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James Henry Breasted

Born: 27-Aug-1865
Birthplace: Rockford, IL
Died: 2-Dec-1935
Location of death: New York City
Cause of death: Pneumonia
Remains: Buried, Greenwood Cemetery, Rockford, IL

Gender: Male
Religion: Agnostic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Archaeologist

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: A History of Egypt

James Henry Breasted worked briefly as a pharmacist, then studied theology. He grew disillusioned with Christianity when, in learning Hebrew, he retranslated some Bible verses from the original language, and found that in some instances the sacred scriptures were simply mistranslated. He instead pursued an interest in ancient cultures, and became the foremost US archaeologist of his time. He conducted numerous expeditions to the "Fertile Crescent" (and actually coined the term) and founded the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute. He was known by colleagues for his adventurous spirit and a seat-of-his-pants attitude that found him often sailing across the Atlantic on expeditions before funds for his return had been arranged. He and his wife honeymooned by exploring the Nile together.

Breasted often criticized "old school theologians", those who claimed that humanity's character was a product of divine design, and his archaeological finds, redefining pre-history, were sometimes deemed controversial. In the infamous trial of John T. Scopes, defense attorney Clarence Darrow cited Breasted's landmark Ancient Times for its archaeological evidence of evolution, while prosecutor William Jennings Bryan blasted Breasted as an example of the pernicious falsehoods that challenge Christian faith. When Charles Walgreen criticized the University of Chicago for "teaching communism", Breasted told reporters that Walgreen was "among the dangerous men of our time". But he was also known for a conciliatory, diplomatic manner that no doubt helped him in his dealings with Middle Eastern authorities -- when Howard Carter, after discovering Tutankhamun's tomb, felt the Egyptian government was interfering with his work, he called on the internationally known Breasted to mediate a resolution.

Father: Charles Breasted (hardware merchant)
Mother: Harriet Newell Garrison Breasted
Wife: Frances Hart Breasted (d. 1934)
Son: Charles Breasted (author)
Son: James Henry Breasted Jr. (art historian, d. 1983)
Wife: Imogen Hart Richmond Breasted (b. 1884, m. 1935)

    University: North Central College (1882)
    University: BA Pharmacy, Chicago College of Pharmacy (attended, 1882-86)
    Theological: Chicago Theological Seminary (attended 1887-88)
    University: MA Oriental History, Yale University (1891)
    University: PhD Egyptology, University of Berlin (1894)
    Teacher: Archaology, University of Chicago (1894-1905)
    Administrator: Director of Oriental Institute, University of Chicago (1901-33)
    Professor: Egyptology and Oriental History, University of Chicago (1905-33)

    National Academy of Sciences 1923
    American Historical Association President (1928-30)

Author of books:
A History of Egypt from the Earliest Times to the Persian Conquest (1905)
Ancient Records of Egypt (1906)
Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt (1912)
Ancient Times: A History of the Early World (1916)
Oriental Forerunners of Byzantine Painting (1924)
The Conquest of Civilization (1926)
The Dawn of Conscience (1933)


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