The Haskell Oriental Museum

The Haskell Oriental Museum was created with a donation from Mrs. Caroline E. Haskell in memory of her late husband, Frederick Haskell. Until 1896, when the Haskell Oriental Museum was completed, the study of the ancient Middle East did not have a dedicated home on campus. The dedication of the Haskell Oriental Museum occurred on July 2, 1896 during the quinquennial celebration of the University of Chicago.

The museum’s first director was William Rainey Harper, while James Henry Breasted acted as assistant director. The collections in the museum were displayed in the ground floor galleries and consisted mainly of plaster-cast reproductions and small exhibition cases in which visitors could view an assortment of antiquities. The Egyptian collection was strong, most of which was the result of purchases made on Breasted’s honeymoon trip to Egypt from 1894-1895. Interest for such work in Chicago was great and this collection grew rapidly thanks to donations from the Chicago Society of Egyptian Research (established 1897) and a subscription to the Egypt Exploration Fund. Enthusiasm for field work during this period began to grow. By 1901, William Rainey Harper was so fully committed to his responsibilities as university president that James Henry Breasted was appointed director of the Haskell Oriental Museum. It was his passion and scholarship that would move ancient Middle Eastern studies at the University of Chicago forward in ways not yet imagined.

The term ‘Orient’ originally referred to the OI’s geographical area of research focus — 100 years ago, the Middle East was known as the Orient, meaning ‘east’ (cf. Occident meaning ‘west’). Though this meaning of the term is no longer part of common American English usage, it is still associated with some well-known institutes and museums, as in the case of the OI.