Northwestern Events Calendar


James Lecture in Assyrian Civilization and Culture: Yağmur Heffron

When: Thursday, May 11, 2023
7:00 PM - 9:30 PM CT

Where: Harris Hall, 107, 1881 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Laura Dimitrijevic   (847) 467-3946

Group: Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences

Category: Lectures & Meetings


Excavations at the site of Kültepe (ancient Kanesh) in central Turkey, conducted since 1948, have unearthed rich archaeological and written evidence for the presence of Assyrian business firms: merchants from their home city of Ashur on the Tigris River who managed and recorded a long-distance trade in metals and textiles. Assyrian merchants also brought cuneiform literacy with them, marking the beginning of Anatolia’s written history. The letters and business documents recovered from the private archives of resident merchants at Kanesh comprise an astonishing corpus of more than 23,000 texts and fragments.
Oddly, nearly all these texts come from the earliest phase of Assyrian presence at Kanesh, while the second phase sees a drastic reduction in documentary evidence. The sharp decline in texts seems consistent with a trajectory of shrinking Assyrian business and gradual impoverishment for the town. Indeed, the third and final level of occupation prior to the site’s abandonment lacks written material altogether. Even more oddly, the second phase of occupation—when there are some but not many texts, so presumably some but not many Assyrians—is also when we witness a huge spike in the volume of gold, silver, and other precious materials deposited in graves. Is this a settlement that is flourishing or diminishing? Or is the wealth simply changing hands? Are the dead more well-off than the living?
This lecture problematizes these and other discrepancies surrounding the high archaeological visibility of grave wealth against a background of low textual visibility at Kanesh, during a time of political transformation in Anatolia’s Middle Bronze Age (ca. 2000-1500 BCE).
Trained both in archaeology and Assyriology, Yağmur Heffron is Lecturer in the History of the Ancient Middle East at University College London. She has published extensively on religious identity and ritual hybridity in ancient Anatolia, and on methodologies of integrating texts, material, and images. She has excavated at numerous sites in Turkey, including Tell Atchana/Alalakh, Kinet Höyük, Kilise Tepe, and Zincirli/Sam’al. She is currently a member of the Çadır Höyük and Uşaklı Höyük projects in central Anatolia.

The Jeremiah S. and Helen James Lectureship on Assyrian Civilization and Culture was established in 1999 by the late Helen James Schwarten, a prominent and active member of the Assyrian community. The Lectureship was conceived with the purpose of promoting understanding and scholarship of both ancient and modern Assyrian culture.
Mrs. Schwarten’s gift to Northwestern University was just one of the ways in which she expressed her commitment to the Assyrian community. She sponsored educational and cultural events for adults, endowed hundreds of college scholarships for young people, formed a library and museum, and helped countless immigrants make new lives for themselves in America. She was also a longstanding board member of the Presbyterian Homes and the McCormickTheological Seminary. As a young girl, Mrs. Schwarten fled Iran with her family and after three years arrived in the United States. A devout Presbyterian, she met her first husband, Jeremiah (Jerry) Sargis James at church.
Mr. James –also an Assyrian immigrant–came to the United States while a teenager. In 1950 he founded J.S. James & Company, a building management firm, and later the
James Investment Company. He also served as a trustee of the McCormick Theological Seminary and the Evans Scholars Foundation. Jeremiah and Helen James raised two sons, Edward and Kenneth, who have followed in their parents’ footsteps of philanthropy and devotion to the Assyrian community. Northwestern University is honored to perpetuate the educational tradition of the late Jeremiah S. James and Helen James Schwarten with this lecture series.

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