Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Christopher Woods appointed director of the Oriental Institute

Christopher Woods appointed director of the Oriental Institute
Christopher Woods
Christopher Woods, a leading scholar of Sumerian language and writing, has been appointed director of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
Woods will become the 13th director of the Oriental Institute, widely considered the world’s leading interdisciplinary center for research on civilizations of the ancient Near East. Founded in 1919, the institute serves as home to a museum and extensive collection of artifacts and research materials. It sponsors archaeological and survey expeditions across the Near East including Egypt, Turkey and Israel.
Woods will begin his new role on July 1. He succeeds Gil Stein, professor of archaeology at UChicago, who has served as the institute’s director since 2002.
“Chris is an outstanding scholar who also has a deep understanding of the Oriental Institute,” Provost Daniel Diermeier said. “He will advance the institute’s important work and build on the strong leadership that Gil Stein has provided over the last 15 years.”
Woods is an associate professor of Sumerian in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University. His research and writings focus on Sumerian language as well as early Mesopotamian religion, literature, mathematics and administration. He serves as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Near Eastern Studies and oversees the Oriental Institute’s post-doctoral scholars program.
Woods’ publications include The Grammar of Perspective: The Sumerian Conjugation Prefixes as a System of Voice and the forthcoming Materials for the Sumerian Lexicon 18. He is editor of Visible Language: The Inventions of Writing in the Ancient Middle East and Beyond. He led the launch of an interdisciplinary effort to explore early writing, entitled Signs of Writing: The Cultural, Social, and Linguistic Contexts of the World’s First Writing Systems. Sponsored by the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, the project enhanced UChicago’s role as an international center for the study of early writing.
“The opportunity to lead an institute where legends in our field have worked and to build on what Gil has done is one of the greatest honors in the field of Near East studies,” Woods said. “The Oriental Institute is the original interdisciplinary institute at the University, and I look forward to building new partnerships across campus and to developing collaborative projects that reach across fields.”
Prior to joining UChicago, Woods received his bachelor’s degree from Yale University and doctorate in Assyriology from Harvard University, where he was a junior fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows.
In his announcement Diermeier highlighted the accomplishments of Stein and thanked him for his service to the institute. Under Stein’s leadership, the institute has expanded its research capabilities, opened up new areas of scholarship, and resumed field research in countries such as Iraq and Israel, where institute scholars had not worked for years. Stein’s initiatives included developing a database to turn the institute’s extensive archives into a searchable digital resource and establishing the public education department for outreach to the University community, elementary and secondary schools, and the public.
Stein will take on the new role of Senior Advisor to the Provost for Cultural Heritage, starting July 1, with the goal of planning and implementing a cross-disciplinary initiative for the preservation of cultural and archaeological heritage for the University.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

David Rockefeller and the Oriental Institute

David Rockefeller died this week at the age of 101.
Rockefeller’s ties to the University spanned a lifetime, from touring Egypt and the Middle East as a teenager with distinguished University archaeologist James Henry Breasted to the endowment of a professorship in UChicago’s economics department, from which he received his doctorate. Rockefeller was associated with the University’s Board of Trustees for seven decades, providing a strong connection to the institution’s founding in 1890.
His Memoirs include the telling of the story of his visit to Egypt and the Near East in 1928 with his family, on a tour led by James Henry Breasted. The episode was excerpted in The University of Chicago Magazine December 2002, Volume 95, Issue 2 in an article entitled Three Months Among the Pyramids:
Father was enthralled by the discoveries of archaeologists who had uncovered so much about the emergence of the great civilizations of antiquity. As a young man he had taken a special interest in the work of the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, headed by the distinguished Egyptologist Dr. James Henry Breasted. For a number of years Father supported Breasted’s work in Luxor and at the Temple of Medinet Habu across the Nile just below the Valley of the Kings
In late 1928, Dr. Breasted invited Mother and Father to visit his “dig” in Egypt and to review the work of the institute. Neither of my parents had ever been to that part of the world, and after some discussion they readily agreed to go. I was in the ninth grade at the time and quickly made it obvious to my parents that I wanted to go with them. I had read about the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb only a few years earlier, and a trip to Egypt seemed to me the most exciting of adventures. Father was concerned about my missing so much school because of the length of the trip, which would last for more than three months, but I finally persuaded him to let me go on the grounds that I would learn so much from the experience. He agreed on condition that a tutor went along to keep me up to date on schoolwork. This was the best deal I could get, so I eagerly agreed. 
IMAGE:  From an Oriental Institute tour at Megiddo in 1929: David Rockefeller is third from the left; his father, John D. Rockefeller Jr., and his mother, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, stand beside him. James Henry Breasted, founder of the Oriental Institute, is third from the right.
From an Oriental Institute tour at Megiddo in 1929: David Rockefeller is third from the left; his father, John D. Rockefeller Jr., and his mother, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, are fourth and fifth from the right. James Henry Breasted, founder of the Oriental Institute, is third from the right. 
We sailed from New York on the S.S. Augustus in early January 1929. At the last moment Mary Todhunter Clark, known as Tod, who was a close friend of [my brother] Nelson’s from summers in Seal Harbor, came along as well...

