Research and scholarship in this rather broad category is dominated by three major long-term collaborative projects to produce definitive dictionaries of ancient languages: Assyrian (Chicago Assyrian Dictionary); Hittite (Chicago Hittite Dictionary); and Demotic Egyptian (Chicago Demotic Dictionary). A fourth long-term project is compiling a lexicon for Sumerian texts (Sumerian Lexicon Project).

The Institute also has a long tradition of outstanding scholarship in the history, literature, economy, and social life of the ancient cultures of West Asia and North Africa. For example, the work of the late Professor I. J. Gelb is fundamental to our understanding of ancient social and economic history and the work of the late Professor M. Rowton is still the best account of the ecology and social structure of ancient tribal nomads. This tradition is carried on by several members of the present faculty.