Friday, February 15, 2008

The University of Chicago's Archival Photographic Files

The Archival Photographic Files digitization project, begun in 2002, hopes eventually to digitize and present all of the more than sixty thousand images in the collection online. Among those already available are some very interesting images of the Oriental Institure. This sequence of photographs of the construction of the Oriental Institute is extraordinary. Click on each photograph for a larger version.

The lot, at 58th Street and University Avenue, on which the Institute was to be constructed
Archival Photofiles, [apf2-05409], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

Groundbreaking. Robert Maynard Hutchins, President of the University, observing James Henry Breasted wielding the shovel.
Archival Photofiles, [apf2-05471], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

Excavation of the foundations.
Archival Photofiles, [apf2-05410], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

Archival Photofiles, [apf2-05412], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

Construction of the basement.
Archival Photofiles, [apf2-05411], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

Construction of the first floor - museum galleries
Archival Photofiles, [apf2-05413], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

Construction of the first floor - museum galleries.
Archival Photofiles, [apf2-05414], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

Construction of the first floor - offices and library.
Archival Photofiles, [apf2-05415], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

Archival Photofiles, [apf2-05416], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Younger readers of this blog--and I'll bet you outnumber the Obamaniacs!--may not remember the much-ballyhooed, not-to-be-missed, where-were-you-when epochal event that was December 31, 1999. You could spend about twenty-three grand in US dollars (when US dollars were US dollars) flying westward from New Zealand, so that you could enjoy a dozen or more new millennia. I, much more sensibly if I do say so, procured some lobsters at about 1/750th of that price and co-hosted a very pleasant dinner party.

Anyhoo, the whole year 2000 business got a bit over the top round about the middle of 1998 or thereabouts, and was positively passe by the first month of 1999. The Oriental Institute moves for no one, so its holiday card consisted of the following....

Front cover emblazoned with multiple renderings of 2000 in a variety of scripts, suitably whizbang-like....

Inside the card, in the blandest possible font, was the following: "At the Oriental Institute, it's just another millennium." Great yuks were had by all, or maybe by many, or at least by me!.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Now THIS is how to raise money!

One of the best fund-raising vehicles I have ever seen, the "Mummy Memo," is linked below. Its author can choose to come forward (or not) as he or she wishes, but deserves many accolades. Humor is a deeply underappreciated and underutilised tool in fund-raising. This appeal did stupendously well.

New York Times Obituaries

Obituaries in the New York Time of persons associated with the Oriental Institute
Linda Braidwod
Robert Braidwood
Ricardo A. Caminos
Vaughn Emerson Crawford
Ignace J. Gelb
Hans Gustav Guterbock
George R. Hughes
Thorkild Jacobsen
Seton Lloyd
Erica Reiner
John Strugnell

The OI in Facebook

Members of Facebook can join the Oriental Institute group.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Profiles: Robert John Braidwood

[The initial iteration of this entry includes links to some online resources relating to the life and career of Robert J. Braidwood. Others are encouraged to edit this posting]

Robert John Braidwood, by Patty Jo Watson, in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 149, No. 2, June 2005.

Robert John Braidwood: July 29, 1907– January 15, 2003, by Patty Jo Watson, in Biographical Memoirs: V.89 (2007), National Academy of Sciences.

LETTERS FROM THE FIELD, 1950-1951: EXCAVATIONS AT JARMO, by Robert J. Braidwood. (This article originally appeared in The Oriental Institute News and Notes, No. 156, Winter 1998, and is made available electronically with the permission of the editor.)

In Memoriam Robert J. & Linda S. Braidwood, by Gil J. Stein 2002-2003 Oriental Institute Annual Report.

The Joint Prehistoric Project

Braidwood, R. J. and Howe, B., with contributions by F. R. Matson, H. E. Wright, Jr., H. Helbaek, and C. A. Reed. Prehistoric Investigations in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Braidwood, L. S.; Braidwood, R. J.; B. Howe, C. A. Reed, and P. J. Watson. Prehistoric Archeology Along the Zagros Flanks.

