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Prize history
The Margaret B. Ševčenko Prize in Islamic Art and Culture
Brazier. 19th century. Iran. Freer Gallery of Art, F1907.158.

The Margaret B. Ševčenko Prize in Islamic Art and Culture

Every year HIAA sponsors a competition and awards the Margaret B. Ševčenko Prize for the best unpublished essay written by a junior scholar (pre-dissertation graduate student to three years after the Ph.D. degree) on any aspect of Islamic visual culture. This competition is open to HIAA members only. The Ševčenko Prize recipient receives an award of $500 and a citation, generally presented at HIAA’s annual business meeting. The Prize is named in memory of Margaret Bentley Ševčenko, the first and long-serving Managing Editor of Muqarnas, a journal devoted to the visual culture of the Islamic world and sponsored by the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard and at MIT. The winning essay will be considered for publication by the Muqarnas Editorial Board.

How to apply

Submission must include the paper in both Word and PDF format, and a separate sheet with the author’s contact information (address, telephone number, and email address). Papers should not exceed 10,000 words in length (including footnotes), and can be accompanied by up to 15 low-resolution illustrations.

Please note that submissions cannot be in press or under review with any publisher. 

A letter of recommendation for the paper should be sent separately by the author’s adviser or referee.

All materials should be submitted by email to the Ševčenko committee chair (sevcenko.hiaa@gmail.com) by December 15. Files exceeding 5 Mb should be transferred by FTP.

Prize history


Awarded to

Edward Shawe-Taylor

MPhil Candidate, The Khalili Research Centre, University of Oxford

The Ambrosiana Kitāb al-Ḥayawān and the Baptistère de Saint Louis: Manuscripts, Metalwork and the Mamluk Court

Edward Shawe-Taylor’s meticulous and well-written study takes an innovative look at a 14th-century illustrated copy of the Kitāb al-Ḥayawān (“Book of Animals”) by al-Jāḥiẓ. Through a detailed analysis of the material evidence found in the manuscript itself, this paper establishes a date and scribal milieu for this book and argues that it was commissioned by a high-ranking member of the Mamluk court. With a close reading of the iconography found in the manuscript’s illustrations, Shawe-Taylor draws connections with other examples of Mamluk visual culture from this period, particularly the Baptistère de Saint-Louis. The committee especially appreciated the author’s ability to bring together a wide range of comparanda, from book arts to metalwork, to re-position this particular manuscript while also re-thinking broader issues of artistic choices and how motif and meaning can translate across media. This research engages in ongoing scholarly conversations and stands to make an important contribution to our understanding of patronage and art production in Mamluk Egypt.

Selected by

Emily Neumeier (Chair), Temple University

Amanda Phillips, University of Virginia

Elizabeth Williams, Dumbarton Oaks


Awarded to

Namrata Kanchan

PhD Candidate, Department of Asian Studies, University of Texas

Deccan Masters of Penmanship and Poetry: the Importance of Calligraphy for the formation of Early Modern Dakani Literary Culture

Namrata Kanchan's well-written and cogently argued paper examines a corpus of Deccan manuscripts produced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Through a fine-grained analysis of calligraphic styles, Kanchan argues that the use of naskh for Dakani-language texts was a deliberate stylistic choice, motivated by a desire to create a distinct identity for this emerging linguistic tradition. She skillfully demonstrates her expertise on this material, stitching together an impressive command of relevant languages (Persian, Dakani, Urdu, among others), with socio-historical context and visual analysis. The committee greatly appreciated Kanchan's attention to detail and commitment to research, tracking down manuscripts in dispersed collections. This essay joins a growing area of scholarship on the early modern Deccan sultanates, offering exciting new insights into the development of vernacular languages and the literary and visual cultures that they inhabited.

Selected by

Fatima Quraishi (Chair), University of California, Riverside
Elizabeth Williams, UMass, Lowell
Amanda Phillips, University of Virginia


Awarded to

Ariel Fein

Post-Doctoral Fellow at Bard Graduate Center

Kufic Epigraphy Between Norman Sicily and Ifriqiya

Fein’s paper analyzes a series of stucco fragments from a group of 12th century Norman churches in Sicily. Through careful visual analysis, Fein reconstructs inscriptions that had been previously dismissed as pseudo-kufic, revealing and translating their legible content. Moving from the painstaking work of recreation and translation, Fein uses these fragments to consider the full cultural context of medieval Sicily, providing new insight into craft process and cultural connection. She convincingly argues that these fragments should not only be considered within the traditional framework of Norman Sicilian and Fatimid Egyptian exchange but that they demonstrate Sicily’s ongoing artistic conversation with Ifriqiya. Using comparative visual and historical evidence, Fein suggests that Sicily’s connection with Ifriqiya not only continued but had even become localized by the time of Norman rule. The essay is a model of object study, moving from the careful observation of epigraphic form to the broader consideration of cultural context, offering fresh insight into the rich context of Mediterranean cultural exchange.

