Christopher Woods appointed director of Penn Museum

Christopher Woods stands in front of museum artifact in the background.
Christopher Woods will begin his position as director of the Penn Museum on April 1. (Image: John Zich)

Christopher Woods has been named the Williams Director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, effective April 1. The announcement was made today by President Amy Gutmann and Provost Wendell Pritchett.

Woods is John A. Wilson Professor of Sumerology at the University of Chicago and director of the Oriental Institute, one of the world’s leading centers for interdisciplinary research on Near East civilizations. Founded in 1919, the Oriental Institute is the largest center of its kind in the world, with the largest collection of ancient Middle Eastern artifacts in the United States and sponsoring 12 field projects across the Middle East and Central Asia. The Oriental Institute Museum, comprehensively renovated and reinstalled for its 2019 centennial, houses more than 350,000 artifacts and offers extensive public programs and publications.

“An experienced and collaborative leader and award-winning scholar who believes deeply in the power of museums to connect past to present, Chris Woods is an ideal choice to lead the Penn Museum,” said Gutmann.

Woods served as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Near Eastern Studies from 2009 to 2020 and has published a wide range of scholarly books and articles, spanning such areas as Sumerian language and writing, the origin and development of writing and writing systems, and early Mesopotamian history, literature, religion, and state formation. His work has been supported by grants from the U.S. Department of State, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, among many others. After earning a Ph.D. in Assyriology from Harvard University and a B.S. in physics from Yale University, he was appointed to the Harvard Society of Fellows in 2000 before joining the University of Chicago in 2002.

“Chris Woods comes to Penn at a pivotal moment,” said Pritchett, “when our great Museum is more vital and contemporary than ever. An eminent museum director who is also a distinguished scholar, he is the ideal leader to help us shape, for a new decade, the Museum’s historic educational mission: illuminating the present and the future by helping us to better understand—and vividly experience—our collective past.”

“Chris is passionately committed to the Museum’s essential missions of research, teaching, and public outreach and engagement,” Gutmann said. “He is taking the helm at a time of great transformation and excitement for the nation’s finest university archeological museum. From its recently renovated and reimagined galleries of the Middle East, Africa, and Mexico and Central America, to the launch of the groundbreaking Center for the Analysis of Archaeological Materials, to the creation of interactive and hands-on learning opportunities for our region’s schoolchildren, the Penn Museum continues to show a tremendous capacity for growth and reinvention. Chris’s excellent track record at the University of Chicago Oriental Institute is proof positive of his ability to provide visionary leadership, and we are most fortunate to bring him to Penn.”