Biography and History

The Department of Oriental Studies was formed at Princeton University in the spring of 1927 as the Department of Oriental Languages and Literature. The recommendation that was approved by the Trustees in January reads as follows: "That there be instituted a Department of Oriental Languages and Literature, primarily for the purpose of the coordination of graduate instruction and research in the fields of Semitic and Indo-European philology. It is not the intention that a set of undergraduate courses be organized in this Department, so that an upperclassman may elect the Department as his field of special study, as in the case of other Departments."

The institution of such a department was the natural outgrowth of pockets of interest which had existed on campus for many years. The archaeological excavations of Professor of Architecture Howard Crosby Butler to Syria, Anatolia, and other locations in the first decade of the twentieth century had endowed the University with an ample collection of artifacts, making it a center of knowledge in the field. Similarly, the efforts of collector Robert Garrett 1897 in the first half of the twentieth century supplied Princeton with the basis for the largest collection of Islamic manuscripts in North America.

Among faculty, the individual who assumed leadership of the department at the time of its founding was Harold H. Bender, professor of Indo-German Philology. Other notable early faculty members associated with the department include Edmund Yard Robbins, specialist in Sanskrit, and Philip K. Hitti, who succeeded Bender as chairman.

The Department of Oriental Languages and Literature continued to offer study exclusively on the graduate level until World War II, when language courses were opened to servicemen as part of the University's special army and navy training programs. World events led to a surge of interest in the languages and culture of the region, which led to the formation of the Program in Near Eastern Studies in 1945. The interdisciplinary program, under the supervision of the Department, offered undergraduates the opportunity to elect Near Eastern Studies as their field of concentration. Graduate study more narrowly focused on the Near East was also moved under the auspices of the program at this time. Acting as chairman for the program in Near Eastern Studies (and for the Department of Oriental Studies after 1954) was T. Cuyler Young, a specialist in Turkish.

Both the Department of Oriental Languages and Literature and its subsidiary Near Eastern Studies Program formulated a curriculum that recognized the Arabic, Turkish, and Persian languages as the core of a greater understanding of the religion, culture, history, and art of the regions in which they were spoken. As one of the few departments in the United States to undertake such studies, the department became quite well-known and demand for instruction was high. A sponsored summer seminar in Arabic and Islamic studies beginning in 1935 attracted individuals from all fields of academia, and beginning in 1940, annual Near East conferences brought scholars from the international community to Princeton each year.

To reflect its broadening scope of interests the Department of Oriental Languages and Literatures changed its title to the Department of Oriental Studies in 1959-1960. In 1961 a growing number of classes in East Asian languages and culture led to the formation of a similar interdisciplinary program in that field. Much as the resource of the Garrett manuscripts had served as an impetus for the original Oriental Studies curriculum, the East Asian Studies program drew heavily on the Gest Oriental Library.

In 1969 full departmental status was bestowed upon both the Program in Near Eastern Studies and the Program in East Asian Studies, which resulted in the dissolution of the Department of Oriental Studies.

Source: From the finding aid for AC164

  • Department of Near Eastern Studies Records. 1933-2004 (inclusive).

    Call Number: AC164

    The Department of Oriental Studies was formed at Princeton University in the spring of 1927 as the Department of Oriental Languages and Literature. It offered an interdisciplinary curriculum centered on the study of the Arabic, Turkish, and Persian languages and the regions in which they were spoken until 1969, when it was reorganized into the separate Departments of Near Eastern Studies and East Asian Studies. The records consist of correspondence, memoranda, printed materials, course syllabi, and other materials which document the activities of the department and it's faculty inside and outside of the classroom.

  • Department of Near Eastern Studies Records. 1933-2004 (inclusive).

    Call Number: AC164

    The Department of Oriental Studies was formed at Princeton University in the spring of 1927 as the Department of Oriental Languages and Literature. It offered an interdisciplinary curriculum centered on the study of the Arabic, Turkish, and Persian languages and the regions in which they were spoken until 1969, when it was reorganized into the separate Departments of Near Eastern Studies and East Asian Studies. The records consist of correspondence, memoranda, printed materials, course syllabi, and other materials which document the activities of the department and it's faculty inside and outside of the classroom.