David Schloen is a Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology in the Oriental Institute and Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations of the University of Chicago, where he is also an Associated Faculty member of the Divinity School. He specializes in the archaeology and history of the Levant in the Bronze and Iron Ages (ca. 3500 to 300 BCE). His archaeological fieldwork began at Ashkelon in Israel, where he served as associate director and co-edited the series of excavation reports. He has also conducted excavations at Yaqush, a village of the Early Bronze Age (3500–2500 BCE) on the northern Jordan River in Israel, and at Alalakh near Antakya (Antioch) in Turkey, a prominent city of the Middle and Late Bronze Ages (2000–1200 BCE); and he has ongoing excavation projects at Sam’al (Zincirli) in Turkey and at the Canaanite-Phoenician site of Tell Keisan near Haifa in Israel. His aim is to synthesize archaeological and textual evidence to understand the early cities and kingdoms of the Eastern Mediterranean and how they were organized, socially and economically.
Much of his research and teaching is concerned with Canaanite, Phoenician, and Israelite culture and the structural transformations of the first millennium BCE, which wrought fundamental changes in society and economy in the period before the classical Greek and Roman empires. He is interested in the interaction between mundane social practices and the shared metaphors and narratives that sustained, and were sustained by, those practices—as in his book on The House of the Father as Fact and Symbol, which examines the intertwined ideological and material dimensions of ancient patriarchal households on various social scales using Max Weber’s concept of “patrimonialism,” seen through the lens of more recent hermeneutical theory. The need to examine the philosophical assumptions that underlie archaeological interpretations, and the failure by many archaeologists to understand the important differences among competing theoretical paradigms, have provoked a book he is writing on Understanding Ancient Societies: Five Paradigms of Social Thought and Their Impact in Archaeology and Ancient History. He has another book in progress on The Bible and Archaeology, which explores the fraught relationship between archaeological research and biblical interpretation in light of the most recent work in both fields, with particular attention to the historical reality (or not) of the characters and events portrayed in biblical narratives.
David Schloen is also the Director of the University of Chicago’s Program in Digital Studies of Language, Culture, and History. Before going into archaeology and biblical studies, he studied computer science and cognitive psychology and worked as a computer programmer; thus he has a strong interest in digital humanities, especially the phenomenological critique of disembodied artificial intelligence and the use of “top-level” formal ontologies for semantic integration of data across diverse projects and recording systems. In tandem with his archaeological research and in collaboration with Sandra Schloen, who developed the software, he helped create the Online Cultural and Historical Research Environment (OCHRE). This is a multi-project, multi-lingual, and professionally managed computational platform that implements an innovative top-level ontology defined at a high level of abstraction. The OCHRE ontology subsumes scholars’ local ontologies and allows a highly granular interlinking and integration of all kinds of data—textual, numeric, visual, sonic, spatial, and temporal—within a common graph database schema.
The OCHRE platform was developed and tested in close collaboration with several archaeological and textual research projects. It supports all stages of scholarly research, from the initial acquisition of a project’s data in the field or library through the stages of data integration, analysis, and publication, up to the final archiving of the data in standard formats for long-term preservation and re-use. Most importantly, OCHRE respects the deeply rooted practices of semantic autonomy in the humanities by directly modeling a project’s own terminology and conceptual distinctions. It avoids any attempt forcibly to standardize ontologies across multiple projects while still permitting semantic mappings across many projects for large-scale querying and analysis, thereby upholding the hermeneutical claim that meaning depends on context. (See the article by David and Sandra Schloen in Digital Humanities Quarterly, “Beyond Gutenberg: Transcending the Document Paradigm in Digital Humanities.”)
Recent & Regularly Taught Courses
- DIGS 20007/30007 Introduction to Digital Humanities
- JWSC 20121/30121 The Bible and Archaeology
- NEAA 20003/30003 Archaeology of the Ancient Levant
- NEAA 20100/30100 Archaeological Methods and Interpretations
- NEAA 20331/30331 Households, Kinship, and Demography in the Ancient Near East
- NEAA 20332/30332 Trade and Exchange in the Ancient Near East
- NEHC 20010/30010 Social Theory and Near Eastern Studies