O'Donnell, James J. 1950–

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O'Donnell, James J. 1950–

(James Joseph O'Donnell, Jr.)

PERSONAL: Born February 26, 1950, in Giessen, Germany; son of James J. and Helen T. (Murphy) O'Donnell. Education: Princeton, A.B., 1972; attended University College, Dublin, 1972–73; Yale University, Ph.D., 1975.

ADDRESSES: Office—Office of the Provost, Ste. 650, Bunn Intercultural Center, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057-1014. E-mail—provost@ georgetown.edu.

CAREER: Provost, professor, and author. Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA, began as lecturer, became assistant professor, 1975–76; Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, assistant professor of Greek and Latin, 1976–77; Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, assistant professor of classics, 1977–81; University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, associate professor, 1981–90, professor of classics, 1990–2002, vice provost of information systems and computing, 1996–2002; Georgetown University, Washington, DC, provost and professor of classics, 2002–. Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, visiting professor of classics, 1993; University of Washington, visiting professor of classics, 1995; Yale University, New Haven, CT, visiting professor, 2000–01. Bryn Mawr Classical Review (on-line scholarly journal), Bryn Mawr, PA, cofounder, 1990.

MEMBER: American Philological Association (member of board of directors, 1994–97, became director and president), Medieval Academy of America (councilor, 1996–99), Medieval Academy (fellow), American Council of Learned Societies (delegate of American Philological Association; chair of executive committee of delegates, 2005–06; ex officio member of board of trustees), North American Patristics Society.

AWARDS, HONORS: Honorary M.A., University of Pennsylvania, 1982; National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grants, 1982, 1984, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994; American Council of Learned Societies grant, 1983; Guggenheim fellowship, 1989; honorary D.H.L. from St. Michael's College, 1999; Literary Award, Athenaeum of Philadelphia, 2000; NEH fellowship.



Cassiodorus, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1979.

Augustine, Twayne Publishers (Boston, MA), 1985.

(Editor) Boethius, Consolatio philosophiae: Text and Commentary, Thomas Library (Bryn Mawr, PA), 1990.

(Contributor of commentary) Saint Augustine, bishop of Hippo, Confessions: Text and Commentary, 3 volumes, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1992.

Avatars of the Word: From Papyrus to Cyberspace, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1998.

Augustine: A New Biography, Ecco Press (New York, NY), 2005.

Bryn Mawr Latin Commentaries, post-classical editor, 1982; Traditio, member of editorial board, 1986–96; Bryn Mawr Classical Review, editor, 1990–; Recentiores: Later Latin Texts and Contexts (monograph series), University of Michigan Press, editor, 1992–2001; Scholarly Journals at the Crossroads: A Subversive Proposal for Electronic Publishing, Association for Research Libraries, coeditor, 1995; New-Jour (online index of new electronic journals), coeditor, 1995–.

SIDELIGHTS: James J. O'Donnell is a scholar who focuses on the boundary between the ancient and medieval eras. He has worked at leading universities such as the University of Pennsylvania and Georgetown University, and has written extensively on St. Augustine, including two major nonfiction works.

In the three-volume 1990 edition of St. Augustine's classic autobiography Confessions, O'Donnell provides an extensive commentary. He discusses previous scholarship, other translations, and how interpretation and criticism of the text of Confessions has evolved over time. O'Donnell also offers his own analysis, reflecting on issues such as the importance of baptism to Augustine and the bishop's use of the Bible.

Journal of Theological Studies contributor Carol Harrison found O'Donnell's scholarship in the Confessions impressive, writing: "O'Donnell possesses true Augustinian humilitas. There are few scholars who are so well versed in Augustine and Augustinian scholarship." Another critic, Roland J. Teske, acknowledged the value of O'Donnell's criticism. Writing in Theological Studies, Teske reflected: "Though I have regularly taught the Confessions for more than fifteen years, on dozens of pages I learned something new or came to see things in a fresh perspective or had my pet theories questioned or—alas!—saw them rejected, not always gently, but with good, if not with wholly compelling, reasons."

O'Donnell is also the author of Augustine: A New Biography. Calling the book "a landmark achievement," a Kirkus Reviews contributor stated that "O'Donnell reads the Confessions generously, but he also makes clear that the great autobiography is a literary work, not an unmediated picture of Augustine's life."

In the biography, O'Donnell outlines the life of the influential early Catholic bishop and the theological battles he was a part of. The author also acknowledges the role Augustine played in the development of and theology of Christianity in the west. The biography is organized in a non-linear fashion, moving thematically through Augustine's life. Writing in Library Journal, Anna M. Donnelly found that "O'Donnell leads the reader to unfamiliar but articulately expressed speculations." Another critic, writing in Publishers Weekly, commented on the book's layout, stating "For a reader new to the subject, this will be confusing, but it is all part of O'Donell's scheme to present Augustine afresh after centuries of overfamiliarity."

In addition to books on the topic of St. Augustine, O'Donnell is the author of Avatars of the Word: From Papyrus to Cyberspace. In the book he discusses how words and ideas have been created, debated, and distributed to the world throughout time, primarily through print. He touches on the control of words and ideas and how they are important to society, especially in learning. As O'Donnell explores technical changes in the distribution of words and ideas, he looks at how books, computers, and cyberspace have affected this discourse, and goes on to speculate about the future of education, primarily higher education.

In American Scholar contributor Alex Soojung-Kim Pang noted, "a global perspective that considered the literary cultures of the non-Western world as well as Europe (which adopted Chinese paper and Indian numerals via the Islamic world) would let us better understand the conditions that encouraged innovation in print culture and technology." However, Pang also acknowledged that "the greatest virtue of Avatars of the Word is its strong suggestion that although the digital world will be different, it will not be alien."



American Scholar, winter, 1999, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, review of Avatars of the Word: From Papyrus to Cyberspace, p. 136.

College Literature, winter, 2001, John L. Hochheimer, "Reading the World through the Word: The Power of Literacy in a New Media Age," p. 2002.

Cross Currents, summer, 1999, James E. Giles, review of Avatars of the Word, p. 260.

Economist, May 14, 2005, "Warrior of the Word; Augustine of Hippo,"review of Augustine: A New Biography, p. 87.

Journal of Theological Studies, April, 1994, Carol Harrison, review of Augustine: Confessions, p. 335.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2005, review of Augustine: A New Biography, p. 279.

Libraries & Culture, summer, 1999, D.W. Krummel, review of Avatars of the Word, p. 96.

Library Journal, April 15, 2005, Anna M. Donnelly, review of Augustine: A New Biography, p. 96.

Library Quarterly, July, 1999, Robert M. Hayes, review of Avatars of the Word, p. 371.

Publishers Weekly, March 7, 2005, review of Augustine: A New Biography, p. 63; March 28, 2005, review of Augustine: A New Biography, p. 77.

Science, March 12, 1999, Michael A. Keller, review of Avatars of the Word, p. 1649.

Theological Studies, September, 1993, Roland J. Teske, review of Augustine: Confessions, p. 563.


Georgetown University Web site, http://www.georgetown.edu/ (June 29, 2005), biography of James J. O'Donnell.

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