AHA President, 1928


University of Chicago

From the American Historical Review 41:2 (January 1936)

James Henry Breasted (August 27, 1865–December 2, 1935), director of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, eminent archaeologist and historian, died on December 2 at the age of 70. After completing his undergraduate course at North Central College in 1888 he studied for two years at Chicago Theological Seminary. He then went to New Haven, attracted by the renascence of Semitic studies at Yale under the influence of William R. Harper. In 1891, Dr. Harper, already planning for a new University of Chicago, and hearing young Breasted say how deeply he was interested in Egyptology, urged him to seek in Europe the best available training, with the promise of a position in Chicago. Breasted at once proceeded to Berlin, where he won his doctorate in 1894. His work was so distinguished that he was soon commissioned by the royal academies of Berlin, Leipzig, Munich, and Gottingen to copy and arrange the Egyptian inscriptions preserved in the museums of Europe for the Berlin Egyptian Dictionary. Dr. Breasted’s first archaeological expedition to Egypt took place in 1894. In that year too his work began at the University of Chicago. He was also appointed assistant director of the Haskell Oriental Museum. His promotion was rapid. From 1905 to 1933 he was professor of Egyptology and Oriental history. In 1919 he became director of the new Oriental Institute. In 1925 in order that he might devote all his attention to the work of the Institute, both in Chicago and in the Near East, he was relieved of duties as a teacher. The search for all existing remains of ancient Oriental civilization he termed a “New Crusade.” He gained generous support for his great enterprises from philanthropists, especially Mr. John D. Rockefeller, jr. It was a dramatic moment in December, 1929, when as president of the American Historical Association he announced to the members assembled in their annual meeting that he had been assured of gifts and endowments of nearly ten million dollars, in order to place the work of the Oriental Institute upon a more permanent foundation and to further the tasks of excavation at many historic locations in the Near East. Dr. Breasted was a historian as well as an investigator and director. Among his notable books were A History of Egypt (1905, 2d ed., 1909, rev., 1912), Ancient Records of Egypt (5 vols., 1906–1907), and the Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus (2 vols., 1930). His latest book was The Dawn of Conscience (1933). He was also a successful writer of school and college textbooks on Ancient history. He received many honors from universities and societies in this country and abroad. His most signal claim to remembrance is his leadership among the scholars who within a generation have renewed the history of the Ancient East.



The history and civilization of Egypt, by James Henry Breasted. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1898.

Ancient records of Egypt; historical documents from the earliest times to the Persian conquest, collected, edited and translated with commentary, by James Henry Breasted.
5 vols. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1906–07; Reprint with an introduction by Peter A. Piccione. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001.

A history of the ancient Egyptians, by James Henry Breasted. With four maps and three plans. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1908.

Outlines of European history, by James Robinson, Charles A. Beard and James Henry Breasted. 2 vols. Boston: Ginn and Company, 1912-1914.

Survey of the ancient world, by James Henry Breasted. Boston: Gina and company, 1919.

History of Europe, ancient and medieval: Earliest man, the Orient, Greece and Rome, by James Henry Breasted. Boston: Ginn and Company, 1920.

The conquest of civilization, by James Henry Breasted. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1926.

The Oriental Institute. James H. Breasted. Chicago, Ill., The University of Chicago Press, 1933.

The dawn of conscience, by James Henry Breasted. New York, London, C. Scribner’s sons, 1934.

Time and its mysteries. 3 vols. New York: New York University Press, 1936-1949.

History of Civilization. 2 vols. Boston: Ginn and Company, 1937.

A history of Egypt, from the earliest times to the Persian conquest. New York: Bantam Books, 1964, 1937.

The 1919/20 Breasted expedition to the Near East: a photographic study, compiled by Ruth Marcanti. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977.