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Darcy Costello, The Diamondback

Photo courtesy of Rashin Kheiriyeh

The Persian epic Shahnameh, which translates roughly to “Book of Kings,” dates back to the 10th or 11th century. But thanks to the University of Maryland’s Roshan Initiative in Persian Digital Studies, students, researchers and interested readers will soon be able to enjoy its stories in new ways.

The epic poem, likely a mix of myth, legend and some historical details, provides a foundation for Persian culture, said Matthew Thomas Miller, the associate director of the Roshan initiative. It is just one of the texts the project will open access to through its digital library, funded in part through the university’s crowdfunding site, Launch UMD. Miller hopes the project will function as a “go-to place” for Persian literature.

The project will combine access to important works of Persian literature with manuscript, print and artistic renditions of the texts, as well as dictionary definitions and animations for some works.

The animator, Rashin Kheiriyeh, said she believes classic Persian stories contain a wisdom applicable to today’s “modern, busy life” — culturally informative and relatively simple for children to connect with. 

To animate select stories in the collection, Kheiriyeh said, she plans to paint the characters and environment primarily using oil and paper, then animate the images digitally with stop-motion.

“We have a lot of picture books now, but animation is more attractive for kids,” she said. “This way, little ones can learn about culture, using music, dialogue and sound effects to make it more interesting. Kids need to know more about Persian culture, and these stories are so rich. It’s a great way to do it.”

The project also will develop software and data tools to assist researchers of Persian literature in their studies, Miller said.

“We’re really trying to make the project appealing for everyone, from kids up into early adolescence all the way to extremely scholarly, scientific studies,” he said.

Miller became passionate about Persian literature after falling in love with the poetry’s depth of insight into life, ranging from the mundane to the spiritual, he said. 

It’s something many audiences who interact with the literature and culture experience, said Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, a Persian language professor who was first exposed to the Persian literary world reading stories and poems on his father’s lap as a child.

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