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Nancy Webber
Office of Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties

Laura Plummer
William T. Patten Foundation

Last modified: Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Classicist James O'Donnell considers the meaning of history in next Patten Foundation lectures

Oct. 20, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Classicist James O'Donnell, provost at Georgetown University, will lecture on "Two Hundred Years Is a Long Time (for a historian), or, What Should Historians Write About?" on Tuesday, Oct. 28, and "Ten Years Is a Long Time (on the Internet), or, What Will Cyberspace Make of the Humanities?" on Thursday, Oct. 30, as part of the William T. Patten Lecture Series. Both lectures will take place in Ballantine Hall room 109 at 7:30 p.m., at Indiana University Bloomington.

O'Donnell's first lecture will question what history should be "about," considering the long-term movement of DNA-carrying peoples and their economic development, as well as the crises of a given president or prime minister.

James O'Donnell

James O'Donnell

Print-Quality Photo

Ancient history and its narratives shaped much of what people think of as history, so this lecture will use Greco-Roman examples to think through these issues and show that the title of the lecture, though seemingly an obvious fact, is actually a daring proposition for a historian. A source for the content in this lecture is his recently published book, The Ruin of the Roman Empire: a New History.

His second lecture takes a close look at the mass usage of the Internet in its second decade and how it is described in his book Avatars of the Word, which is a study of the place of media in cultural history. O'Donnell will discuss what people have and haven't learned, especially what sense people make of the scale and speed of change for the most traditional ways of building and preserving culture.

Professor O'Donnell has contributed broadly to the study of late antique Mediterranean culture, and is a Fellow of the Medieval Academy. He is widely recognized for his pioneering application of networked information technology in higher education, harnessing the Internet to produce some of the first scholarly journals and successful undergraduate courses online. For further information on O'Donnell, see

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.

Remaining Patten Series lectures:

Werner Sollors, Henry B. and Anne M Cabot Professor of English and Professor of African and African American Studies, Harvard University, will speak on Tuesday, Jan. 20, and Thursday, Jan. 22, in Ballantine Hall room 109.

One of the foremost Americanists today, a Guggenheim and NEH Fellow, Professor Sollors is also founder of the Longfellow Institute. His work in race studies, multilingualism in American culture, post-war American and Germany, and ethnic modernism continues to shape and revise current debates about race, language and literature

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

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