The Oriental Institute

Conference Partners

In 1919, James Henry Breasted, the first American Egyptologist, founded the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago with a radical idea: he insisted that the way we think of who we are—how we live as humans together—began not in the empires of Greece or Rome, but rather in the complex societies that emerged in an area he vividly named “The Fertile Crescent.” Breasted’s legacy of intellectual and technological innovation continues at the OI today—in research, fieldwork, and a museum that reveals and illuminates the earliest human civilizations. While our collection of Middle East antiquities rivals those of the Musée du Louvre and the British Museum, we explore only one fundamental question: what does it mean to be humans together? In the OI’s intimate, easy-to-navigate exhibition areas, you’ll experience the search for answers from multiple perspectives: archeologist, artist, historian, scientist, philosopher, linguist. You’ll see how societies built themselves beyond blood ties, how they decided who was going to lead, how they explained the world and cosmos around them, and how they chose which ideas and behaviors to encourage and which to punish. And in these artifacts from thousands of years ago, you’ll also see reflections of our own time: the struggle and determination to forge a collective identity and life. The OI will deepen your understanding of what connects us to each other and why.