Oriental Institute takes a new name to reflect changing times

University of Chicago museum becomes the Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures, West Asia & North Africa.

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The lotus flower stars in the new logo of the Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures, West Asia & North Africa.

University of Chicago

The Hyde Park museum known for more than a century as the Oriental Institute has a new name: the Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures, West Asia & North Africa.

The change, announced Tuesday and effective immediately, is meant to better describe the museum’s geographic focus while dropping a term that has fallen out of favor.

“Most people who visit the Institute, when they hear Oriental Institute, they think of the Far East, China, Japan. And then when they enter the building and see the museum collection, what they see is exclusively ancient Middle Eastern art and artifacts and culture,” interim director Theo van den Hout said while announcing the switch on WTTW-Channel 11’s “Chicago Tonight.”

“The other element is that the term ‘Oriental’ over time has taken on a pejorative and negative meaning.”

The new name was chosen by a committee that has been studying the issue since 2021. The museum, based at the University of Chicago and founded in 1919, has been referring to itself as “the OI” in recent years.

Accompanying the change is a new museum logo representative of the lotus flower, which appears in the building’s architecture as well as in ancient art from West Asia and North Africa.

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