Post-Doc: Writing in Early Mesopotamia, University of Chicago

November 19th, 2011 | by mihai |

The Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago invite applications for a two-year post-doctoral fellowship associated with the launch of the Writing in Early Mesopotamia Project. The Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the rank of Instructor will be appointed in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations in affiliation with the Oriental Institute. Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the fellowship will extend from the Fall of 2012 through the Spring of 2014. In addition to conducting research in connection with the project and pursuing independent research goals, the Mellon Fellow/Instructor is expected to teach two courses per year: a specialized graduate seminar, which would preferably be text oriented and centered upon Sumerian and/or Akkadian sources; and a broader, survey course concerned with writing and writing systems, appropriate for undergraduates and non-specialists.
The Writing in Early Mesopotamia Project represents a new initiative of the Assyriological faculty. The project endeavors to provide a comprehensive and detailed description of cuneiform writing from the first appearance of texts in the second half of the fourth millennium BC through the Old Babylonian period (c. 1600 BC). The project will investigate early cuneiform writing from the perspective of both language –– how sound and meaning are systematically organized and represented in time –– and semiotics –– the origin, shape, and history of the symbols that comprise the system. Specific issues to be addressed include: assessing orthographic depth and the extent of logography as a function of time, register, and genre; the origins and propagation of phonograms; the extent to which phonological and morphophonemic structure can be extracted from writing; the adaptation of the Sumerian script to express Semitic languages; the typology of cuneiform graphs; graphic strategies for distinguishing semantic fields and the motivations governing complex graphs (e.g., diri compounds); and problems of modern transliteration. As the project will also consider early Mesopotamian writing within its broader social and cultural context, it will explore the interaction between writing and scribal training and transmission, as well as issues of literacy and Sumero-Akkadian bilingualism. Taking a typological and interdisciplinary approach, the project will consider these problems within the context of the taxonomy of writing systems more generally and of the other early “pristine” writing systems (i.e., the Egyptian, Chinese, and Mesoamerican systems) in particular, and will draw upon psycho- and computational linguistics, as well as cognitive science, semiotics, and information theory.
The Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow will participate in collecting, organizing, and analyzing data, as well as publishing the project’s results. As the project is still in its initial phases, the Fellow will be actively involved in the design of the project and drafting grant proposals. Future collaboration with the project following the two-year tenure of the fellowship is a desideratum.
Applicants must hold a Ph.D. in cuneiform studies and have a demonstrated competence in Sumerian and Akkadian writing and grammar. As per the requirements of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Ph.D. must have been received within five academic years previous to the year of the award, hence no earlier than 2007. Because the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship is a residential program, recipients must commit to relocating to the Chicago area for the two-year duration of the award. Persons holding tenure-track appointments are ineligible to apply.
Complete application materials include a cover letter detailing research interests and qualifications, a CV, and three (3) letters of recommendation. The cover letter and CV must be uploaded to the Academic Career Opportunities Website (, posting 01082, or
Referees must submit their letters of recommendation through the Academic Careers website per above (strongly preferred), or by mail to: Adrianne Renberg, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, 1155 E. 58th St., Chicago IL 60637.
No application materials including letters of recommendation will be accepted after February 1st, 2012.
Questions may be sent through the Academic Careers website ( (preferred) or to with the subject heading “Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship.”
Position contingent upon final budgetary approval.
The University of Chicago is an Affirmative Action / Equal Opportunity Employer.

(Posted by Foy Scalf,

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