Well, this turned out to be a bit of a bust!

So, one of the more pleasurable elements of life--if you want to call it that--at the University of Chicago is the annual Scavenger Hunt. It neatly combines the institution's unshakable nerdiness with its students' propensity to overachieve. And, yes, they really did build a breeder reactor one year and another year's list was dated per the Thermidors and Fructidors of the French Revolution. Over the years, the Institute was included from time to time, but I was disappointed at how rarely that was the case. I mean, a building containing dead bodies (human and otherwise) and representations of any number of deities, with the added element of mysterious scripts, should have merited more attention. HotSideHot, aka Scavenger Hunt judges of the future, repair the defect!

Having said that, I did slog through all these lists (since 1987) so I'll post what I came up with for Institute-related items, with commentary. I may have missed an item or two, and had to exercise some judgment, but I'm sure you'll enjoy every moment:

200. The humity (sic) and temperture (sic) the mummies are kept at in the Oriental Institute. (7 pts) (ed note--I guess the English Department took that year off)

5. A piece of papyrus. (5 pts)

100. Where is The Chicago House? (5 pts)
205. An animal weighing more than a ton. (450 pts)

22. A sextant. (20 pts) (ed note--does an astrolabe count?)

28. A conspiracy theory connecting Atlantis, the Bavarian Illuminati, crop circles, the Hope Diamond Curse, the Egyptian Pyramids and the University of Chicago. (5-13 pts)
40. Unpostable, but if you`re interested in cuneiform, go to the PDF at and look for number 40. (20 pts)

42. An anthropology professor wearing rags and holding a sign that reads "will excavate and catalogue ancient metropolis for food." (22 pts)
291. A poster from the "Pick and Shovel Society" with the word "archaeology" misspelled. (ate pointz)

75. A team member to have homage paid to Francois Gaudard's (a U of C Egyptologist) hair upon their head by duplicating his hairstyle exactly. (71 pts) (ed note--he is also a superb dancer and boogie-woogie pianist)
245. What is written on the spigot valve of the director's toilet in the Oriental Institute? (capitalization counts) (15 pts) (ed note--I vividly recall this one, and the parade of fresh-faced undergraduates who timidly approached the sanctum sanctorum. The commode in question actually met its demise a year or three later (it wasn't me, and I'm not telling!) I cannot speak to whether the spigot valve survived the repairs, because I wouldn't know a spigot valve if it jumped up and bit me in the... oh, never mind.

176. A U of C anthropology professor to dress as Indiana Jones with either a lost Sankara stone, the Cross of Coronado, or the Holy Grail. (15 pts, bonus for an archaeologist)
194. A jay-walking ticket from 58th and University. (25 pts)

292. The hat of Walter Kaegi. (35 pts) (ed note--Walter was also a high school classmate and pal of Hunter S. Thompson--a pretty good year for Louisville)

81. Genji 2 has shown us that the Oriental Institute lacks an exhibit on one of the famous battles that actually took place in Ancient Japan. Fix that. (29 pts)

I am also hoping to assemble a list of Institute Faculty who had taken part in the Latke-Hamantash Debate, at which I am sure they acquitted themselves admirably.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Tim Cashion has called attention to Linda Braidwood's Digging Beyond the Tigris and its very human account of archaeological excavation in Iraq. Following this theme, we should also take note of Mary Chubb's City in the Sand. It first appeared in 1957 and has recently been reprinted by Libri Publications Ltd, United Kingdom, 2001.

Miss Chubb had spent the 1931/32 season with the Egypt Exploration Society's expedition at El-Amarna in Egypt. She was not an academic but rather a secretary and bookkeeper, and she found dig life most agreeable, at least compared to London winters. Unfortunately, the Amarna Expedition did not return to the field the following year, nor did prospects for work on Crete pan out. Alas. And then a chance encounter with Henri Frankfort opened up another possibility. They had known each other from Frankfort's time as Field Director of the Amarna Expedition. More recently, he had been hired by James Henry Breasted as Field Director of the Oriental Institute's Iraq Expedition, and he badly needed a secretary; apparently the University of Chicago accountants could not bear his typing or bookkeeping. He offered her the job and she accepted with enthusiasm.

