Until the early 1970s, Yemen, land of the fabled Queen of Sheba and a rich source for classical and Islamic Near Eastern history, was effectively closed to foreigners. In 1970, although a new modernizing government there changed this policy, Western scholars found that field-work was being severely hampered by the lack of research facilities and materials. In 1978 the American Institute for Yemeni Studies (AIYS) was founded in Toronto to provide such field support for international scholars in all disciplines and to act as an international clearinghouse for research related to Yemen. By the 1990s other national research institutes had been established in Yemen, notably by the Italian, French, and German governments. AIYS differs from them in its broad scope of disciplinary interest and deliberately international scholarly support.
AIYS is housed at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute. Its individual membership as of 1995 was 190, drawing from scholars from around the world; there are thirty-six university and museum institutional members.
Archaeology has been a primary beneficiary of the institute. Its lead founding member and first and current president is McGuire Gibson, a Near Eastern archaeologist. The institute has undertaken archaeological projects on its own: In 1993 it carried out an archaeological survey of the proposed highway route between Marib and Shabwa and continued a second season of excavation in the vicinity of Shabwa. Its key role, however, is in providing logistic and liaison support for the numerous member teams working in the country. Several of these groups already figure prominently in the history of archaeology in Yemen. Between 1981 and 1986 the American Foundation for the Study of Man (AFSM), under Chief Archaeologist James Sauer, carried out the first modern excavation in northern Yemen (at Wadi el-Jubah) since the brief 1951 expedition of Wendell Phillips, the founder of AFSM. Under the direction of Edward Keall, In 1982 Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum began the broadest multiseason archaeological survey to date in Yemen, that of the coastal city of Zabid; excavation continued there In 1993.
AIYS also plays a major support role in UNESCO's efforts to conserve the Old City district of Yemen's capital, San῾a. AIYS publishes both a Translations and a Development monograph series. Its semiannual bulletin, Yemen Update (Chicago, 1979– ) reports on all on-going archaeological research in and concerning Yemen.
- Buringa. Joke. Bibliography on Women in Yemen. edited by Marta Collwin. AIYS, Yemen Development Series, no. 2. Portland, Ore., 1992.
- Croken, Barbara, et al. Libraries and Scholarly Resources in the Yemen Arab Republic. AIYS, Yemen Guide Series, no. 2. DeKalb, Ill., c. 1985.
- Tutwiler, Richard, and Sheila Casapico. Yemeni Agriculture and Economic Change. AIYS, Yemen Development Series, no. 1. San῾a, 1981.
- Wenner, Manfred W., and Leila N. Swanson. An Introduction to Yemen for Researchers and Scholars. AIYS, Yemen Guide Series, no. 1. DeKalb, Ill., c. 1984.