Silk Road Culture and More Gold Medallists

Last night, 24 May, the Society was privileged to be able to host a launch event for a new publication by Dr Susan Whitfield (Institute of Archaeology, UCL), titled Silk, Slaves and Stupas: Material Culture of the Silk Road. Dr Whitfield gave a fascinating introduction to her book, which demonstrates how the silk road functioned as a network for economic, cultural and religious transmission across vast distances. To do this, Dr Whitfield highlighted a few specific objects, each of which helps tell an extraordinary story about the history of human cultural exchange. The presentation was enjoyed by a packed audience, who also benefited from a question-and-answer session with Dr Whitfield. The lecture was followed by a reception.

Dr Susan Whitfield addresses the audience

Our final look at the Triennial Gold Medallists of the Society starts with a gentleman who received a mention in last week’s blog post for his letter to W.E.D. Allen, in which he wrote about coming to London to receive the Medal:

  • 1962 – Professor Valdimir Minorsky – Vladimir Minorsky was born near Moscow and trained in Law before entering the Lazarev Institute of Oriental Languages where he spent 3 years preparing for a diplomatic career. He made his first trip to Iran in 1902, where he collected material on the Ahl-e Haqq and continued to serve in the Middle East until 1919 when he moved to Paris and began work in the Russian Embassy. In 1923 he began to lecture on Persian literature at the École nationale des langues orientales vivantes, where he subsequently taught Turkish and Islamic history. In 1930 he was named Oriental Secretary to the 1931 International Exhibition of Persian Art at Burlington House, London, and in 1932 was made lecturer in Persian at London’s School of Oriental Studies. In 1933 he became Reader in Persian Literature and History, University of London; Professor of Persian in 1937; and in 1944 retired.
Letter from Professor Vladimir Minorsky to Sir Richard Winstedt, President of the Royal Asiatic Society, to thank him for the letter notifying of the award of the Society’s Gold Medal which had arrived on his 85th birthday.
  • 1965 – Professor G.H. Luce – Gordon Hannington Luce was born in Gloucester. He graduated from Emmanuel College, Cambridge, with a degree in Classics. In 1912 Luce was appointed Lecturer in English Literature at Government College, Rangoon, later a constituent college of the University of Rangoon. There he developed a lasting friendship with the young Pali scholar, Pe Maung Tin, and married his sister, Ma Tee Tee. During the Japanese invasion in 1942 Luce and his wife escaped into India. He returned to Rangoon after the war and remained there until 1964, when, like other foreigners, he was forced to leave the country. His final fifteen years were spent on Jersey. He published widely on subjects relating to Burma.


  • 1968 – Sir Hamilton Gibb – Hamilton Alexander Rosskeen Gibb was born in Egypt in 1895. He returned to Scotland for his education and graduated from Edinburgh University. He studied Arabic at SOAS and proceeded to teach Arabic there, becoming a professor in 1930. In 1937 Gibb succeeded D. S. Margoliouth as Laudian Professor of Arabic with a Fellowship at St John’s College, Oxford. In 1955, Gibb became the James Richard Jewett Professor of Arabic and University Professor at Harvard University.
Letter from the Selection Committee for the Gold Medal to the President of the Royal Asiatic Society to nominate Sir Hamilton Gibb for the award of the Medal. Signed by the members of the Committee – John Burton-Page, Professor Edward Ullendorff and H.C. Shorto.
  • 1971 – Sir Harold Bailey – Harold Walter Bailey was born in Wiltshire but spent much of his childhood in Australia where he self-taught himself many languages. He graduated from the University of Western Australia before taking up a studentship at Oxford University. After graduating with first class honours in 1929, Bailey was appointed as Parsee Community Lecturer in the then London School of Oriental Studies. In 1936 Bailey became Professor of Sanskrit and a Fellow at Queens’ College, Cambridge. He retired in 1967. It is believed that he could read more than 50 languages.


  • 1973 – Sir Gerard L.M. Clauson (this was a special anniversary gold medal) – Gerard Clauson was educated at Eton and Oxford becoming a Boden scholar in Sanskrit in 1911, Hall-Houghtman Syriac Prizeman, 1913, and James Mew Arabic Scholar, 1920. He followed a career in the Civil Service which was to culminate in serving as the Assistant Under-Secretary of State in the Colonial Office, 1940-1951. However he was also a skilled linguist and wrote papers on philology. When he died in May 1974, he had been a member of the Royal Asiatic Society for 62 years.


  • 1977 – Professor W. Simon – Ernest Julius Walter Simon was born in Berlin in 1893, being educated at the University of Berlin, and lived there until 1934 when he moved to London. He worked in both London and Berlin as a Lecturer and Professor in Chinese and was expert in Chinese and Tibetan linguistics.


  • 1984 – Professor Sukumar Sen – Professor Sukumar Sen was born in 1900 in Gotan, near Shyamsundar in the Purba Bardhaman district. He obtained an F.A. in 1919 from Burdwan Raj College, then affiliated with the University of Calcutta. He received a divisional scholarship and earned first class honours in Sanskrit from the Government Sanskrit College in 1921. He studied Comparative Linguistics in Kolkata, scoring the highest marks in 1923. He received a Premchand Roychand Scholarship and a PhD degree. He joined the University of Calcutta as a lecturer in 1930, where he served as a professor for thirty four years. He became the second Khaira Professor in the Department of Comparative Philology. His interests were in Bengali linguistics but he was also well versed in Pāli, Prakrit and Sanskrit. He died in 1992.
Newspaper cutting reporting of the award of the Triennial Gold Medal to Sukumer Sen.
  • 1990 – Professor Ann K.S. Lambton – Ann Katharine Swynford Lambton (known as A.K.S. or Nancy) was born in 1912 and grew up in Newmarket. She studied at SOAS, London. Between 1939 and 1945, she was press attaché at the British Legation (later Embassy) in Tehran, for which war service she was made an OBE in 1942. She returned to SOAS as senior lecturer, then reader, in Persian, before being appointed professor in 1953. She continued to teach at SOAS until her retirement in 1979. Her knowledge of Iran was considered one of the most informed in the western world. After retirement she continued her research and writing. She died in 2008, aged 96.

There will be two events at the RAS next week. On Tuesday 29 May, 6.30pm, Dr. Ashmita Khasnabish will present a Guest lecture on “Indian Imagination in a Postcolonial Context”. On Thursday 31st May, 6.30pm, I am particularly delighted to invite you to come to the Book Launch of my latest collection of poetry. Feart is an exploration of childhood emotion through the externalisation of the emotion as a companion creature for a girl. For more details of the event see here.