Badakhshan Manuscript Digitization Project

Transforming rare texts into accessible digital resources.


The perception of Badakhshan as a remote and “peripheral region” in the Islamic world has marginalized the study of Ismailism and the peoples of the Badakhshan region within the scholarship on Islamic Central Asia. We know little about the historical development of the Ismaili community in Badakhshan, or about the construction of confessional traditions and the institutionalization of Ismaili religious authority, as the existing evidence in the form of Persia documents and manuscripts remains largely inaccessible as historical sources. Yet pirs and khalifas from Tajikistan and Afghanistan maintained a Persianate documentary and literary tradition rich with untapped insight.

Led by Dr. Jo-Ann Gross and supported with a three-year National Endowment for the Humanities Collaborative Research Grant, this project is centered on preserving and digitizing roughly 60 original, privately held genealogical histories (nasab-namahs) from Badakhshan from the 16th - 20th centuries. Using an archive of photographs compiled during Dr. Gross' 2004-2018 field research in the region, it is the first effort to study the history of genealogical documentation in the Ismaili community as a source for local knowledge of the Ismaili tradition of Badakhshan. This groundbreaking work highlights a local documentation culture that captured the genealogically based sanctity and sayyid pedigree among familial communities of shahs, pirs and khalifas.

Approach and Objectives

Badakhshan manuscript
A Badakhshan manuscript. 

This project brings a humanities perspective to the study of knowledge production in the context of genealogical history. It is one of the first efforts to systematically collect and interpret primary data from both Afghan and Tajik Badakhshan, with a view towards understanding their historical and social connections. The goal is to render this corpus of Persian-language texts legible as historical sources by: 

  • Digitizing them and identifying their features.
  • Defining local genres of genealogy and document production.
  • Analyzing them as a source for local knowledge of the Ismaili tradition. 

Results will include a co-authored book, due in 2020, and an open-access digital repository at Princeton University Library. This will be the first corpus of Ismaili documents from Badakhshan available online in transcription and English translation.



Badakhshan initiative - couple reading text on a wall

“Sayyid Genealogy, Narrative Tradition and the Sacred Landscape in Badakhshan"

Brown Bag Lunch Series
Princeton University
Dec. 14, 2015

Co-sponsored by:

  • The Department and Program in Near Eastern Studies
  • The Sharmin and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies

View poster

Beyond Campus

Project Lead