The Department of Near Eastern Studies was one of the original departments when the Johns Hopkins University was founded. The department was originally modeled after the German system with Paul Haupt, a renowned Sumerologist and Assyriologist from Leipzig and Göttingen, holding the W. W. Spence Chair in Semitic Languages.
The Spence Chair was next held by Haupt’s student, William Foxwell Albright, who was one of the most influential scholars of the 20th century. Albright taught at Hopkins for three decades (1929-1958). For a dozen years he was also the director of the American Schools of Oriental Research in Jerusalem. Founded in 1900, it is the oldest American research center in the Middle East and in 1970 was renamed The W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in his honor.
Albright was known for his encyclopedic knowledge of the entire ancient Near East. Albright helped authenticate the Dead Sea Scrolls along with his student and later colleague at Hopkins, Samuel Iwry. Albright was a leading authority in the fields of epigraphy, the Hebrew Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls, newly discovered alphabetic-cuneiform texts from Syria (written in the language of Ugaritic), and especially material culture where he was acknowledged to be the Dean of Biblical Archaeology. His masterful command of the entire ancient Near East resulted in more than 1,000 publications and 29 honorary degrees. Three generations of Albright’s students would go on to hold professorships at the most prestigious universities in America and abroad.
Since Albright’s time, the department has grown in its areas of expertise and is considered one of the leading institutions for the study of the ancient Near East.