James Henry Breasted : biography
James Henry Breasted ( August 27, 1865 – December 2, 1935) was an American archaeologist and historian. After completing his PhD at the University of Berlin in 1894, he joined the faculty of the University of Chicago. In 1901 he became director of the Haskell Oriental Museum at the University of Chicago, where he continued to concentrate on Egypt. In 1905 Breasted was promoted to professor, and was the first chair in Egyptology and Oriental History in the United States. In 1919 he became the founder of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.
Marriage and family
In 1894, Breasted married Frances Hart. Hart and her sisters were in Germany at the same time as Breasted, learning the German language and studying music. The couple honeymooned in Egypt. It was a working vacation as Breasted had been recruited to build a collection of Egyptian antiquities for the University of Chicago.Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2002 Document # H1000011705
Hart died four decades later in 1934. Breasted married one of her sisters.
Early life and education
James Henry Breasted was born on Aug. 27, 1865, the son of a small hardware business owner, in Rockford, Illinois. He was educated at North Central College (then North-Western College), graduated in 1888, and attended Chicago Theological Seminary but transferred to Yale University to study Hebrew. He received a master's degree from Yale in 1891 and, on the advice of William Rainey Harper, went to University of Berlin, where he studied under the instruction of Adolf Erman. Erman had just established a new school of Egyptology, concentrating systematically on grammar and lexicography. Breasted received his doctorate in 1894. He was the first American citizen to obtain a PhD in Egyptology.
Breasted was in the forefront of the generation of archaeologist-historians who broadened the idea of Western Civilization to include the entire Near East in Europe's cultural roots. Breasted coined the term "Fertile Crescent" to describe the archaeologically important area including parts of present-day Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Israel.
He became an instructor at the University of Chicago in 1894 soon after earning his doctorate. Five years later, the University agreed to let him accept the Prussian Academy of Science's invitation to work on their Egyptian dictionary project. From 1899 to 1908, he did field work in Egypt, which established his reputation. He began to publish numerous articles and monographs, as well as his History of Egypt from the Earliest Times Down to the Persian Conquest in 1905. At that time he was promoted to Professor of Egyptology and Oriental History for Chicago (the first such chair in the United States).
In 1901, Breasted was appointed Director of the Haskell Oriental Museum (forerunner of the Oriental Institute), which had opened at the University of Chicago in 1896. Though the Haskell Oriental Museum contained works of art from both the Near East and the Far East, Breasted's principal interest was in Egypt. He began to work on a compilation of all the extant hieroglyphic inscriptions, which was published in 1906 as Ancient Records of Egypt. It continues to be an important collection of translated texts; as Peter A. Piccione wrote in the preface to its 2001 reprint, it "still contains certain texts and inscriptions that have not been retranslated since that time."
Through the years, as Breasted built up the collection of the Haskell Oriental Museum, he dreamed of establishing a research institute, “a laboratory for the study of the rise and development of civilization” that would trace Western civilization to its roots in the ancient Middle East.C. Breasted, Pioneer to the Past, p. 238 As World War I wound down, he sensed an opportunity. He wrote to John D. Rockefeller Jr., son of the major donor to the University, and proposed founding what would become the Oriental Institute. He planned a research trip through the Middle East, which he suggested was ready to receive scholars. Rockefeller responded by pledging $50,000 over five years for the Oriental Institute. He separately assured the University of Chicago President Judson to pledge another $50,000 to the cause. The University of Chicago contributed additional support and, in May 1919, the Oriental Institute was founded.
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