Royal Asiatic Society

Member Profile

Professor Peter Frankopan

Peter Frankopan is Professor of Global History and Stavros Niarchos Foundation Director of the Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research. He is also UNESCO Professor of Silk Roads Studies at King’s College, Cambridge. He read History at Jesus College, Cambridge before doing his doctorate at Corpus Christi College, Oxford where he was Senior Scholar. He came to Worcester in 1997 as Junior Research Fellow in 1997 and has been Senior Research Fellow since 2000.

Peter has been named as one of the World’s 50 Top Thinkers (Prospect), ‘the rockstar historian du jour’ (Sunday Times) and the ‘first great historian of the 21st century’ by Brazil’s DCM magazine.
Professor Frankopan works with multi-lateral institutions including the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, UNESCO, UNIDO and wrote post-pandemic recovery plans for group of governments in Asia. He is currently working on a major history of environmental and climatic change.

Peter works on the history of Byzantium, Russia, Ukraine, the Middle East, Iran, Central and South Asia and China. His book The First Crusade: The Call from the East (2012) was described as ‘overturning a millennium of scholarship’ and the most significant contribution to rethinking the origins and course of the First Crusade for a generation.’

His book, The Silk Roads: A New History of the World (2015) was Sunday Times Book of the Decade, New York Times Bestseller and topped the non-fiction charts in the UK, UAE, India, China and beyond. It was described as ‘magnificent’ (Sunday Times) ‘ dazzling’ (Guardian), ‘a rare book that makes you question your assumptions about the world’ (Wall St Journal), ‘a treasure’ (Libre Belgique), ‘phenomenal’ (Die Welt), ‘a joy’ (Le Point) and ‘not just the most important history book in years, but the most important in decades’ (Berliner Zeitung). It was named one of the 25 most important books translated into Chinese of the last forty years, alongside Pride and Prejudice and The Great Gatsby.

His most recent book, The New Silk Roads: The Present and Future of the World, ‘a masterly mapping out of the new world order’ (Evening Standard) won the Italy’s prestigious Carical Prize for Social Sciences.

Photo by Jonny Ring

How did you first hear of the Society?
I’d known about the Royal Asiatic Society since I was a student as I was interested in how British and British-based scholars in the 19th and 20th centuries made sense of the world that was opening up to them. I came across the name again and again (and again). I didn’t give too much thought to what the RAS does in the contemporary world, so it was only later that I put two and two together.

What encouraged you to join?
Joining any society does three things. First, it enables the RAS to stay alive and to grow. Annual subscription fees are so important to keep organisations going. Second, it is a joy to be a new member, partly because societies need new faces, new ideas and new people to leave, breathe and keep moving. So I thought there was almost an obligation to join and to help the membership keep growing. And finally, my own work and interests cross over with so many other members of the RAS. Being part of something where one can share new research, listen to brilliant people present their work, and learn about things one knows little about or learn more about things that one does is a complete joy.

What would you say are the benefits of being a fellow of the RAS?
I love everything the RAS does – from lectures to events, from the prizes it awards to the encouragement and support it gives to young scholars. But my top answer is the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (JRAS). I am genuinely excited when it pops through the letter box ! I’ve learned so much from the journal over the years – both reading it in print and online. The range and quality of the articles is just breath-taking, so impressive and so interesting.

What is your favourite item from the RAS collections?
I’ve always had a soft spot for maps – even though maps over-simplify, can be misleading and can sometimes even stand in the way of improving our knowledge. But I love them despite all that, both as sources that try to convey information and also as objects that are very revealing about their makers, their aims and intentions. The RAS has a fantastic collection. I love the Ottoman railway map (and the blog by Philip Jagessar) dating to 1904. It is so evocative about a world going through a whole series of transitions – and of course the significance of rail travel has a particular resonance in the tail-end of the Ottoman empire. But ask me again next year, and I’d doubtless pick something else !