Albert T. Clay, Curator 1910-1925
As a graduate student in Assyriology at the University of Pennsylvania, Clay dreamed of a professorship and a museum collection, but opportunities were few. Clay interested America’s leading financier, J. Pierpont Morgan, in Babylonian antiquities and helped him build a collection of tablets and cylinder seals in his Morgan Library. Thanks to Morgan’s gift to Yale, Clay founded the Yale Babylonian Collection and served as its curator until his death in 1925.
Ettalene Grice, Acting Curator 1925-1926
Ettalene Grice was the first woman to receive a doctorate in Assyriology at Yale (1917). Thereafter, she worked as Clay’s assistant, becoming Acting Curator upon his death. She did most of the work on various projects Clay proposed, such as compiling an enormous card file of what cuneiform signs were used in different periods, a Sumerian and an Akkadian dictionary, an encyclopedia of Assyriology, and a “library” of translations of ancient texts to be published by the Yale University Press. None of these projects came to pass. While the Collection was in the Osborn Laboratory, Grice kept it open to the public for a salary of $1.25 a day.
Raymond P. Dougherty, Curator 1926-1933
Dougherty received his Ph.D. from Yale in 1918 and was named Clay’s successor to the Laffan Professorship in 1926. During a survey of southern Iraq, Dougherty befriended Gertrude Bell, director of the Iraqi Antiquities Service, and secured from her permission to excavate the great site of Uruk in southern Babylonia. However, Yale could not muster the expertise and resources to undertake a professional archaeological project in Iraq.
Ferris J. Stephens, Curator 1933-1962
Stephens received his Ph.D. from Yale in 1925 and was appointed to the Yale faculty in 1928. He dedicated the rest of his career to building the Babylonian Collection and published two large volumes of its holdings. With Albrecht Goetze, he collaborated on a project to record small collections of cuneiform tablets throughout North America, eventually compiling data on more than 3000 tablets in hundreds of public and private collections.
Albrecht Goetze, Curator 1962-1963
Dismissed from his professorship in Marburg by the Nazi government, Goetze was invited to Yale in 1934. Goetze was a dominating figure in Indo-European linguistics, Hittite, and Assyriology for half a century. From his office in the Collection, he founded and edited America’s first periodical devoted to Assyriology, the Journal of Cuneiform Studies. His 1947 publication of an important group of tablets in the Collection dealing with Babylonian divination was a triumph of decipherment, as they were large, difficult to read, and arcane in their subject matter.
William W. Hallo, Curator 1963-2002
Hallo received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1955 and was appointed to the Yale faculty in 1962. He continued to build the Collection library, oversaw the preparation of its first catalogue, founded a new publication series, Yale Near Eastern Researches, and produced a steady stream of books and articles on both cuneiform and biblical studies. Under his aegis, Yale became one of the most active and productive centers for the study of the ancient Near East in the world.
Benjamin R. Foster, Curator 2002-2017
Foster received his Ph.D. from Yale in 1975. As Curator, he has concentrated his efforts on conservation, completion of the electronic database, carrying on the publication series, cataloguing the library, and encouraging qualified scholars to publish Collection materials. Through public exhibits, lecture tours, and other initiatives, he has worked to raise the Collection’s public profile. He has also written several major studies setting the history of the Collection within the larger context of the development of ancient Near East scholarship in American universities.