The University of Chicago Archaeology Nexus is a network of collaboration in research and teaching among a large and diverse body of scholars whose interests center on archaeology. UCAN unites faculty and graduate students from multiple academic units spread over the humanities and social sciences. It was founded in order to cut across traditional boundaries, foster a sense of community, share resources, and promote interdisciplinary communication, cooperation, and creative innovation. Consequently, UCAN defines the field of archaeology broadly, welcoming all those who produce or use archaeological data, as well as those who are concerned with archaeological questions, methods, and epistemologies.
UCAN has a global perspective: faculty and graduate students conduct research on nearly every continent of the planet, in time periods ranging from prehistory to the present. Moreover, the range of thematic interests and theoretical approaches is wide. Themes such as the comparative analysis of colonialism, material culture theory, landscape studies, environmental history, urbanism, economic history, politics and power, foodways, aesthetics, heritage, identity, memory, the history and sociology of archaeology, and the contemporary use of the past are particularly prominent and engage scholars from multiple disciplines. UCAN also facilitates the sharing of laboratories and training in the techniques of archaeological analysis, from bioarchaeology and remote sensing to materially oriented ethnography and media.
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Archaeology has a deep and distinguished history at the University of Chicago, dating back to the founding of the University in the late 19th century and including the invention of the Carbon 14 dating technique in the 1940s (which won the Nobel Prize for Willard Libby). The origins of the Oriental Institute can be traced to the formation of the Haskell Oriental Museum in 1896 (in a building that is now home to the Anthropology Department). The Museum soon embarked on a course of pathbreaking, large-scale, long-term research expeditions throughout the Near East, and this expanded especially after the official foundation of the Oriental Institute in 1919, under the famous James Henry Breasted (the first American to receive a PhD in Egyptology). Similarly, the study of Anthropology emerged in the 1890s at Chicago under the leadership of Frederick Starr, and by the 1920s the Department of Anthropology had begun to pioneer the development of a new anthropological archaeology under Fay-Cooper Cole. Classical archaeology also was part of UChicago from the beginning, as Frank Bigelow Tarbell became the first professor of that subject in 1893. The profound influence of Chicago Archaeology is exemplified in many features, from the interdisciplinary research model practiced in the grand project of the "comparative study of cultures and civilizations" animated by Robert Redfield, Robert McCormick Adams, and Robert Braidwood, to the long list of distinguished alumni trained at Chicago, including most of the architects of the "New Archaeology" of the 1960s. That tradition of creative innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, and constant reinvention has continued to the present, as UCAN helps to push the boundaries of an archaeology for the 21st century. For more information, see the historical photos on the ancestors and history pages.