Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East founded

Orientalism and the study of Islam 1889

Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East Founded

Today's Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East was founded in 1889 as the Harvard Semitic Museum by Assyriologist David Gordon Lyon, first Hollis Professor of Divinity and later Hancock Professor of Hebrew and Other Oriental Languages, for teaching and research related to the ancient Near East. In the same year, Lyon’s mentor and friend, Crawford Toy, proposed the establishment of a Semitic Fund to purchase manuscripts and other materials in Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac, and other Near Eastern languages for Harvard. A gift from Jacob H. Schiff, a Jewish investment banker and philanthropist from New York, made the establishment of the Semitic Fund and Museum possible. Professor Lyon assembled the original collections between 1889 and 1929, during which period he travelled to the Ottoman lands of Cairo, Beirut, Damascus, and Jerusalem to purchase hundreds of ancient artifacts and manuscripts. Although the Semitic Museum was established for the study of the Near East before Islam, its founding demonstrated Harvard’s commitment to the study of the “Orient” and became a means for its first significant interactions with Muslim societies. In 2020, the Museum was re-named the "Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East" to more clearly reflect its core mission.

David Gordon Lyon in Samaria
David Gordon Lyon (white-bearded) on an excursion in Samaria in 1908