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June 6, 1919


My name is James Henry Breasted, and I am a professor of Egyptology at the University of Chicago. I suppose I should tell you more about myself for those who don’t yet know me…

I was born on August 27, 1865 in Rockford, Illinois, at the close of the Civil War, and have lived in Illinois for most of my life. I was the first American to receive a PhD in Egyptology (at the University of Berlin), after which I became the first American professor of Egyptology. I have worked at the University of Chicago since I returned from Germany, and in addition to teaching Egyptology, Semitic languages, and Oriental history I was appointed director of the Haskell Oriental Museum.

I married my wife Frances in 1894, a fellow student studying in Germany, and we spent our honeymoon on a working trip to Egypt where I acquired antiquities for the new Haskell Oriental museum. We have three children, Charles, James Jr. and Astrid, and my family is my whole life.

I have written several popular textbooks, the best on the subjects I would venture to say. Both A History of Egypt (1905) and Records of Egypt: Historical Documents from the Earliest Times to the Persian Conquest (1906-7) are well known. My most famous is Ancient Times, which was published in 1916 and brought me popular regard as an archaeologist and historian. It was my entrée to select circles, and provided me introductions to many great men, including John D. Rockefeller, Jr., whose wife loved the book so much she sent me a lovely letter praising it and in return I sent her an autographed copy.

I came to consider Mr. Rockefeller my patron, and he funded the new Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago as a research center for the study of the ancient Near East, which has become a great center for the study of “Oriental” civilization in the West. In my time we referred to Egypt and the Middle East as the Orient, though now this term is rarely used. The Oriental Institute’s first expedition will scout out sites for future excavation, as well as be a trip for purchasing antiquities for study and display at the new Oriental Institute. I think this will be the perfect time for such an expedition, since the World War has just ended, and the Near East is under Western control.


Letter from John D. Rockefeller Jr. to Breasted dated May 2, 1919, in which he agrees to support the formation of the Oriental Institute, stating “I believe that no one is better fitted to lead in this enterprise than yourself….” (image courtesy of the Oriental Institute)

Rockefeller pledged $50,000, and with the additional aid of the University of Chicago, the new Oriental Institute was founded in May 1919. It has been decided that four others, Ludlow Bull and William Edgerton, both students, as well as Daniel Luckenbill and William Shelton, my associates, and I will carry out this expedition as soon as possible. Our prospective itinerary is:

ExpeditionMap.jpg JHB-Passport.jpg

And being a man who is always inclined to take advantage of the newest technology, especially in service of promoting archaeological and historical knowledge, I will soon have set up a blog to keep those in America abreast of my travels through the Middle East, but for now I will post notes here to keep everyone updated. I will be posting letters to those at home, as well as photographs taken along the way so that those at home can envision my travels. I hope you will choose to follow me on my travels, and to learn more about my life and the expedition; you should visit the Oriental Institute Museum’s exhibit showcasing this exciting trip and some of my great contributions to the Oriental Institute. Here is the link to my website, in case you wanted a sneak peek: http://oi.uchicago.edu/museum/special/pioneer/.

You should also friend me on facebook http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=3318774#/profile.php?v=info&ref=profile&id=100000555713577, where you can ask me questions and keep in contact with me throughout my travels.

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