The collegiate cancel mob expunged Woodrow Wilson from Princeton University and yanked the name of John C. Calhoun—whom a John F. Kennedy-led committee described as one of the five most outstanding senators in American history—off a college at Yale University. Now, historical incineration has reached the University of Chicago, where the on-campus Oriental Institute will change its name amid a national and international campaign against variations of the word “Orient.”
“The institute’s new change and logo will be debuted at an April 4 reception at the museum, which is located at 1155 E. 58th St.,” reports the Hyde Park Herald.
The Oriental Institute has roots dating back to 1896, when UChicago’s Department of Semitic Languages moved into the Haskell Oriental Museum, and the institute officially came into being in 1919. But nothing is permanent amid the West’s iconoclastic fervor. The Herald quotes Theo van den Hout, the institute’s interim director, as saying that “the word ‘oriental’ has developed a pejorative connotation in modern English.”
“Our current name has caused confusion, often contributing to the perception that our work is focused on East Asia, rather than West Asia and North Africa,” van den Hout reportedly added.
Approvingly, the Herald observes, “OI joins a succession of other international museums and research institutions rebranding to address their derogatory origins” (emphasis mine).
Oriental Institute founder James Henry Breasted, who “stressed the significance of the ancient civilizations of the Near East and Egypt and emphasized their profound contributions to the foundations of the Western civilization,” may have been surprised to hear that the foundations of his institute were derogatory.
And faced with van den Hout’s charge that the institute’s “current name has caused confusion,” Breasted might have proposed edification instead of eradication. Should Latin phrases and Lincolnian historical allusions be eradicated from the American lexicon because some do not want to resort to a dictionary or encyclopedia? By the same token, shouldn’t the Oriental Institute simply inform visitors online and physical of the motivation for its century-old name?
Sadly, the ivory tower deems destructive intellectual laziness to be far preferable to the hard work of critically presenting the past. Winston Churchill diagnosed this phenomenon long ago when he reputedly said, “To build may have to be the slow and laborious task of years. To destroy can be the thoughtless act of a single day.”
* The views expressed in this article solely represent the views of the author, not the views of the Chicago Thinker.