Egypt in Chicago

The exhibition in the Oriental Museum in Chicago follows Chicago’s native James Henry Breasted’s daring travels through Egypt and Mesopotamia in the unstable aftermath of World War I. Breasted (1865-1935), a leading Egyptologist and the founder of the Oriental Institute. The goals of his expedition were to acquire artefacts for the new Institute and to select sites for later excavation. His journey placed him in the Middle East at a pivotal time when the region was occupied by the European powers (British and French troops) who opposed the first stirrings of nationalism that ultimately created the states (and problems) of the modern Middle East. The events of the expedition are paired with the changes in attitudes, laws, and archaeology over the past ninety years and the larger issues about the relationship of the past to the present, of archaeology and politics, and the relationship of America and the Middle East – questions that are vital to understanding America’s role in the Middle East today and European involvement in the Middle East. The exhibitions combines the birth of the modern Middle East as we know it today, and at the same time, the genesis of modern archaeological research in the cradle of civilization. The exhibitions also explores the antiquities trade and raises the question of the importance of artefacts for national identities.