July 14, 2005
Vol. 24 No. 19

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    Conference on Assyriology to draw 300 scholars

    By William Harms
    News Office

    An international conference on Assyriology that will begin Monday, July 18, at the Oriental Institute will be something of a homecoming for nearly 40 of the 300 participants as they return to the place where they completed important work early in their careers.

    The academics, now all leading scholars in Near Eastern studies, did post-graduate research with the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, the primary research resource for Akkadian, the ancient language of Mesopotamia. The conference will celebrate the imminent completion of the dictionary, the latest volume of which covers the letter P. That volume will be published in time for the gathering.

    “The Oriental Institute is the world’s premiere research institute for the study of the ancient Near East. Many of the scholars who are leaders in the field studied here, and they will enjoy seeing each other again, talking with colleagues and listening to the presentations,” said Martha Roth, Professor in the Oriental Institute and Deputy Provost for Research and Education. Roth, Editor-in-Charge of the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, is organizing the conference, along with Jennie Myers, a Research Associate in the Oriental Institute, and Walter Farber, Professor in the Oriental Institute.

    The conference, officially the 51st Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale (International Congress of Assyriology and Near Eastern Archaeology), brings together scholars from throughout the world, including those from Iran, Iraq, Turkey and elsewhere in the Middle East.

    “This is the only international meeting at which the texts, art and archaeology of the ancient Near East are examined at the same conference,” Roth said. The Rencontre, usually held in Europe, was last held at the University in 1967.

    Scholars will attend presentations during the weeklong conference on the scholarship of texts and recent excavations and interpretations of the development of urban civilization in the region.

    The conference will have a particularly contemporary aspect this year as a special session will be held in the Max Palevsky Cinema on Saturday, July 23, to discuss current threats to Iraq’s cultural heritage. This session will be open to the public.

    President Randel, Gil Stein, Director of the Oriental Institute, and Wilfred van Soldt, President of the International Association of Assyriology at the University of Leiden, Netherlands, will each welcome the participants when they gather at 9:30 a.m. Monday, July 18, in Max Palevsky Cinema. Van Soldt did some of his post-graduate work at the Oriental Institute and was a collaborator on the Assyrian Dictionary.

    Research achievements of the Oriental Institute will be presented by Erica Reiner, the John A. Wilson Distinguished Service Professor Emerita in the Oriental Institute, who will discuss Assyriology; Miguel Civil, Professor Emeritus in the Oriental Institute, who will present a talk on Sumerology; Theo van den Hout, Professor in the Oriental Institute, who will lecture on Hittitology; and McGuire Gibson, Professor in the Oriental Institute, who will address Mesopotamian archaeology. Robert McCormick Adams, former Professor and Director of the Oriental Institute and former Provost, will moderate and respond to the presenters.

    “A remarkable aspect about the University’s commitment to scholarship is exemplified in the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary,” said Stein. “It was conceived of as a multi-generational project, something greater than one person’s career. The people who are returning for the Rencontre demonstrate the value of that continuity. The Oriental Institute also has made a distinguished contribution to archaeology in the region, and this conference gives us a chance to discuss that work with colleagues as well. We also will be able to share experiences on efforts to protect artifacts and sites in Iraq.”

    The Chicago Assyrian Dictionary project was founded in 1921. Its first volume was published in 1956, and two volumes, in addition to P, are in press. A final volume of the dictionary will be sent to press in 2006. Roth said scholars will review this volume for three years before it is published in its final form.

    Reiner, Editor-in-Charge of the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary from 1973 to 1996, and Civil helped organize the 1967 gathering in Chicago. “We look forward to having so many friends coming back. We knew them when they were young scholars, and now they have become distinguished faculty members, and some of them have even retired,” Reiner said.

    Reiner helped organize the original Rencontre in Paris and has attended many of the annual meetings since then. “It was right after the war, and we wanted to renew scholarly contact that had been broken because of the war,” she said. “From the very beginning, we wanted to include students. The enthusiasm we had when we started the organization is still very much in evidence when we get together,” she said.