[skip to content]

Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

Ms Katherine Hughes

BA Archaeology of Western Asia, MA Museum Studies


Katherine Hughes
Ms Katherine Hughes
Email address:
Thesis title:
Samanid material culture and identity formation in post-Soviet Tajikistan
Year of Study:
2008/09 (Year started)


Katherine Hughes submitted her PhD thesis, entitled Samanid material culture and identity formation in post-Soviet Tajikistan, in September 2014. During her research she was supported by scholarships from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, The Aida Sulayman Arif Fund and the Gerda Henkel Foundation. 

She completed her MA in Museum Studies at University College London (UCL), and BA also at UCL in Archaeology of Western Asia. She also studied for one year of her BA at the Freie Universität Berlin (FU). She spent three months prior to that on an archaeological excavation in Syria at Dur Katlimmu, with the FU.  

After graduating, she worked in museums and galleries in London, including the Royal Academy of Arts, London Transport Museum and Museum of London, as a digital curator. She then managed the website of the Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS), London. There she had a rich learning experience, discovering more about the Ismaili community and the work of the IIS. Prior to her PhD she undertook some fascinating solo travel in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Iran and Turkey. 

Interested in identity and material culture as well as the interplay between past and present, she spent nine months on PhD fieldwork in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. This was spent looking at Samanid architecture and museum displays. She also looked at post-independent monumental architecture in Tajikistan and how the new state is symbolised in visual culture.

PhD Research

This art historiographical thesis investigates the Samanids (819-1005 CE), an Early Islamic, Central Asian dynasty, as subjects and objects of identity formation. It examines their complex material cultural heritage and the role this may have played in synthesising their pre-Islamic roots and new religion. Having invented their own traditions, today the Samanids are themselves invented traditions, functioning as foundation figures in contemporary post-Soviet Tajikistan, part of the new social order production through symbols of power. This thesis looks at how this past is referenced in museums, monuments and memorial culture, and how this points the way to Tajikistan’s future.

Two of the chief means of state communication of power and legitimation, today, as in medieval times, are architecture and currency.  It is this study ‘in the round’ of Samanid identity formation and exposition of the interplay of past and present that is this thesis’ unique contribution to knowledge. Analysing objects directly ascribed to the Samanids, including the Samanid Mausoleum, a portrait medallion and their coinage, suggests that they modified how they portrayed themselves dependent on audience. These objects produced at the Samanid centre are compared to those found at the Empire’s periphery, within the present borders of Tajikistan, such as the upper Zerafshan Valley minarets and the intricate and sophisticated carved wooden Iskodar Mihrab, columns and panels found in nearby mosques, whose anthropomorphic designs are unusual in an Islamic religious context. Comparison of centre and periphery demonstrates Central Asia’s complexity in 9-10th century, however the Tajikistani government today is arguably trying to project back a desired monocultural present on a heterogeneous past.

While the Samanids as national identity symbols have been discussed by political scientists, these have not focused on the architecture and materiality of the new state’s cultural creations and how this may (or may not) inculcate identity and produce social cohesion. The Somoni statue is centrally sited in Dushanbe, where Lenin once stood. An understanding of how the Soviet past continues to inform the present is key to current Tajik culture and identity formation. Tajik culture is seen as ‘socialist in form and national in content’, in the reversal of the famous maxim.

PhD Publications

  • Dodkhudoeva, L., Mukhimov, R. and Hughes, K., 2013,  Tajik art: a century of new traditions in The Shaping of Persian Art: Collections and Interpretations of the Art of Islamic Iran and Central Asia by I. Szanto  and Y. Kadoi (ed.) Cambridge Scholars Publishing

PhD Conferences

  • Samanid era and invented traditions: identity formation in the early Islamic and post-Soviet periods, University of Central Asia, Dushanbe, 26 October 2011
  •  Heritage, power and pastiche: modern Tajik architecture as identity formation, Anthropology Centre, Academy of Sciences, Tajikistan, 1st November 2011
  •  Heritage, memory and pastiche: Tajik architecture and memorial culture post-independence, Association for the Study of Nationalities (ASN) Convention, Columbia University, New York, 19th April 2012
  •  Heritage, memory and pastiche: Tajik architecture and memorial culture post-independence, Cultural Encounters across Central Asia, Workshop organised by Asian Modernities and Traditions (AMT), Cambridge University and the British Institute of Persian Studies (BIPS), the British Academy, Leiden University, Holland 28th – 29th September 2012
  •  Through a post-Soviet / post colonial/ nationalist lens? Remembering the past in Tajik museums and indicating the future TESS Multidisciplinary Doctoral Workshop, Senate House, London, 24th November 2012
  •  Birds and the bevelled style: Early Islamic carved wood from the Upper Zerafshan Valley, Tajikistan, Royal Asiatic Society Student Series, Royal Asiatic Society, London, 17th April 2013


Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society, Member of The Eurasia Studies Society (TESS)