City in the Sand is her account of her time in Iraq with the Oriental Institute's expedition excavating in the Diyala. Those of us acquainted with the work of this expedition will find many familiar names -- Pierre Delougaz, Thorkild Jacobson, Rachel Levy, Seton Lloyd, Gordon Loud -- and a wealth of personal detail. For everyone else, there is the near perfect account of the 'romance of archaeology.' She was an enthusiastic observer of all they encountered, all presented with a lively narrative style and enriched with anecdote. It is a wonderful read.

Miss Chubb also wrote Nefertiti Lived Here, covering her time with the Amarna Expedition. I have not read it yet, but I expect it will also be a very good read. It, too, has been reprinted by Libri Publications Ltd.

Ray Tindel

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A Nifty Book By a Nifty Gal

One of my first professional duties, of which I rapidly grew rather fond, at the Institute was assembling the Institute`s Annual Report, some of which are online here. In the course of that pleasant duty, I came across these people known as the Braidwoods, and could expect an early-autumn call from Linda Braidwood to go over their contributions, which neither age nor political complications deterred them from submitting or vetting. Over time, I developed a respectful amateur's admiration for the serious work of Bob and Linda Braidwood, and had occasion to meet much of their family, all of whom more than passed muster. The fact that Bob Braidwood could trace his family to the same part of Canada that my respectable ancestors called home was certainly a bonus.

Over time, I learned of a Linda Braidwood book entitled Digging Beyond the Tigris, which I read first in 1998, and have just returned to McGill's Library after a second scan. It is hard to find for purchase, but was wisely accessioned by any number of libraries, which I believe can be regionally-accessed here. I am likely only slightly less probable a feminist than I am a woman, but I first read this book with women like Betty Friedan on my mind. What strikes me, now as then, about Linda's book is her matter-of-fact, dare one say Midwestern, tone. Obviously, she must have known that her world--raising a family in the middle of Kurdistan with World War II far from a distant memory--was a bit different, or she would not have bothered with the book. However, it is entirely clear of complaint or special pleading, and is, in my view, an incomparable record of a woman born well before women could vote who went on to observe the sexual revolution, the ERA, and a dozen other supremely-important social developments. I heartily recommend taking it out of your nearest library, and, for those who can, putting it on curricula.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Hopeful Reflections

To the most non-specialized of non-specialists (i.e., me!), one of the most initially-striking and longest-lasting aspects of the Oriental Institute is the number of truly great minds that have called it home. I am not referring to these people's primary (or secondary or beyond) scholarly foci, which I took and take on faith, but rather to the breadth of their learning and their eager engagement with the world. That might sound trite, but it is not--I know plenty of professors who, as strong as they may be in their own fields, have little grasp of anything outside their bailiwicks. Even at the famously interdisciplinary University of Chicago, the Institute stands out as a place where people breach borders and knowledge does indeed grow from more to more.

One such scholar is Robert McCormick Adams, sometime (as the English so fetchingly say) Dean of the Social Sciences Division and Provost of the University of Chicago, Director of the Oriental Institute, and Secretary of the Smithsonian. At its 75th Anniversary Gala, the Institute was fortunate to have Professor Adams deliver his thoughts about where the Institute had been and where it might go in the years that were then ahead. It was one of the first things I read upon joining the Institute staff, and it had a profound effect on me. Rereading it now, not so many years later, I am equally struck, though much more with sadness over lost opportunities, none of which any of us could reasonably have predicted. It remains, despite the setbacks of the last ten years, a supremely thought-provoking reflection on what the best of the academy can be:

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Remembrances: Johanne Vindenas

The following is reprinted in its entirety from Access [the staff newsletter of the University of Chicago Library] Vol. XXXVI, No. 23, November 11, 1988. It also appeared as an appendix to the October-November 1988 Oriental Institute Research Archives Acquisitions list (December 5, 1988).


