National Institute Experience "The Presence of the Past" at the Morgan Library on May 15th


On Wednesday, May 15, the National Institute hosted a remarkable evening at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York. 

Sidney Babcock, the Jeannette and Jonathan Rosen Curator and Department Head of Ancient Near Eastern Seals and Tablets, led a select group of guests through the history and significance of the Morgan’s collection of Mesopotamian cylinder seals, which John Pierpont Morgan began assembling in the 1880s. This was an unusual interest at the time, and reflected Morgan’s sophistication as a collector. At his death, his collection numbered more than 1,200 of these ancient seals.

Dr. Babcock has spent 25 years at the Morgan curating this collection, now recognized as one of the world’s most significant assemblages of Mesopotamian cylinder seals. He is world renowned for his work collecting and interpreting these rare artifacts. 

In a wide-ranging discussion, Dr. Babcock addressed the significance of these seals in antiquity, the 19th-century European frenzy for Middle Eastern antiquities that led to their rediscovery, to the Morgan’s leadership in Mesopotamian seal scholarship during the 20th century. 

This special event was part of the National Institute’s ongoing efforts to sponsor events and programs that address topics of enduring interest. 

About the National Institute of Social Sciences
Established in 1912, the National Institute of Social Sciences ( is a voluntary association of public-spirited citizens who explore issues of urgent and lasting concern. One of the nation’s oldest honorary societies, the National Institute sponsors speeches, discussions, and events that encourage balanced, non-partisan debate and discussion; celebrates distinguished Americans and world leaders who have contributed at the highest level to the welfare and improvement of society; and provides financial support to emerging scholars who are conducting research in the social sciences.