A century ago, a few lone scholars began arguing a controversial idea: Western civilization had its roots not in Greece and Rome, as academics had maintained for centuries, but further back—in the sun-drenched lands of the ancient Middle East.
That idea was at the center of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago when it was founded in 1919. Over the course of the next 100 years, the OI has changed how humans understand their own history through groundbreaking work in archaeology, linguistics, and historical and literary analysis—work that continues today in Chicago and across the Middle East.
“The ancient Middle East is part of our origin story. This is the place where humans created the first villages, cities and eventually empires, and along the way developed essential technologies that form the basis of today’s world, such as the domestication of plants and animals and the invention of writing,” said Christopher Woods, the John A. Wilson Professor and director of the OI, and a leading scholar of Sumerian language and writing. “In many cases, what was created in Mesopotamia influenced our world, and the OI’s work over the past century has been essential to understanding these cultural threads.”