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Oriental Institute Oral History Project Interview with John Larson, Museum Archivist

Published on Jan 19, 2017
Oriental Institute Oral History Project
Interview with John Larson, Museum Archivist
Saieh Hall for Economics at the University of Chicago

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Obituary: Margaret (Peggy) Grant, 98

Margaret (Peggy) Grant, 98
From the Hyde Park Herald
AUG 10, 2016
Margaret (Peggy) Grant passed away Wednesday, Aug. 3, at the age of 98.  Her affiliation with the Chicago neighborhood of Hyde Park was a central part of her life. 
Grant had been a Hyde Park resident as a teenager attending the University of Chicago Laboratory High School, and moved back for the rest of her life in 1952 when her husband joined the University of Chicago Divinity School Faculty. Grant was born Margaret Huntington Horton in Middletown, Conn. on Dec. 3, 1917.  Her father, Douglas Horton, became Pastor of the United Church of Hyde Park. He subsequently became the General Secretary of the Congregational Church and later Dean of the Harvard Divinity School. 
Grant graduated from Wellesley College in the class of 1939, and then obtained an MA in Philosophy from Columbia University. She was predeceased by her husband, Robert McQueen Grant, Carl Darling Buck Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Humanities at the University of Chicago, whom she married in 1940.  Grant was a 30-year volunteer at the Oriental Institute her time there includes serving as the volunteer director for a number of years. She was the third honoree of the James Breasted Award since its inception.
Grant had a long-term relationship with Chicago’s St. Paul and the Redeemer Episcopal Church where she had been director of the Sunday School. Some of her other interests included writing, acting and directing in University of Chicago Service League and Hyde Park Neighborhood plays, and attending the opera and symphony.  She was outgoing and enjoyed a wide circle of friends.  At Montgomery Place, the retirement home she moved to in her 90s, she was active in the poetry club and painting, and participated in the French Table and the German Table.
Randolph, New Hampshire was the other important location in her life. She summered in her family compound there for more than 70 years. She always welcomed anyone of any age who came to her door. In the Randolph community she was active in the Randolph Mountain Club, where she was Camps Supervisor, Board Member and Vice-President. She was a lifelong believer in exercise and swam laps every morning until her mid-90s. She was an active hiker and almost every hiker in Randolph has hiked with her. 
Grant is survived by four children, Douglas Grant, Peter Grant, Susan Slattery, and James Snyder-Grant, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Additional survivors include her three siblings, Alan Horton, Alice Tibbetts, and Elizabeth Breunig, 14 nieces and nephews, and 24 grand-nieces and grand-nephews.
A Memorial Service will be held at Chicago’s Montgomery Place in the East Room at 1p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 27. A memorial event will also be held in Randolph in August 2017.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Chronological Lists of OI Publications

Between 1997 and 2011, the Oriental Institute maintained a list, by year, of its publications. This offered a useful chronological overview of the publication activity. I have now compiled lists for 2012-2016 (so far) and include links to the 1997-2011 lists below.

2016
  • LAMINE 1. Christians and Others in the Umayyad State. Edited by Antoine Borrut and Fred M. Donner, with contributions by Touraj Daryaee, Muriel  Debié, Sidney H. Griffith, Wadad al-Qadi, Milka Levy-Rubin, Suzanne Pinckney Stetkevych, Donald Whitcomb, and Luke Yarbrough, 2016
  • Nimrud: The Queens' Tombs. By Muzahim Mahmoud Hussein, translation and initial editing by Mark Altaweel, additional editing and notes by McGuire Gibson. 2016
2015
2014
2013
 2012
For an up to date list of all Oriental Institute publications available online see:

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Video: Making a Difference: 50 Years of Volunteering at Oriental Institute

Making a Difference: 50 Years of Volunteering at Oriental Institute
While hundreds of people have volunteered at the Oriental Institute over the years, only two people have been there since the beginning. NBC 5's LeeAnn Trotter reports.


