James O'Donnell

Photo of James O'Donnell
Professor of Classics and Provost, Georgetown University

Professor James O'Donnell is one of the leading scholars of Late Antiquity in the world, a specialist in the history and culture of the later Roman Empire and the wider culture in which it was a part. Through scholarship, lectures, consultancies, and work with numerous learned societies, Professor O'Donnell has demonstrated that the student of the distant past can engage productively with the technologies of the future, a testament to the depth and range of O'Donnell's interests and his commitment to the future of the Classics and the Humanities.

Professor O'Donnell's experience as teacher, administrator, and information scientist informs a holistic perspective that is rare in the scholarly communication debate. He is a dynamic speaker able to contemporize antiquity, and to bridge scholarly and general audiences.

Now in his sixth year as professor of classics and Provost at Georgetown University, O'Donnell has taught courses on Erasmus, Augustine, The Future of the Past, Cultures of the Book, Latin Letter-Writing and Prose Composition, and the Worlds of Late Antiquity. Previously, Professor O'Donnell served as Chief Information Officer at the University of Pennsylvania (1996-2002) where he earned wide recognition as an early adopter and innovator in the application of networked information technology in higher education and humanistic scholarship.

In 1990, Professor O'Donnell co-founded the Bryn Mawr Classical Review, the second online humanities journal ever created and premier e-resource for book reviews in ancient history and classics. In 1993, he co-founded an analogous journal for medieval studies, now called The Medieval Review, which has recently moved its operations to the Medieval Studies Institute at Indiana University.

O'Donnell is the author of numerous books, including Cassiodorus (1979), a highly acclaimed three-volume critical edition of Augustine's Confessions (1992), as well as Augustine: A New Biography (2005), which gained widespread attention in the popular press and was reviewed by US News, The Economist, The Washington Times, and The New Republic, among others. Avatars of the Word (1998) addresses the distribution of scholarly research on the Web and the opportunities it promises, examining the context of the electronic media and rethinking the modern university. His most current work, The Ruin of the Roman Empire (2008), tells the timely story of an empire at war simultaneously dealing with problems of immigration.

Professor O'Donnell is also the recipient of six distinct National Endowment of the Humanities Grants, including five to direct summer seminars for secondary and college teachers, two Andrew Mellon Foundation research grants, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

He holds degrees from Princeton (where he was Salutatorian) and Yale and has taught at Bryn Mawr, The Catholic University, Cornell, Pennsylvania and Georgetown, with visiting appointments at John Hopkins, the University of Washington and Yale. He is a fellow of the Medieval Academy of America and served in 2003 as President of the American Philological Association.