Saturday, March 15, 2014

Who's Who: James Henry Breasted

One of the books that Johnny Dixon has checked out and is reading at home when he first meets Professor Childermass is this author’s History of Egypt [The Curse of the Blue Figurine; 14].

It’s somewhat interesting to note that both Bellairs and American archaeologist and historian James Henry "Bill" Breasted (1865-1954) shared a common bond: the University of Chicago. Bellairs was a graduate student in the 1960s and Breasted was one of its widely known faculty members back at the beginning of the Twentieth Century.

Shortly after completing his PhD at the University of Berlin in 1894 Breasted 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, was the first chair in Egyptology and Oriental History in the United States, and had his first book published, A History of Egypt from the Earliest Times to the Persian Conquest. Ancient Records of Egypt, published in 1906, was a five-volume work that contained his English translation of the most important Egyptian historical texts held in Europe at that time.

Breasted also led numerous expeditions to Egypt and the Sudan – an area Breasted himself dubbed the “Fertile Crescent". His travels helped spur the dream 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. His dream, partially funded by benefactor John D. Rockefeller Jr., was to become the university’s famed archeology museum and research center, the Oriental Institute. Founded in 1919, the institute has since gone on to sponsor archaeological and survey expeditions in every country of the Near East. The museum moved into its well-known Chicago building in 1931, a few short years before Breasted became history himself.

Oh, by the way: in another timeline – and indeed, in another book series – this museum was the location where Anthony Monday sold the treasure of Alpheus Winterborn. Go figure.

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