UC Berkeley establishes Visiting Faculty Start-Up Fund for Assyrian Studies

May 1, 2020

A new start-up fund will allow the University of California, Berkeley to bring Assyrian studies into the curriculum by supporting visiting faculty, courses, digital projects, and conferences, the campus announced. The efforts, made possible by a $675,000 gift from Nora Betyousef Lacey, will include support for a visiting faculty member in the Department of Near Eastern Studies in the College of Letters and Science. At the discretion of the dean of the Division of Arts and Humanities, the fund may be shared jointly with the Department of History.

A search for a visiting faculty member will begin in the fall and a selection by spring 2020, with the goal of having someone in place in fall 2020. “Nora Lacey’s gift is unique in its open-minded approach and broad-based thinking about Assyrian Studies,” said Francesca Rochberg, chair of Near Eastern Studies. “As a designated field, Assyrian Studies does not have the kind of footing in the American academy that it deserves.”

The gift will advance this diverse field of study at a critical time, according to Rochberg. “Diaspora Studies is a relatively recent development of the late 20th century,” she said. “The field of Assyriology, that is the study of ancient Assyria, exists in relative isolation from the fields that focus on later periods in the Assyrian collective experience, from the Christian period onward. Ultimately all these areas can be brought into relation with one another just as any field with a continuity of language, literature, and history brings its disparate parts together into a single recognized field of study.” Lacy is a scientist and founder and president of Cell Marque Corp. Her father, Avimalek Betyousef, was an international attorney who lived in Abadan, Iran before moving to the United States in 1985. He died in 2015. Betyousef was a scholar, poet, and author of a text titled History of Assyrian Law. He was passionate about Assyrian heritage and studies, establishing a legacy as a philanthropist.

Full statement from Francesca Rochberg, department chair:

The Near Eastern Studies Department is proud to be the recipient of a new gift for the development of studies in Assyrian culture, language, and history.  We are grateful to our donor, Nora Betyousef Lacey, who has generously committed funds for an initial three-year visiting faculty position in order to develop such a new program. We are eager to see this program take shape around the new faculty member, who will teach, conduct research in his or her own field, and engage actively with the Bay Area Assyrian community.
Nora Betyousef Lacey, daughter of the late Avimalek Betyousef of Iran, is a scientist in the field of biotechnology, and is founder and president of Cell Marque Corporation. She, like her father, is a philanthropist and advocate for Assyrian culture, heritage, and history. 
The Assyrians of northern Iraq are perhaps best known as the first empire-builders of the ancient world.  Less well known is the history of the Assyrian people after the fall of the imperial Assyrian state in 612 BC. This means more than 2500 years of continuous tradition of language and culture from antiquity into modernity, which includes important developments during the Roman/Parthian period, the Early Christian Period, as well as during the periods of Ummayad, Abbasid, and Ottoman Rule. The study of Assyrian history, as well as the language, arts, and cultures of Assyria and the Assyrians has found its way into various academic fields, but surely deserves a dedicated area of study unto its own. 
The history of the modern Assyrian Diaspora begins in the 19th century. Most recently, following the wars in Iraq and Syria, another large part of the Assyrian community was displaced, and there are sizeable Assyrian populations across the United States, among them in the Bay Area and Central Valley. The history of the Assyrian people is, therefore, also an important subject area for Diaspora Studies, which analyzes and focuses much needed attention on the phenomenon of dispersed ethnic populations around the world.