Christopher Woods appointed director of the Oriental Institute

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.