Umberto Eco


Honorary Degree (1993)
Doctor of Humane Letters
Location: Bloomington
Presenter: Thomas Ehrlich


Umberto Eco has earned international acclaim as a philosopher, historian, novelist, editor, and scholar. He is one of the world's foremost semioticians and a cofounder of the International Association for Semiotic Studies. The translations of his scholarly works alone would have led to his being known and admired widely among literati. However, the overnight success of an experimental novel set in the fourteenth century, The Name of the Rose, made him known all over the globe. It sold nine million copies in 36 countries - and was translated into more than 20 languages. His second novel, Foucault's Pendulum, another multilayered semiotic murder mystery, appeared in English translation in 1989 and was also an international bestseller.

Since 1975, Umberto Eco has been a professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna, Italy. In this country, for more than 15 years, Indiana University has been a home away from home. One draw was the university's Research Center for Language and Semiotic Studies in Bloomington. Another was the Indiana University Press, which inaugurated its Advances in Semiotics series with Professor Eco's first major English publication, A Theory of Semiotics. Since then, the IU Press has published five additional books in semiotics that were authored, coauthored, or coedited by Professor Eco.

Still another draw for Professor Eco is the Peirce Edition Project in the School of Liberal Arts on the Indianapolis campus. Charles Sanders Peirce, a late nineteenth-century American scientist and philosopher, laid the groundwork for a theory of signs, which anticipated what is now known as semiotics. Professor Eco, whose thinking was deeply influenced by Peirce, is a member of the advisory board for the project, which is publishing a multivolume edition of Peirce's writings.

Professor Eco was born in Alessandria, Italy, in 1932 and came of age during the war years. He received his doctorate at the University of Turin in 1954. He has held academic appointments in Florence, Milan, and Bologna, as well as visiting professorships at New York University, Northwestern University, Yale University, and Columbia University. He has received honorary degrees from 11 universities worldwide. His academic prestige has grown steadily through years of dazzling and solid work. He has lectured on semiotics throughout the world, including the Universities of Antwerp, London, Warsaw, Budapest, and Toronto. At Indiana University, he has delivered the Patten Lecture (1982) and the Horizons of Knowledge Lecture (1984). In the summer of 1989, he lectured in both Bloomington and Indianapolis as a Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study, during which time he gave a keynote address for the International Summer Institute for Semiotics and Structural Studies.

Famed for his wit and erudition, Professor Eco has made numerous television and radio appearances and contributed essays and reviews to several periodicals, including the Times Literary Supplement. But despite his celebrity as a novelist and columnist, Professor Eco is fundamentally a scholar and teacher who is uncommonly generous in devoting time to students. In an interview in 1979, before the publication of his two novels, he said, "I think the duty of a scholar is not only to do scientific research but also to communicate with people through various media about the most important issues of social life from the point of view of his own discipline." Indeed, part of his genius and popularity may well be that rare ability to enliven the intellect of thoughtful readers who may be unfamiliar with the specialized language of semiotic scholarship.