Robert Wadsworth, our former Bibliographer for English, Librarianship, and General Humanities, has written the following remembrance of Johanne Vindenas (April 28, 1899 - October 21, 1988).

The death of Johanne Vindenas is a reminder of one of the most impressive careers at the University Library, extending over a period of forty years.

She was born in Norway, the daughter of a clergyman in the (Lutheran) state church. As the family moved from parish to parish during her youth, she became familiar with various parts of the country while she completed a thorough Continental education. In 1918 she passed the Examen artium in the Cathedral School of Kristiansand, and in 1920 she was awarded the certificate from the School of Librarianship in Oslo. With money advanced by her father she came to America and entered the New York State Library School, taking the certificate in 1924. Her long association with the Oriental Institute began in the same year, and she remained there until she reached the age of retirement in 1964 and returned to Norway to live.

She never ceased to be a patriotic Norwegian proud of her native land, but she was also a loyal American citizen and a conscientious voter. Long after her return to Norway one of her letters expressed outspoken disapproval of a current anti-American demonstration.

Her forty years with the Oriental institute Library coincided with the growth of that collection as one of the key resources for the study of the ancient Near East. In its early years the Institute Library was administered apart for the General Library, and Miss Vindenas developed her own procedures and standards in considerable independence. Never given a large staff, she had firsthand experience in every aspect of librarianship from basic drudgery to delicate professional decisions. Like all educated Norwegians, she was at home in several languages, and she received additional instruction from the Institute faculty. She studied catalogues and lists, prepared and checked her own orders, and, working with a quaintly old-fashioned typewriter that could be adapted for different alphabets, made her own catalogue cards. Much of her work was with Arabic, Persian, and Turkish, but the area collection involved many other languages. By the time the Oriental Institute Library became a departmental unit within the University Library, Miss Vindenas was in such thorough control of all technical details that little could be done for her by the general staff. She was a real "special librarian," and to the end of her career she kept her hand on all the particulars.

Partly because of this zealous devotion to her duties in Chicago, she never became a conspicuous figure in American librarianship at large. She had unusual knowledge and ability and, well able to hold her own, she could be a formidable antagonist; but she showed no interest in self-promotion or personal fame. Her entire professional effort had to do with her work at the Oriental Institute.

She was not a recluse. Besides her warm family tues in Norway she had close friendships in Chicago, and she took part in the social projects of the Library staff. After retirement she made a number of trips to America for visits to old friends.

Although she did nothing to advertise der accomplishments, they were duly recognized. . . . In 1970 the Catalogue of the Oriental Institute Library, University of Chicago appeared in sixteen large volumes, so that years after her retirement Miss Vindenas's meticulous cataloguing was preserved in printed form and made available to a wide public. In one published guide to the reference material this catalogue is described as "replete with analytics, including book reviews." and the writer adds that "long runs of some series are completely analyzed."

In the best sense of the word "JV" was a true perfectionist, driven by the compulsion to do her best. She stood for quality and workmanship and felt frustrated by anything that interfered with her own high standards. On of her faculty clients at the Institute made the half-humorous but admiring observation: "They don't make them like that anymore."

For those of us who remember her with affection, it is comforting to know that she maintained her independence to the age of eighty-nine and died peacefully in her sleep. We can take inspiration from her example and profit from the fine work she left us.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Acknowledgements: Credit Where Credit is Due

This project has two points of origin

1) For the general idea of a forum for the subject: Long standing conversations about the history of the Oriental Institute among the funding participants, and between them and many others now or formerly at the Oriental Institute and The University of Chicago and elsewhere.

2) For the specific idea of a blog as the location of the forum: To my friend and colleague David Gill, who is single handedly doing the same sort of thing on the History of the British School at Athens.