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Laura Plummer
Executive Director, William T. Patten Foundation

Last modified: Monday, January 12, 2009

Foremost Americanist Werner Sollors to speak at next Patten Foundation lectures

Jan. 12, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Werner Sollors, one of today's foremost Americanists, will present two lectures at Indiana University Bloomington next week. The Henry B. and Anne M. Cabot Professor of English and professor of African and African American studies from Harvard University, Sollors will speak on "African American Intellectuals and Europe between the Two World Wars" on Jan. 20 (Tuesday) and "'Heil, Johnny': Billy Wilder's A Foreign Affair or The Denazification of Erika von Schlütow" on Jan. 22 (Thursday). Both lectures are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in Chemistry 122.

Werner Sollars

Werner Sollars

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In his first lecture, Sollors will discuss the period during the rise of communism and its transformation into Stalinism, the emergence of fascism, and two momentous "interwar wars." He also will discuss the numerous African American intellectuals -- such as Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, Alain Locke, Horace Cayton, Langston Hughes, James Yates and W.E.B. DuBois -- who met their counterparts in Europe, and the common human misunderstandings that created a comedy of intellectuals against the climate of political violence in interwar Europe.

In his second lecture, Sollors will discuss how, on August 16, 1945, film director Billy Wilder proposed "propaganda through entertainment" to the Information Control Division of the American Military Government in Germany. He offered to make an "entertainment film, a very special love story, cleverly devised to help us sell a few ideological items." Working with a comedy that was the property of Paramount Studios, Wilder made the film A Foreign Affair (1948), starring Jean Arthur and Marlene Dietrich. Set against the background of ruined Berlin, the film deals with denazification and fraternization. Sollors will discuss how the Production Code Administration intervened and how reviewers responded to a movie that poked fun at what were undoubtedly serious issues.

In addition to being a Guggenheim and NEH Fellow, Sollors is also founder of the Longfellow Institute. His work in race studies, multilingualism in American culture, post-war America and Germany, and ethnic modernism continues to shape and revise current debates about race, language and literature. For further information on Sollors, see or

Patten Lecture Series History

Since 1937, the William T. Patten Foundation has provided generous funds to bring to IU Bloomington people of extraordinary national and international distinction. More than 180 world-renowned scholars have lectured at Indiana University under its auspices. Noted specialists in their fields, speakers have been chosen for their ability to convey the significance of their work to a general audience. Chosen by a campus-wide faculty committee, Patten Lectures have represented over 50 academic departments and programs. Past lecturers have included Oscar Arias, Jorge Luis Borges, Noam Chomsky, Natalie Zemon Davis, Umberto Eco, Julian S. Huxley, Evelyn Fox Keller, Toni Morrison, Amos Oz, Helmuth Rilling, Edward Said, Amartya Sen, Wole Soyinka, Ren Thom, Lester Thurow, Strobe Talbott, and Martha Nussbaum.

William T. Patten received his A.B. degree in 1893 in history from IU. After graduation he settled in Indianapolis, where he made a career in real estate and politics, including serving as county auditor. He remained appreciative of the educational opportunities that IU had afforded him, and toward the end of his life, in 1931, made a gift to the university in the form of liberty bonds and Indiana municipal and county bonds. The gift was to be held as an endowment bearing his name, and the income used for bringing to the campus eminent leaders in their fields for residence and lectures to enrich the intellectual life of the campus.

For a more complete history on William T. Patten and further details on the upcoming lecture series, visit

Inquires about the Patten Foundation and the Patten Lecture Series should be sent to