Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago

The University of Chicago was founded in 1890.  The oil magnate, John D. Rockefeller, Sr., played a large financial role in its creation.  Two years later, the university began a Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.  Today, this department ranks among the top Ancient Near Eastern programs in the United States, primarily focusing on the ancient civilizations of Anatolia, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Persia.

In 1919, James Henry Breasted, an Egyptologist at the University of Chicago, founded the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.  Receiving funding from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (the son of the oil magnate), the goal of the Oriental Institute was and still is to be a place where scholars may conduct further research on the Ancient Near East.

In 1931, the University of Chicago completed construction on a building specifically designed to house the Oriental Institute.  This building contains a museum and an archive/library.  The library does not circulate its materials, meaning that you cannot take any of its books home.  Unfortunately, I have not seen the Oriental Institute’s library, because it is only open to faculty, staff, students, and members.

Assyrian Reliefs taken from Sargon II’s Palace at Dur Sharrukin

The museum portion of the Oriental Institute houses artifacts from archaeological digs that the University of Chicago conducted from the 1920s through 1940s.  These include ancient Assyrian, Egyptian, Israelite, Nubian, Persian, and Syro-Anatolian artifacts.  Tours of the museum are available, either by docents or by downloading a free app.  Visitors to the museum may also watch short films at the museum related to the Ancient Near East.  Additionally, prior to COVID-19, the Oriental Institute frequently hosted events and lectures.

I once visited the Oriental Institute with a librarian group.  During our time there, we went on a tour of the conservation lab, which is on the upper floor of the building.  It was amazing to see where staff maintain and preserve the museum’s priceless artifacts.

After the Oriental Institute underwent renovations in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it renamed its ancient Assyrian wings after two modern Assyrian donors to the museum.  The Dr. Norman Solhkhah Family Assyrian Empire Gallery is named after an Assyrian philanthropist originally from Iran, Dr. Norman Solhkhah.  This section of the museum contains reliefs from Dur Sharrukin, the palace of the Assyrian King Sargon II.  It also contains the Sennacherib Prism, where the Assyrian King Sennacherib describes his campaigns against Israel and Judah.  The Judean perspective of the campaign can be found in the Bible in 2 Kings 18-19.

The Sennacherib Prism at the Oriental Institute

The Yelda Khorsabad Court Gallery is named after Dr. Sharukin Rami Yelda, an Assyrian orthopedic surgeon originally from Iran.  This section of the museum contains a 16-foot winged-bull, or lamassu, that the University of Chicago discovered in 1929.  Originally discovered in over a dozen pieces, the Oriental Institute pieced the lamassu back together after it arrived in Chicago from Dur Sharrukin in Khorsabad, Iraq.

This is an Assyrian lamassu, or winged-bull, from Dur Sharrukin in Iraq. ISIS damaged the archaeological site where it came from in 2015.
If you look carefully at the lamassu, you can find Cuneiform text.

Although the Oriental Institute’s website is not the easiest to search, it provides free access to a valuable number of the University of Chicago’s publications.  These include the Assyrian Dictionary, an Akkadian dictionary that took 91 years to make; the Demotic Dictionary, an ancient Egyptian language dictionary; books about important excavations, and more.  A guide to the publications available online can be found here: https://oi.uchicago.edu/research/catalog-publications

In case you are interested, the University of Chicago also has one of the best libraries I have ever seen.  Here is my post about it: https://arkeh.travel.blog/2020/01/11/university-of-chicago-regenstein-mansueto-libraries/

Sources and Further Reading
About. Oriental Institute. https://oi.uchicago.edu/about (accessed November 28, 2020).

“Catalog of Publications.” Oriental Institute. https://oi.uchicago.edu/research/catalog-publications (accessed November 28, 2020).

“Dr. Norman Solhkhah.” Atour. April 20, 2020. https://www.atour.com/people/20100420b.html (accessed November 28, 2020).

“The Dr. Norman Solhkhah Family Assyrian Empire Gallery.”  Oriental Institute. https://oi.uchicago.edu/museum-exhibits/assyrian-empire-gallery (accessed November 28, 2020).

“Dr. Sharukin Yelda.” U. S. News and World Report Heallth News. https://health.usnews.com/doctors/sharukin-yelda-44317 (accessed November 28, 2020).

“Emeritus Physician’s Estate Giving Honors Family Legacy.” Swedish Hospital Foundation. March 1, 2015. https://swedishhospitalfoundation.org/emeritus-physicians-estate-giving-honors-family-legacy/ (accessed November 28, 2020).

“Iranian Immigrants Give Back to Chicago Hospital.” The Iranian. April 9, 2007. https://iranian.com/PhotoDay/2007/April/yelda.html?site=archive&__cf_chl_jschl_tk__=c346fa52521a7721623c90f94c3db4c7e08b64f4-1606615762-0-AZMzQVKvmPoTqkyKISbIPcBriGg6xehbCB6kO5Xs4oEsUSMyyR3pEKmloZSQCdsQzgZmHyalbYjTTB7v9gjLNbyJSux1rYoIukmfVyEZQO-CYVAaH5LJsBEQWx2REFovxRnRFlWIbYEEnOkb0KAy2pQ8Qh4yRXX_bAJ2DZOPmIXTOA3gZC2CsgQ4F1_Ed2VXic9gdnQNvn_a28PYNZWlpfTq2k5wVg97PgtQmF7g0XbAOmKAu9oe8CNXjX6p_oc_87o2F_YldzO7Afr5011vAinDjsmyfmvlv_OeZiONydVOgJzrHelyq6-z5cU2Sbczwf3RiEVLc6MG4oJHopgoZRV-T9mCyvwefGbDF0E353Y6 (accessed November 28, 2020).

