The idea of an American school of Mesopotamian archaeology in Baghdad was proposed In 1913 by George Aaron Barton to the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA). The AIA appointed a committee with Barton as chair to study the matter and, if feasible, organize the school. In 1919–1920, Albert T. Clay, annual professor at the American School for Oriental Research (ASOR) in Jerusalem, was sent to Baghdad jointly by the AIA committee and the ASOR executive committee to prepare the way for the new school; he arranged for it initially to be sheltered by the American consulate. In 1921, the Mesopotamian committee of the AIA and the executive committee of ASOR in Jerusalem jointly incorporated as the American Schools of Oriental Research, the plural “schools” being an intentional recognition of the planned Baghdad enterprise and other possible undertakings elsewhere in the Near East. In that same year, Mesopotamian committee member Morris Jastrow, Jr., died, and his widow presented the Assyriological portion of his library to the planned school; it reached Baghdad In 1924, where it formed the core of the new school's library. An earlier bequest of books from pioneer Orientalist William Ward for an anticipated American school in Baghdad seems never to have gotten beyond Philadelphia.
On 2 November 1923, Albert T. Clay inaugurated the American School of Oriental Research in Baghdad in the presence of the American consul and officials of the Iraqi and British governments. The school's first-year's program included public lectures on Babylonian history, outreach sessions with Iraqi schoolmasters, and archaeological survey work.
The Baghdad school was always more a research concept than a place. In 1926, Gertrude Bell, honorary director of antiquities for Iraq, offered the school a room for its library in the new Iraq Museum; it remains in that museum, still serving, as ASOR intended In 1926, as “the first nucleus of an archaeological library in that part of the world” (Dougherty, 1926). Despite sporadic plans and hopes, the school would have no building of its own in Baghdad; yet, it managed, over a fifty-year period, to assemble an impressive record of scholarly achievement.
The school was led by a long-term director and staffed by a variety of annual appointees, the most important being the annual professor and the (more junior) fellow. Barton, the first director, (1922–1934), was resident in the United States; subsequent directors spent varying lengths of time in Baghdad when conditions permitted: Ephraim A. Speiser (1934–1947), Albrecht Goetze (1947–1956), Vaughn Crawford (1956–1968), and Robert McC. Adams (1968–1970). Annual professors and fellows included, among others, Adams, Robert Biggs, J. A. Brinkman, Giorgio Buccellatti, Briggs Buchanan, George Cameron, Edward Chiera, A. T. Clay, Crawford, George Dales, Raymond Dougherty, Richard Ellis, McGuire Gibson, Goetze, Cyrus Gordon, Donald Hansen, Alexander Heidel, Bruce Howe, Thorkild Jacobsen, Samuel N. Kramer, Theophile Meek, Albert T. Olmstead, Edith Porada, Speiser, and Leroy Waterman. Beginning in about 1931, the school was overseen by a standing committee of the ASOR board of trustees. The school's main source of income was an endowment fund bequeathed by James B. Nies.
The school was conceived as an engine for American archaeological activity in Mesopotamia. It played that role both by enabling its directors, annual professors, and fellows to be in Iraq participating in various digs and projects and by directly sponsoring excavations, preferably with other institutions. Between the wars, the Baghdad school jointly supported work at Nuzi with the Iraq Museum and Harvard University; at Tepe Gawra with the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania and Dropsie College; at Tell Billa and Khafajeh with the University Museum; and at Tell ῾Umar with the University of Michigan. After World War II, the school sponsored, with the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, several campaigns at Nippur and the Iraq Prehistoric Project (together with related projects in Iran and Turkey) and the Iraq Surface Survey, as well as excavations at al-Hiba with New York University and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City).
Publications sponsored or cosponsored by the school include numerous volumes of Nuzi tablets; the excavations of Nuzi and Gawra; Neugebauer and Sachs (1945); and the following AASOR volumes: Speiser (1941); Kramer (1944); Porada (1947); and Goetze (1956). In 1947, ASOR, at the urging of the Baghdad school committee, began publishing the Journal of Cuneiform Studies, which immediately established itself as a leading Assyriological journal. It was founded by Goetze and edited by him until his death In 1971; from 1972 to 1990 it was edited by Erle Leichty. Since 1990 the editor has been Piotr Michalowski of the University of Michigan.
After 1970, as access to Iraq became more restricted and the notion of an ASOR school (or center, as it had come to be called) and professor in Baghdad less tenable, the Baghdad school committee became the committee on Mesopotamian civilization, or, as it is more commonly known, the Baghdad committee. It awards an annual Mesopotamian fellowship to pre- and postdoctoral scholars for research on ancient Mesopotamian civilization, preferably involving some residence in the Near East. It continues to oversee the publication of the Journal of Cuneiform Studies and publishes a newsletter, Mar Šipri. For several years before the Gulf war, the Committee's McAllister Fund supported excavations at Mashkan-shapir, Abu Salabikh, Tell Hamida, and Deylam.
- Dougherty, Raymond. “Reports.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 22 (1926): 1.
- Goetze, Albrecht. The Laws of Eshnunna. Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 31. New Haven, 1956.
- King, Philip J. American Archaeology in the Mideast: A History of the American Schools of Oriental Research. Philadelphia, 1983.
- Kramer, Samuel Noah. Sumerian Literary Texts. Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 23. New Haven, 1944.
- Neugebauer, Otto, and Abraham Sachs. Mathematical Cuneiform Texts. American Oriental Series, 29. New Haven, 1945.
- Porada, Edith. Seal Impressions from Nuzi. Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 24. New Haven, 1947.
- Speiser, Ephraim Avigdor. Introduction to Hurrian. Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 20. New Haven, 1941.
Jerrold S. Cooper