Keelan Overton is a historian of art and architecture specializing in the eastern Islamic world from Greater Iran to South Asia. She received her PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles (2011) and her MA from Williams College (2004). She approaches visual culture broadly—urbanism, architecture and the environment, surface revetment, portable objects, arts of the book, the craft industries, documentary photography and film—and ideally from an interdisciplinary lens.


Since summer 2015, Overton has been an Independent Scholar based in Santa Barbara, California, where she divides her time between research, writing, teaching, and travel. She has taught at Occidental College, UCLA, UCSB, and Pomona College, and her recent travels as a researcher and tour lecturer have taken her to the Deccan (southern India), Iran, Morocco, Scotland, Armenia, and Georgia. In 2019-20, she was a Visiting Scholar in the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and in the summers of 2016 and 2018, she held research residencies at the University of St Andrews.


Overton previously served as the Curator of Islamic Art at the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art (Shangri La) in Honolulu (2011-12) and as an Associate Curator in the Art of the Middle East department at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2014-15). Her exposure to the Shangri La collection in 2003 inspired a longstanding interest in the reviving, collecting, and recasting of Iran’s cultural heritage. This research has been published in the journal West 86th (Bard/Chicago), the edited volume Arthur Upham Pope and a New Survey of Persian Art (Brill), and the exhibition catalog Doris Duke’s Shangri La (Rizzoli).


Overton’s recent edited volume Iran and the Deccan: Persianate Art, Culture, and Talent in Circulation, 1400-1700 (Indiana University Press, June 2020) features 14 essays by an interdisciplinary cast of 18 scholars specializing in history, art and architectural history, literatures and languages, and book arts and conservation.


Iran and the Deccan emerged out of Overton’s 2011 UCLA dissertation on book arts, painting, and collecting at the Bijapur court of Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah II (r. 1580-1627). Her dissertation research has been published as a series of journal articles (Muqarnas) and essays in edited volumes, including The Visual World of Muslim India (ed. Parodi, I.B. Tauris), Indo-Muslim Cultures in Transition (eds. Patel & Leonard, Brill), and The Empires of the Near East (ed. Khafipour, Columbia). Most recently, chapter 10 of Iran and the Deccan is the culmination of her multi-year study, with book conservator Kristine Rose-Beers, of a Timurid-Safavid Qur’an manuscript once preserved in Ibrahim II’s Bijapur library and today in the University of St Andrews.


Overton’s current book project—Iran Unglazed: A Local-Global History of Persian Tilework—explores Persian tilework as a potent shapeshifting commodity between the field, museum, photograph, market, and imagination. She has been named a 2020-21 Getty Scholar (theme “The Fragment”) and hopes to be in residence at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles at some point in 2021 (timing tbd, per covid-19). Her Getty project is titled “Persian Architecture Fragmented: The Biographies, Trails, and Economies of Iran’s Tiled Surfaces, c. 1820–2020.” A component of this research has recently been published as a journal article: “The Emamzadeh Yahya at Varamin: A Present History of a Living Shrine, 2018–20” (with Kimia Maleki).


Current teaching (spring 2021): Pomona College, Department of Art History, ARHI 120, Introduction to Islamic Art and Architecture


PhD, Islamic Art History, University of California, Los Angeles, 2011

MA, History of Art, Williams College, 2004

Other Publications

Forthcoming and in progress

  • monograph: Iran Unglazed: A Local-Global History of Persian Tilework

  • conference proceedings essay: “Mapping the St Andrews Qur’an: Familiar Worlds, Real Trails.” Imagined Geographies (submitted for review)

Edited volume

  • Keelan Overton, ed. Iran and the Deccan: Persianate Art, Culture, and Talent in Circulation, 1400-1700. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, June 2020

Journal articles

  • Keelan Overton and Kimia Maleki, “The Emamzadeh Yahya at Varamin: A Present History of a Living Shrine, 2018-20.” Journal of Material Cultures in the Muslim World 1, no. 1-2 (2020): 120-149. (online publication: 09 Feb 2021)

  • “Book Culture, Royal Libraries, and Persianate Painting in Bijapur, circa 1580-1630.” Muqarnas: An Annual on the Visual Cultures of the Islamic World 33 (2016): 91-154.

  • “From Pahlavi Isfahan to Pacific Shangri La: Reviving, Restoring, and Reinventing Safavid Aesthetics, c. 1920-40.” West 86thA Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture 19, 1 (Spring-Summer 2012): 61-87.

  • A History of Ottoman Art History through the Private Database of Edwin Binney, 3rd.” Journal of Art Historiography 6, special volume on “Islamic Art Historiography,” eds. Moya Carey and Margaret Graves (June 2012): 1-19.

Essays in edited volumes

  • “Introduction to Iranian Mobilities and Persianate Mediations in the Deccan.” In Iran and the Deccan Iran and the Deccan: Persianate Art, Culture, and Talent in Circulation, 1400-1700, ed. Keelan Overton. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, June 2020, 2-76.

  • Keelan Overton and Kristine-Rose Beers (with contributions by Bruce Wannell). “Indo-Persian Histories from the Object Out: the St Andrews Qur’an manuscript between Timurid, Safavid, Mughal, and Deccani worlds.” In Iran and the Deccan Iran and the Deccan: Persianate Art, Culture, and Talent in Circulation, 1400-1700, ed. Keelan Overton. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, June 2020, 256-335.

  • Keelan Overton and Jake Benson. “Deccani Seals and Scribal Notations: Sources for the Study of Indo-Persian Book Arts and Collecting (c. 1400-1680).” In The Empires of the Near East and India: Source Studies of the Safavid, Ottoman, and Mughal Literate Communities, ed. Hani Khafipour. New York: Columbia University Press, April 2019, 554-96. 

  • “Filming, Photographing and Purveying in ‘the New Iran:’ The Legacy of Stephen H. Nyman, ca. 1937–42.” In Arthur Upham Pope and A New Survey of Persian Art, ed. Yuka Kadoi. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2016, 327-70.

  • Vida de Jacques de Coutre: A Flemish account of Bijapuri visual culture in the shadow of Mughal felicity.” In The Visual World of Muslim India: The Art, Culture and Society of the Deccan in the Early Modern Era, ed. Laura Parodi. London: I.B. Tauris, 2014, 233-64.

  • “‘Maid killing a snake’ and ‘Dervish receiving a visitor:’ A Re-examination of Bijapuri masterpieces through the lens of the Lucknow copy.” In Indo-Muslim Cultures in Transition, eds. Alka Patel and Karen Leonard. Leiden: Brill, 2012, 37-60.

  •  “‘Ali Riza (The Bodleian Painter).” In Masters of Indian Painting I: 1100-1650, eds. Milo Beach, B.N. Goswamy and Eberhard Fischer. Zurich: Artibus Asiae Publishers, 2011, 375-90.

Encyclopedia articles

  • Farrukh Ḥusayn/Beg,” Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE, Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2017, 67-78; online version

  • “Bahmanī dynasty,” The Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE, Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2016, 8-16; online version




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