“Oriental Institute Museum.” Google Arts & Culture. https://artsandculture.google.com/partner/the-oriental-institute (accessed November 28, 2020).

Rome, Kristin. “Iconic Ancient Sites Ravaged in ISIS’s Last Stand in Iraq.” National Geographic. November 10, 2016. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2016/11/iraq-mosul-isis-nimrud-khorsabad-archaeology/ (accessed November 28, 2020).

Shoumanov, Vasili. Assyrian Yellow Pages 2020. Chicago: 2020.

“The Yelda Khorsabad Court Gallery.” Oriental Institute. https://oi.uchicago.edu/museum-exhibits/khorsabad-court-gallery (accessed November 28, 2020).

University of Chicago: Regenstein & Mansueto Libraries

The University of Chicago (not to be confused with the University of Illinois in Chicago) was ranked the 6th best National University in the United States in 2019.  Founded in 1890, this prestigious university is known for graduating Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize winners, as well as employing famous faculty who have made important contributions to their fields.  Additionally, Barack Obama taught at the University’s law school from 1992-2004, before he became U.S. President.

The University of Chicago has several libraries, such as a law library, math library, and archaeology library.  I believe that the current science library, the John Crerar Library, was the University’s first library. Additionally, although I have not visited it, I was told that the William Rainey Harper Memorial Library has an amazing reading room reminiscent of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books.

Currently, the main library at the University of Chicago is the Joseph Regenstein Library, which has five floors and two basement levels.  The photo on the main page of my blog was taken from this amazing library’s stacks.  I had never seen so many books in my life.  Just walking through the library gave me an exhilarated feeling, and reminded me of how much knowledge there is in the world, but how little of it a human mind can actually obtain and retain.

In 2011, the University completed an addition to the Regenstein Library, called the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library.  Because the University of Chicago is one of the largest research libraries in the United States, they do not weed (get rid of) their books to make room for more, meaning that they have accumulated several million books.  With limited real estate in Chicago, the University needed to find more space for them.  That is why the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library was built.  However, the majority of it is underground.

Below are photos of the outside and inside of the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library. The area located above the ground houses a bright reading room, as well as conservation and digitization labs. The glass has three layers, which blocks out 99% of the sun’s ultra-violet light.

When I visited the conservation lab, a conservator was working on a 50-pound music book from Spain dating to the 1600s.

Since I visited the Mansueto Library with a librarian group, we were given the opportunity to visit the lower levels of the building, which are not open to the public. The two underground levels house a total of approximately 3.5 million books and journals that have historically not been used or checked out often. They are stored in high-ceiling rooms reminiscent of a hardware store such as Menards, with towering rows of bins filled with books in each “aisle.” If someone wants an item housed in this area, all he or she needs to do is request it from the library’s catalog. Within five minutes, a robot retrieves the correct bin containing the book, and brings it up to the librarian upstairs. This is called an Automated Storage and Retrieval System. Only a handful of libraries in the world have this system. The room housing the books is climate-controlled and, thus, also stores the University’s rare books and special collections. If a fire should ever occur down there, the air is supposed to suck out of the room, theoretically putting out the fire. This prevents the need for a sprinkler system that could ruin the books, but also means that humans would need to leave the premises immediately.

The University of Chicago’s library system is the 9th largest academic library in North America, and the 19th largest library in the United States (The Library of Congress is #1, and two other Chicago libraries rank higher: Chicago Public Library is #5 and University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign is #6.).

Since I visited the library with a librarian group, I am not sure how easy it is for visitors to enter the library.  I believe that university students at other schools do not have much trouble if they show their student I.D., however, the Library’s website is vague about non-student visitors.  You should probably check with them ahead of time if you plan to visit.

Although the Regenstein Library’s architecture looks bleak (building in the foreground), it contains a treasure trove of books. It is located on the University of Chicago’s original football field, which was the site of the first self-sustaining nuclear reaction on December 2, 1942. This monument commemorates the event.

Sources and Further Reading

“About the University of Chicago Library.” The University of Chicago Library. https://www.lib.uchicago.edu/about/thelibrary/ (accessed January 11 2019).

“History.” The University of Chicago. https://www.uchicago.edu/about/history/ (accessed January 11 2019).

“The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library.” The University of Chicago Library. https://www.lib.uchicago.edu/mansueto/ (accessed January 11 2019).

“The Largest Libraries in the U.S.” Infoplease. https://www.infoplease.com/arts-entertainment/literature-and-books/largest-libraries-us (accessed January 11 2019).

“Libraries and Museums.” The University of Chicago. https://collegeadmissions.uchicago.edu/academics/libraries-and-museums (accessed January 11 2019).

“National University Rankings.” U.S. News & World Report. https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities (accessed January 11 2019).