The Life of James Henry Breasted and the Creation of His Oriental Institute
James Henry Breasted (1865–1935) had a career that epitomizes our popular image of the archaeologist. Daring, handsome, and charismatic, he traveled on expeditions to remote and politically unstable corners of the Middle East, helped identify the tomb of King Tut, and was on the cover of Time magazine. But Breasted was more than an Indiana Jones—he was an accomplished scholar, academic entrepreneur, and talented author who brought ancient history to life not just for students but for such notables as Teddy Roosevelt and Sigmund Freud.
“Abt’s book is a thorough and enjoyable biography of the father of American Egyptology, enhanced by previously unpublished material and photographs from the archives of the Oriental Institute. The extraordinary life and accomplishments of James Henry Breasted finally have the treatment they deserve.”
“American Egyptologist is ably written and more than meticulously researched. Abt has rescued for us the most important American student of the ancient Near East and one of the twentieth century’s leading academics. We are also able to see how brilliant scholars like James Breasted shaped the university system and the education of a democratic electorate, even as people like him were molded by wealthy donors. Abt finally contributes to our understanding of debates over the secularization of the collegiate world. Altogether, a virtuoso performance.”
“Abt has written the definitive study of Breasted’s career, deftly showing the many ways Breasted exemplified his time and his field while also showing how extraordinary the man was. The book succeeds on many levels—as a study of an academic career; as a portrait of issues in American higher education in the early twentieth century; as a discussion of museums and their role in both universities and cities in America; as a study in organizational development and fundraising; and above all, as a portrait of an exceptional life with its overseas adventures and long-lasting impact on the fields of Egyptology and archaeology in the Middle East. A remarkable book.”
“Abt has done an excellent job of narrating Breasted’s scholarly life and accomplishments. He deftly fills in the various backgrounds and influences—from the mentorship of William Rainey Harper and Adolf Erman to the archaeological politics of interwar Egypt and the institutional politics of the University of Chicago—and, since Breasted was always interested in larger issues related to society, history, and religion, Abt provides sensitive insight into the contemporary worldview of the educated, both lay and professional. Well written and illustrated, this is a book that will appeal to all seriously interested in moving beyond Indiana Jones to a deeper understanding of how scholars have reconstructed ancient Egypt.”
"American Egyptologist is the fascinating story of a man and the formation of an institution whose roots lie in the tense politics of the Middle East but whose mission is to keep alive the histories of the ancient Near East."
“Much of the appeal of American Egyptologist lies in its portrait of the America of a century or so ago. . . .All this will make a fascinating read for Egyptologists and those interested in the development of American higher education.”
"Mr. Abt's biography is almost encyclopedic, but the narrative is always visible amid the detail, and footnotes and references are used wisely. It is unlikely that the story of this restless scholar will need to be written again."
Note to the Reader
2. What the Monuments Say
3. Two Years, Three Books, Seven Volumes
4. Expeditions to Nubia
5. Spreading Wings
6. The Near East as a Whole
7. An Institute, a Calling
9. A Historical Laboratory
Map 1. Breasted’s Middle East, 1894–1935
Map 2. Nile Honeymoon, 1894
Map 3. Nubian Expeditions, 1905–1907
Map 4. Survey Expedition, 1919–1920