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James Henry Breasted

Updated on December 1, 2016

James Henry Breasted (1865-1935) was an American Egyptologist and archaeologist. He was born in Rockford, Ill., on August 27, 1865. He attended Chicago Theological Seminary, but his interest in the study of Semitic languages persuaded him to abandon the ministry and make his career in Oriental research. At Yale University he studied under William Rainey Harper, one of the few specialists in that field in the United States. In 1891, having received his M. A., he went to the University of Berlin to study Egyptology under Adolf Erman. He received his Ph. D. in 1894 and returned to take the chair of Egyptology and Oriental languages at the University of Chicago. He* also became director of the University's Haskell Oriental Museum, a post he held until 1931.

In 1899 the Royal Academy in Berlin invited Breasted to collaborate on an Egyptian dictionary sponsored by the German emperor, and for a year he traveled in Europe, where he copied inscriptions from Egyptian material and collected and prepared Egyptian documents. In 1905 he was made director of the University of Chicago's Egyptian expedition, an epigraphic survey to copy inscriptions that were perishing. He published his 5-volume Ancient Records of Egypt in 1906. Breasted was perhaps best known as director of the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, which he organized in 1919. He originated the term "Fertile Crescent" to describe the fertile arc of land to the north of the Syrian Desert.

Breasted was the author of Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt (1912); Ancient Times: A History of the Early World (1916), a textbook which he later revised as The Conquest of Civilization (1926); and The Dawn of Conscience (1933). Breasted died in New York City on December 2, 1935.


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    • Adam Kenawee profile image

      Adam Kenawee 7 years ago from Alexandria

      He is such an important forgotten historian. I came across his name very often while reading about Egyptology.

      It is kind of funny that though he always wanted to discover the tomb of Tutankhamun, he never lived to see the treasure it held when it was unleashed.