History of the ISAC Museum

The Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures (ISAC) was founded in 1919 by James Henry Breasted with the financial support of John D. Rockefeller Jr., and was originally envisaged as a research laboratory for the investigation of the early human career that would trace humankind’s progress from the most ancient days of West Asia and North Africa. The goal of ISAC is to be the world’s leading center for the study of the ancient civilizations of West Asia and North Africa by combining innovation in theory, methodology, and significant empirical discovery with the highest standards of rigorous scholarship.

The ISAC Museum was opened to the public in 1931. The majority of ISAC's collections are from its expeditions in West Asia and North Africa during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. A major reinstallation of the Museum, including the construction of a climate-controlled wing for housing collections and archives, took place in the 1990s and early 2000s. A complete renovation of the Museum was completed in 2019 in celebration of ISAC's centennial.  

Mission Statement

Within ISAC, the ISAC Museum promotes interest in and understanding of the ancient cultures of West Asia and North Africa, and their connections to the modern world, for a broad and diverse audience. In order to tell the story of the rise of civilizations, communicate the excitement of archaeological, linguistic, and historical discovery, enhance understanding and appreciation of cultural similarities and differences, show connections between the ancient and modern worlds, and highlight the research of ISAC:

  • We preserve our collections and information about them
  • We facilitate and conduct research related to the collections
  • We educate our general and scholarly audiences through informative and engaging exhibits, programs, publications and website.

Activities and Outreach

The ISAC Museum is a major unit of ISAC, an interdisciplinary research center that integrates archaeological, textual, linguistic, and art historical data to understand the development and functioning of ancient civilizations of West Asia and North Africa from the Prehistoric through the Islamic periods. ISAC achieves this by conducting archaeological excavations, text-based research, artifact analyses, new research methodologies, the stewardship of systematic archival and museum collections as research resources, and the development of fundamental research tools such as dictionaries of ancient languages.

The ISAC Museum provides free admission and serves the communities that immediately surround the University of Chicago, those who live and work in the area of the University itself (Hyde Park), and the metropolitan area of Chicago. It also attracts regional, domestic, and international audiences. The Museum connects with audiences through a variety of programs for all age groups, socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds, and strives to increase its visitation to include the rich diversity found in the Chicago area. Approximately 55,000–60,000 people visit the museum annually, and over 1,000,000 unique visitors come to our web site each year. Local and international visitors range from scholars, university students, families, K-12 teachers and students, 21st century adult learners, and volunteers.