See the chronicle of news about the Oriental Institute

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Oriental Institute Museum Archives Records Added to Online Collections

Oriental Institute Museum Archives Records Added to Online Collections
"The cataloging of the Museum Archives has only just begun, but already users can search, sort, and display over 7,000 records and attached media (such as digitized photographs, negatives, and documents)."

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

News: Technology reveals ancient Egypt’s complex history

Oriental Institute team uses digital tools to capture nuances and share research
By William Harms Photo Courtesy of Epigraphic Survey, Oriental Institute
May 4, 2015
Sue Osgood

Documenting the remnants of an ancient civilization is a race against the ravages of weather and city expansion, and few places pose more challenges for preservation than Egypt’s rapidly changing environment. 
At the Chicago House, UChicago’s outpost in Luxor, Egypt, a team of Oriental Institute archaeologists and other specialists has traditionally used a 90-year-old process to create precise line drawings of the inscriptions and reliefs. Though the Epigraphic Survey team captured details too slight to show up clearly on photographs, it was difficult to account for complications such as repainted walls, ancient graffiti, or even ancient attempts to rewrite history. 
“Sometimes there are surprises, such as when we found traces of a figure of the 18th Dynasty female King Hatshepsut (1508–1458 B.C.), and her cartouche (her name in hieroglyphs) emerging from a wall erased by her coregent and successor Thutmosis III, who, long after her death, attempted to suppress all memory of her reign,” says W. Raymond Johnson, field director of the Epigraphic Survey...

See the chronicle of news about the Oriental Institute 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The OI website is twenty-one years old

As of this month, the website of the Oriental Institute is twenty-one years old. In celebration, feel free to buy me or John Sanders a drink.

For a glimpse of the way the website looked in the past you can go to the Interet Archive's Waybck Machine, where it has been archived 537 times between May 8, 1997 and March 17, 2015.

An official history of the website is here.  Imagine running server with 20MB of RAM, and 250 MB of online disk storage. Those were the days.



Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Oriental Institute Statement on Cultural Destruction in Iraq

Oriental Institute Statement on Cultural Destruction in Iraq
March 4, 2015

The deliberate vandalism and destruction of heritage from Mosul’s Library, the Mosul Museum, and the archaeological site of Nineveh at Mosul constitute a moral and cultural outrage that adds to the growing spiral of despair from both Iraq and Syria concerning heritage, looting, and damage due to armed conflict. Without the past, we cannot understand our present, and without understanding our present, we cannot plan for our future. We hope that whatever remnants of this shattered heritage still surviving in Mosul may be salvaged and restored, but it is already clear that so much has been irreparably destroyed or looted.  Mosul’s heritage is an important part of Mesopotamian civilization and the heritage of the entire world.

The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago is a leading institution for the study of the ancient Middle East that focuses on research, heritage and knowledge preservation, and public education. Iconic  artifacts from Iraq on display in the Museum of the Oriental Institute are accessible today for all to see. Many are counterparts to objects on display in the Iraq Museum, Baghdad, that come from the Oriental Institute’s excavations in Iraq. The Oriental Institute’s colossal human-headed winged bull, or Lamassu, was excavated from Khorsabad, ancient Dur Sharrukin, several miles north of Mosul. Carved in the late eighth century BC during the reign of King Sargon II (721–705 BC), it is one of the finest examples of Assyrian sculptor’s art in the world. At the site of Nineveh and in the Mosul Museum, similar sculptures have been smashed and mutilated in minutes by the Islamic State. The Oriental Institute condemns this callous eradication of the cultural treasures of Mesopotamia. We extend our deepest sympathies to the families of the people who are suffering in northern Iraq and Syria, and offer our support to the archaeological and heritage community of Iraq to help document, salvage, and restore the heritage of Mosul and other provinces of Iraq affected by looting and destruction.

We support the joint statement published by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), and the Society for American Archaeology (SAA), as well as statements from the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) and The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq (TAARII).