History of the Oriental Institute Museum

The Oriental Institute was founded in 1919 by James Henry Breasted with the financial support of John D. Rockefeller Jr., and was originally envisaged as a research laboratory for the investigation of the early human career that would trace humankind’s progress from the most ancient days of the Middle East. The goal of the Oriental Institute is to be the world’s leading center for the study of ancient Near Eastern civilizations by combining innovation in theory, methodology, and significant empirical discovery with the highest standards of rigorous scholarship.

The Oriental Institute Museum was opened to the public in 1931. The majority of the collections of the Oriental Institute came from its expeditions in the Middle East during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. A major reinstallation of the Museum, including the construction of a climate-controlled wing for housing collections and archives, took place in the 1990s and early 2000s. The Voting Members of the Oriental Institute meet quarterly and approve changes to the Mission Statement of the Oriental Institute Museum. The Oriental Institute is a unit within the University of Chicago and the name of the corporation is “The University of Chicago.” The corporation was originally incorporated on September 10, 1890. The corporation has not changed its name since its original date of incorporation.

Mission Statement

Within the Oriental Institute, the Oriental Institute Museum and Department of Public Education and Outreach promote interest in and understanding of ancient civilizations of the Middle East, and their connections to the modern world, for a broad and diverse audience. In order to tell the story of the rise of civilizations, communicate the excitement of archaeological, linguistic, and historical discovery, enhance understanding and appreciation of cultural similarities and differences, show connections between the ancient and modern worlds, and highlight the research of the Oriental Institute:

  • We preserve our collections and information about them
  • We facilitate and conduct research related to the collections
  • We educate our general and scholarly audiences through informative and engaging exhibits, programs, publications and website.

Activities and Outreach

The Oriental Institute Museum and Department of Public Education and Outreach, are major units of the Oriental Institute, of the University of Chicago, which is an interdisciplinary research center that integrates archaeological, textual, linguistic, and art historical data to understand the development and functioning of ancient civilizations of the Middle East from the earliest Holocene through the Medieval period. The Institute achieves this by conducting archaeological excavations, text-based research, artifact analyses, new research methodologies, the stewardship of systematic archival and museum collections as research resources, and the development of fundamental research tools such as dictionaries of ancient languages.

The Oriental Institute Museum provides free admission and serves the communities that immediately surround the University of Chicago, those who live and work in the area of the University itself (Hyde Park), and the metropolitan area of Chicago. It also attracts regional, domestic and international audiences. The Museum and Department of Public Education and Outreach connect with their audiences through a variety of programs for all age groups, socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds, and strives to increase its visitation to include the rich diversity found in the Chicago area including the surrounding Latino and African American communities. Approximately 55,000-60,000 people visit the museum annually, and over 1,000,000 unique visitors come to our web site each year. Local and international visitors range from scholars, university students, families, K-12 teachers and students, 21st century adult learners, and volunteers.