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  Mary Ruth Yoe

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Martha Roth, Oriental Institute

The number on Martha Roth's office door is painted in gold, outlined in black, and belongs to an earlier era. Inside Room 325 of the Oriental Institute, Roth is at work on another product of an earlier time, editing the ".T" (pronounced "tet") volume of the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary (CAD). Begun in 1921 by James Henry Breasted, the CAD project is a comprehensive compilation of the dialects of Akkadian, the earliest known Semitic language recorded on cuneiform texts, dating from c. 2400 bc to 100 ad.

image: Danielle Allen, Classics
Martha Roth, Oriental Institute

Roth, a professor in the Oriental Institute, Near Eastern languages & civilizations, the ancient Mediterranean world, Jewish studies, and the College, has been with the project since she came to Chicago in 1979. In 1996, she was named editor-in-charge, following in the footsteps of longtime editors Erica Reiner, PhD'55 (1973-96) and A. Leo Oppenheim (1955-73). In 1955, 34 years after Breasted began work, Oppenheim produced the series' first volume, No. 9, covering the phonemes associated in English with the letter "H." From then on, the publishing pace has been measured, but steady.

The end, says Roth, is in sight. In April, Volume "R" appeared, and two volumes, covering the "P" and "T" phonemes, are in press this summer, scheduled to appear in 2002. Meanwhile, three research associates, supported by a three-year, $475,000 National Endowment for the Humanities grant that began in July, are ready to draft the final volume, covering the sounds represented by "U" and "W."

Despite changing interpretations in the scholarly world since the appearance of the "H" volume, the editors hold fast to the standards it set. "We have to stick with the conventions of the first volume," Roth says, "because a new volume doesn't stand alone," but is seen in the same context as all the volumes that have come before. Could there be another dictionary project, taking advantage of later scholarly perspectives? "The world is different," Roth responds. "Having done this, we have changed the world."

Instead, she envisions "smaller projects, taken on by scholars interested in the dialects of a geographical area, a particular temporal movement, or a literary genre-scientific texts or letters from the Old Babylonian period." Such smaller projects, she estimates, should take about 20 years-though she won't be undertaking one herself.

Martha Roth's own academic specialty is family and legal history in Mesopotamia (every other year, she teaches a course at the Law School), and she's finishing up several articles on those subjects. She's also doing an independent study with an undergraduate who's studying Mesopotamian literature. When the dictionary is finished, she says happily, "I'll do a lot more teaching."

For now, it's back to the dictionary, with no trace of regret. "It's a 12-month-a-year project," Roth says, comparing the editor's role to that of a lab scientist tending an experiment: "You can't go away and leave it for a while."

Laura Letinsky, Committee on the Visual Arts

Switching on the computer in her Gates-Blake office, crowded with her color photographs, framed and unframed, Laura Letinsky, an associate professor in the Committee on Visual Arts, admits that it's been weeks since she's been able to check her e-mail. "This is scary," she says, retrieving the messages. For the past few weeks, she's been concentrating on moving with her husband and their almost 2-year-old son to the home they just bought in Hyde Park.

image: Steve Kaplan, GSB

Laura Letinsky, Committee on the Visual Arts

The move wasn't out of the ordinary- "I've moved almost every year." What's made the summer atypical is the convergence of projects. Recently named a Guggenheim fellow, Letinsky will spend the coming academic term traveling in Italy while working on a series of domestic still lifes she calls Morning, and Melancholy. The series, she says, "grew fairly organically" out of another series, Venus Inferred. A book of photographs from that series-images she describes as "large and visually lush color photographs of heterosexual couples," including herself and her husband-will be published this fall by the University of Chicago Press. Her work also appears in three group shows this summer, one in New York and two in Chicago, with a solo show from the Morning, and Melancholy project in Chicago this fall.

Her Venus Inferred series "is about romance and love," Letinsky says, "trying to deal with the desire for a kind of idealized love story, while recognizing the fact that that's an impossibility." Her new series moves "from the couples to the world that the couples created: the way you try to stage 'home' and what home means to you. And, again, it portrays the wanting of your world to be beautiful but also the kinds of compromises one must make.

"I've been wanting to make pictures about the aftermath," Letinsky continues, "the loss of this idealized moment, not in a way that was filled with desperation or disappointment but in a way that also shows, still, a kind of aspiration."

So far, the photographs for the new series have been of her own domestic spaces: "I am a material person-I like objects, and I've always enjoyed secondhand shopping and collecting things that I think are really beautiful. I'll find a gorgeous ceramic green vase and then another antique that has a chip in it. It's still beautiful but it's obsolete because nobody no longer wants it." One such found and photographed object is "a blue vase that I picked up for 25 cents at a flea market-it's a turquoise blue crackle-glaze vase that I really love."

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