Richard Frye, 1920-2014


Richard Nelson Frye was the doyen of Iranian Studies in North America and in a long and illustrious career had authored or edited some 18 books on Iranian history, historical geography and archaeology.

Frye obtained his B.A. in history and philosophy (Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) in 1939, and his M.A. (Harvard) a year later. His 1946 doctoral dissertation at Harvard was on the Tarikh-i Bukhara (History of Bukhara). Frye's memoirs entitled, Greater Iran: a 20th-century Odyssey was published in 2005. Besides teaching at Harvard (1948-90), Frye also taught at Habibiya College, Kabul (1942-44), Frankfurt University (1959-60), Visiting Scholar, Hermitage Museum, Leningrad (1966-67), Hamburg University (1968-69), Pahlavi University, Shiraz (1970-76), where he also served as Director of its Asia Institute (1970-75), and the University of Tajikistan (1990-92). The last-mentioned conferred an honorary doctorate upon him in 1991.

Frye was the founder of the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard, 1949 and the National Association of Armenian Studies and Research, Belmont MA, 1955. Before WWII, he had studied Turkish, Arabic, Chinese, Sanskrit, Italian and Armenian. Frye spoke Persian, French, German, Russian and Pashto. After WWII, he came to SOAS and studied, alongside Mary Boyce, Avestan, Old Persian, Pahlavi and Sogdian with W. B. Henning in 1946-47. Frye was, prior to Prof. Ehsan Yarshater's assumption of the Hagop Kevorkian Chair in Iranian Studies at Columbia University, its first incumbent briefly in 1957.

Frye delivered the Government Fellowship Lectures at the K. R. Cama Oriental Institute (KRCOI), Mumbai in 1965. The preceding year he was part of the American delegation which attended the 26th International Congress of Orientalists, New Delhi, 1964. His last visit to India was in 1991 when he delivered two talks at the KRCOI as part of its year-long platinum jubilee celebrations. Frye had also arranged for Dastur Dr. Firoze Kotwal's sabbatical at Harvard's Centre for the Study of World Religions in 1979-80. Dr Kotwal jointly taught with William Darrow a course at Harvard on Zoroastrian rituals and observances. Kotwal's collaborative edition with Professor James Boyd of Erbadistan ud Nirangistan: Facsimile Edition of the Manuscript TD (Cambridge MA, 1980) was published in the Harvard Iranian series under the editorship of Frye. He was also instrumental with Wilfred Cantwell Smith in establishing the first western post devoted to Indo-Muslim Cultures and Languages, which was held by the late Annemarie Schimmel at Harvard

Two Variora containing his papers were published as Opera Minora: Richard Nelson Frye, introd. Y. Mahyar Nawabi, 2 vols. (Shiraz, 1976-77); and Islamic Iran and Central Asia (7th-12th centuries) (London, 1979). His Festschriften constitute special issues of the Bulletin of the Asia Institute, vol. 4 [Aspects of Iranian Culture: In honor of Richard Nelson Frye] 1990 [1992]; and Journal of Turkish Studies, vols. 16-17 [Richard Nelson Frye Festschrift: Essays Presented to Richard Nelson Frye on His Seventieth Birthday by His Colleagues and Students] 1992.

The Richard Frye Fund Lectureship, established by Harvard's Committee on Inner Asian and Altaic Studies, invites a distinguished scholar to deliver a disquisition on a topic broadly conceived in the field of Central and Inner Asian Studies. Prof. Antonio Panaino, past SIE President, was invited to deliver the inaugural one in this series in 2005. Prof. Nicholas Sims-Williams, Henning's successor at several removes and former SIE board member, will deliver the sixth in this series, now dedicated to Frye's memory, in April, 2014.

The late Ali Akbar Dehkhoda had bestowed on him the sobriquet Irandust or friend of Iran. In his last years, Frye had expressed in his will that he be buried by the Zayandeh river in Isfahan. President Ahmadinejad had approved this request in September 2007.

Burzine Waghmar,
Centre of Iranian Studies, SOAS, Univ. of London