Selected by

Kishwar Rizvi (Chair), Yale University
Sana Mirza, Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Jennifer Pruitt, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Laura Weinstein, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Awarded to

Courtney Lesoon

PhD Candidate, Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture and the History, Theory, and Criticism Program at the Department of Architecture, MIT

The Sphero-conical as Apothecary Vessel: An Argument for Dedicated Use

Courtney Lesoon’s exceptionally written and argued paper takes up a close, object-based analysis of sphero-conical vessels. While ubiquitous, these artifacts have puzzled archaeologists and art historians alike who, unable to definitively deduce these objects’ utilitarian purposes, end up marginalizing such vessels as ‘mysterious’ quotidian products. In redressing such views, Lesoon takes up a rigorous, in-depth interdisciplinary analysis of these vessels by considering epigraphic, decorative, material, illustrative evidence in a selection of these objects, produced between the 10th-13thcentury across the Islamic world, as well as visual representations of them in manuscripts and other media. Through this meticulous empirical approach to the topic, Lesoon convincingly argues that sphero-canonical vessels likely served as apothecary jars for personal-use dosages similar in purpose to the albarello, which was popular in Europe. The committee was impressed by Lesoon’s studious research, astute analysis, and cogent argument. Most importantly, the committee felt that this study of seemingly negligible vessels is not only a significant intervention in the field of Islamic art and archaeology, but also makes a meaningful contribution to the history of pharmacology and medicine, thus demonstrating the relevance and importance of art historical analyses and methodologies beyond the discipline’s boundaries

Selected by

Hala Auji (Chair), American University of Beirut
Eva Maria-Troelenberg, Utrecht University
Peyvand Firouzeh, The University of Sydney


Awarded to

Margaret Shortle

Curator, Museum für Islamische Kunst, Berlin

‘My Love for Pretty Faces and Heart Bewitching Hair,’ Persian Calligraphy and its Poetic Frame

Margaret Shortle’s paper examines the intersection of aurality and visuality in the calligraphic practices found in albums of Persian poetry during the 16th to 17th centuries. Her essay takes up a close visual and textual analysis of poetry and the poetic form found in albums produced by the calligrapher Mir Ali for the Mughal court, which she supports with a reading of Adab al-Mashq (Manners of Practices), Baba Shah Isfahani’s contemporaneous guide on calligraphy. The committee was impressed by Shortle’s cogently argued and researched essay, and felt that what set her contribution apart was her nuanced and meticulous exploration not only of the iconicity of the calligrapher’s words and signatures, but also of the entanglements of these visuals with the poetic verses themselves and their connection to orality, vis-à-vis performance, recitation, and memorization. The committee felt that Shortle’s truly interdisciplinary methodology that considers the intersectionality of visuality, orality, and performativity in early modern Persian poetic traditions, challenges the boundaries of the field’s traditional approaches to calligraphic practice

Selected by

Hala Auji, American University of Beirut, HIAA International Representative
Eloise Brac de la Perrière, Sorbonne-Université, Paris
Mercedes Volait , (Committee chair), Centre national de la recherche scientifique, Paris


Awarded to

Emily Neumeier

Assistant Professor, Temple University, Tyler School of Art

The Church that the Pasha Built: Towards a Multi-Confessional History of Islamic Architecture

The paper addresses the issue of architectural patronage in the late Ottoman empire, by focusing on one (seemingly unusual) case: a provincial Christian monastic complex built in 1814 to celebrate a martyr, on the order of an Ottoman vizir (Ali Pasha from Tepelena, in present-day Albania). Clearly written and articulated, the paper weaves together archival, epigraphical and archaeological evidence to write a micro-history of the building, and raises ultimately the issue of multi-confessionality in Islamic architecture, a category still poorly researched and understood in the field. Including more material on Ali Pasha, a major historical figure of his time who became moreover a literary character, could turn the paper into a fascinating essay on religious patronage. The essay has thus the potential to open new ground for the study of late Ottoman architecture, a period still understudied.

Selected by

Nebahat Avcıoğlu, CUNY Hunter College
Moya Carey, Chester Beatty Library, Dublin
Mercedes Volait, Committee chair, Centre national de la recherche scientifique


Awarded to

Cailah Jackson

The Illuminations of Mukhlis ibn ʿAbdullah al-Hindi: Identifying Manuscripts from Late Medieval Konya


Awarded to

Abbey Stockstill

A Tale of Two Mosques: Marrakesh’s Masjid al-jamiʿ al-Kutubiyya

The committee would also like to award an honorable mention to Bahar Bilgin Uşar (MA student, Koç University) for her study “The Aksaray Pertevniyal Valide Sultan Mosque Complex: Reflections on the Patronage of a Nineteenth Century Valide Sultan."


Awarded to

Angela Andersen

The Cemevi: The Form and Setting of Alevi Ceremonial Architecture


Awarded to

Sugata Ray

Shangri La: The Archive-Museum and the Spatial Topologies of Islamic Art History


Awarded to

Anneka Lenssen

A Politics of the Arabesque in Syria, 1936-1952


Awarded to

Diana Isaac Bakhoum

The Foundation of a Tabrizi Workshop in Cairo: A Case Study of its Influence on the Mosque of Emir Altunbugha al-Maridani


Awarded to

Amanda Phillips

A Material Culture: Ottoman Velvets and their Owners, 1600–­1750


Awarded to

Silvia Armando

Ugo Monneret de Villard (1881­-1954) and the Establishment of Islamic Art Studies in Italy


Awarded to

Matt Saba

Abbasid Lusterware and the Aesthetics of ‘ajab


Awarded to

Ünver Rüstem

The Afterlife of a Royal Gift: The Ottoman Inserts of the Shahnama-yi Shahi


Awarded to

Elias Muhanna

The Sultan's New Clothes: Ottoman-Mamluk Gift Exchange in the Fifteenth Century


Awarded to

Emine Fetvaci

The Production of the Sehname-i Selim Han


Awarded to

Christiane Gruber

The Ilkhanid Mi'rajnama of ca. 1317-35 [TSK H. 2154] as an illustrated Sunni prayer manual


Awarded to

Hussein Keshani

Architecture and the Twelver Shi‘a Tradition: The Great Imāmbārā complex of Lucknow


Awarded to

Ayşin Yoltar-Yıldırım

Turning the pages of an Ottoman illustrated manuscript