iranian history and culture as well as all Iranian languages and literatures, encompassing the whole range of Iranian studies research from archeology to political sciences. In 1990, Professor Yarshater established the Encyclopædia Iranica Foundation to ensure the continuation of this comprehensive scholarly work. He was the Foundation’s President until his death in 2018.

Professor Yarshater authored and served as the editor of numerous scholarly works. Among many notable works, he has authored Persian Poetry in the Second Half of the 15th Century (1953), Southern Tati Dialects (1970), and has edited the third volume of Cambridge History of Iran, in two parts, covering the Seleucid, Parthian and Sasanian periods (1983, 1986), and Persian Literature (1988). He was the General Editor of the 40-volume Tabari Translation Project, and the Founding Editor of the Persian Text Series, the Persian Heritage Series and the Persian Studies Series. Lecture series in his name have been instituted at Harvard, the University of London, and the University of California at Los Angeles.

He was married to Latifeh Alvieh, a cultural advisor at the Cultural Bureau of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. She died in 1999, and the couple had no children.

Professor Yarshater died on September 1, 2018 in Fresno, California, he was 98. He will be remembered for his strength of character, unwavering dedication and immense contribution to the study of the Iranian culture and civilization. The Encyclopædia Iranica Foundation honors his life and his enduring legacy.

In the fall of 2009, Kaveh Basmenji of BBC Persian produced a film profiling Dr. Ehsan Yarshater about the Encyclopædia Iranica. 

To see the English subtitles, view the video directly at Youtube and click on the "CC" option.

2011 interview by The New York Times: A Lifetime Quest to Finish a Monumental Encyclopedia of Iran.