Imperialism and Racial Geography in James Henry Breasted’s Ancient Times, a History of the Early World*

In: Journal of Egyptian History
Lindsay J. Ambridge University of Michigan

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James Henry Breasted (1865–), founder of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, was a prolific writer of popularizing books on the ancient Near East. This article presents a critical analysis and historical contextualization of one of his most widely read books: Ancient Times, a History of the Early World. Published as a high school textbook in and revised in , it serves as a reference point from which to investigate the effects of political and cultural variables on ancient historiography. Changes between the first and second editions of the book indicate that Breasted increasingly relied on scientific vocabulary to map the geo-racial boundaries of early civilization. Combining this with a model of enlightened exploitation, Breasted constructed a vision of the ancient past that was ultimately a commentary on the socio-political conditions of his own time.

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