Dr. Susan Skilliter was Lecturer in Turkish Studies at the University of Cambridge from 1965-1985, having read Persian and Arabic at Newnham College in the 1950s. She always declared that she owed her inspiration in Turkish Studies to Professor Paul Wittek whose unpublished work on the genesis of Anglo-Ottoman trade and diplomacy in the late 16th century she took up. She became an international authority in the field with her book William Harborne and the Trade with Turkey, 1578-1582 (OUP, 1977). Her work was as important to historians of the trade and commerce of Elizabethan England as it was to historians of the Ottoman Empire and made available to Elizabethan specialists relevant materials from the Turkish Archives. Dr. Skilliter was planning a second major volume at the time of her death (September 1985).
Since Dr. Skilliter’s death, there has been no permanent provision for a specialist in Turkish Studies in the University of Cambridge. This makes her bequest to Newnham College all the more significant, far-sighted and generous.
As well as being a Fellow of Newnham, Dr. Skilliter was also on the Council of the Royal Asiatic Society, the Hakluyt Society, the Society for Mediterranean Studies and the Council of Management of the British School at Ankara, acting as Honorary Secretary of the Royal Asiatic Society for seven years. She was an avid book collector and her collection is particularly rich in first editions of 17th-century travellers to Turkey such as Tavernier and Busbequius.
The Centre continues to grow the collection and to support Turkish/Ottoman Studies through its scholarships, conferences, seminars, publications and projects.