Oriental Institute changes name to the Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures, West Asia & North Africa

The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago on April 4 announced that it will be renamed the Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures, West Asia & North Africa (ISAC), effective immediately.

The change is the result of the institute’s work in recent years to better reflect the geographic focus of its research and scholarship. In an email announcing the change, Provost Katherine Baicker wrote that the new name more accurately describes the nature of the institute’s work and collection. In addition, she wrote, the usage and meaning of the word “oriental” has changed over time.

In 2021, the institute began to address issues surrounding its name by organizing a name-change committee that collaborated with UChicago faculty, staff, students, supporters and other stakeholders as well as colleagues at peer institutes around the world. The committee collected input representing a broad range of perspectives—findings that informed the decision to recommend a new name that more clearly represents and honors the cultures, regions and time periods that the institute studies.

Leaders from the University of Chicago and the Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures, West Asia & North Africa discuss the institute's new name, which better reflects the geographic focus of the institute's work and collections. (Video by UChicago Creative)

“Although the institute’s name has changed, our mission remains the same,” said Prof. Theo van den Hout, the institute’s interim director. “The Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures continues to strive to be one of the world’s leading research centers on the ancient cultures of West Asia and North Africa. The new name better represents the breadth and depth of the diversity of our work as we continue to generate and showcase field-defining research and scholarship.”

Founded in 1919 as UChicago’s first research institute, ISAC was envisioned as a center for the study of the progress of ancient communities in West Asia and North Africa. For over a century, the institute has undertaken expansive language projects such as the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, the Hittite Dictionary, and the Demotic Dictionary, and a number of historic field projects with work in Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Sudan, Turkey and Spain. ISAC also works closely with local governments and museums to support cultural heritage initiatives in the region.

The OI Museum has changed its name to the Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures Museum (ISAC Museum). Originally conceived as a learning collection, the ISAC Museum is home to more than 350,000 objects, mainly discovered from its expeditions during the 1920s through the 1940s.

“The collection is one of the most extensive in the world regarding ancient cultures of the Near East,” said Marc Maillot, associate director and chief curator of the ISAC Museum. “It makes the ISAC Museum the ideal place for researchers and constituents of the city to meet and share the latest scholarship in the fields of archaeology, philology and cultural heritage.”

To learn more, please visit the ISAC website.