Brian Spooner

Professor, Curator of Near Eastern Ethnology at the Penn Museum


Professor Spooner came to Penn in 1968 and began working as a Professor of Anthropology. He later served as the University's Middle East Center Director from 1986-1995.  He is currently Interim Co-Director of the Lauder Institute and is a Fellow at the Penn Institute of Urban Research.  He serves on the graduate groups of NELC, SAST and RELS and is an Affiliate Faculty at the Graduate School of Education program on International Education Development.

Spooner has written numerous articles, chapters, and books such as “Population Growth: Anthropological Implications”, and “Reading Nasta'liq: Persian and Urdu Hands, 1500 to the Present”. He has worked on sites in Afghanistan, northwest China, Iran, India, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, with such topics as irrigation, the history of desert areas, pastoral nomadism, ecology and development, and language and culture.

He has research interests that include rural development, cultural Anthropology/Middle East, South Asia, religion, ecology, rural development, with special interest with Central Asia, Indo-Persian and Urdu. He is currently working on a long-term project on "the dynamics of Persian literacy in the history of South Asia”. In addition to his research, teaching, and writing, he is also the curator for the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Near Eastern Ethnology and belongs to Graduate Groups at the University of Pennsylvania for Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Religious Studies, and South Asia Regional Studies.


Oxford University, B.A., D.Phil. (1960, 1967)


Persian, Dari, Tajiki, Arabic, Baluchi, Russian, Turkish, French, Italian, German, Urdu, Pashto

Research Interests:
  • Cultural and Social Anthropology
  • Globalization in the Middle East, South Asia and Central Asia
  • Social Organization, Religion, Ethnohistory, Ecology and Rural Development
Overseas Research Experience:

Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Egypt, India, Sudan

Recent Publications:

Reading Nasta'liq, Persian and Urdu Hands from 1500 to the Present, 2nd
(revised) edition, Costa Mesa CA: Mazda Publications, 2007.

Siyaq: Numerical Notation and Numeracy in the Persianate World (with
William L. Hanaway), in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Mathematics,
edited by Eleanor Robson and Jacqueline Stedall, pp. 429-447, 2009.

Persianate Literacy: Writing and the Social Order, edited with William L.
Hanaway, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvanian Press, in press.

Islamist Accommodations in a Post-Revolutionary Globalizing World: The
centrality of gender.  Paper on the Swat lashings of March 2009, presented
at meetings in Philadelphia and New York, and about to be submitted for
publication in a conference volume.


Anth & the Modern World: Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan (ANTH 100/ NELC 281)