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Northwestern University

Jeremiah S. and Helen James Lecture


Wednesday, April 10, 2024 | 7pm

Guild Lounge, Northwestern University
601 University Place, Evanston, IL 60208
Reception to follow


Assyrians in Modern Iraq: Negotiating Political and Cultural Space (Cambridge University Press, February 2022), is a monograph on twentieth-century Iraqi intellectual history based on extensive primary research from within the country. Drawing upon oral and ethnographic sources and archival documents, in Arabic and modern Aramaic, uncovered at the Iraqi National Archives in Baghdad and private collections from the north, it explores the role of minorities in Iraq’s intellectual and mostly leftist opposition. 

About Alda Benjamen

Dr. Alda Benjamen is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Dayton where she teaches courses on the modern history of the Middle East. Recently, she was the Avimalek Betyousef Faculty Fellow in the Department of History and the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to that, she was Fellow at the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress and a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania Museum and the Smithsonian. She is the research director of a cultural preservation project that documents the heritage of Assyrians and other minoritized communities in Iraq.


Thanks to the generosity of the James family, this annual lecture serves to promote understanding and scholarship of both ancient and modern Assyrian culture.

About the Jeremiah S. and Helen James Lectureship

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 McCormick Theological 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.

For additional information, contact Weinberg College Events at

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