ISAW is a center for advanced scholarly research and graduate education, which aims to encourage particularly the study of the economic, religious, political and cultural connections between ancient civilizations. It offers both doctoral and postdoctoral programs, with the aim of training a new generation of scholars who will enter the global academic community and become intellectual leaders. In an effort to embrace a truly inclusive geographical scope while maintaining continuity and coherence, the Institute focuses on the shared and overlapping periods in the development of cultures and civilizations around the Mediterranean basin, and across central Asia to the Pacific Ocean. The approaches of anthropology, archaeology, geography, geology, history, economics, sociology, art history, and the history of science and technology are as integral to the enterprise as the study of texts, philosophy, and the analysis of artifacts. The Institute's Director and permanent faculty determine particular directions of research, but both historical connections and patterns, as well as socially illuminating comparisons, will always be central to its mission.
ISAW is a discrete entity within NYU, with its own endowment and its own board of trustees, like the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences and the Institute of Fine Arts.
ISAW is developing a public presence to match its vision, in part so as to make more visible the work of its scholarly community. Exhibitions, public lectures, publications, digital resources, and other programs reflect the Institute's ideal of study that bridges disciplines and ancient peoples.