Department of Middle Eastern Studies
Department of Middle Eastern Studies

John Huehngergard Awarded Honorary Doctorate from the University of Chicago

John Huehnergard Awarded Honorary Doctorate

The Deparrtment of Middle Eastern Studies is proud to announce Professor John Huehnergard has been awarded a Doctor of Human Letters from the University of Chicago. Professor Huehnergard and seven other distinguished scholars will received their honorary degrees at the University’s 519th Convocation on June 14.

The University of Chicago describes Professor Huehnergard as, “a widely admired scholar of Semitic languages and linguistics, historical linguistics, writing systems and ancient Near Eastern history.”

Professor Huehnergard was shocked by the news of his award. He explains, “I do research on the Semitic languages of the Near East, especially the really dead ones, such as the cuneiform language of Hammurabi, and people in my line of work don’t get normally honorary degrees.”

When asked about what this honor means to him, Professor Huehnergard said:

The field of Semitic philology — the study of the world’s oldest-attested language family — was not thriving when I got my Ph.D. thirty-five years ago, and I felt lucky to get a teaching job. But a few of us have had some success reviving the field, thanks especially to the brilliant students with whom we have had the privilege of working. So one of most important things this degree means to me is the recognition it brings to our small but ancient corner of the humanities. And I hope that recognition will inspire confidence in current and future students that it is an area of study worth pursuing. There are still thousands of cuneiform texts waiting to be read, and thousands of Arabian inscriptions and Ethiopian manuscripts.

It also means a lot to me that this degree is from the University of Chicago. I received my Ph.D. from Harvard, which is a pretty good school. But the center, the heart of my field of study is, and has always been, Chicago’s Oriental Institute and Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations — many of the congratulatory messages I received about the honorary degree added the phrase “and from Chicago!” — and so it means all the more that my colleagues there nominated me for this wonderful honor.

My wife, Professor Jo Ann Hackett, and I have been a scholarly team since grad school, and we are still each other’s first and best critics, so she has a very large claim to what this degree means as well. And I am also pleased for our new home at UT. COLA and DMES took a gamble five years ago in hiring us away from Harvard to help build a new graduate program in ancient studies here. They have been wonderfully supportive of us and our students, and now share in this honor, too.

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