Umberto Eco


In 1988, the University of Bologna celebrated its ninth centennial. The event was of such importance that the celebrations began in the fall of 1987 and ended happily in the springtime of 1989; otherwise, they could have continued uninterrupted until the dawn of the tenth centennial, like those trees decorated with bulbs for Christmas 1992 that are still lit up in many areas of New York City, ready for Christmas 1993.

In the course of these celebrations there was a congress on the history of universities, and I was asked to say something by way of a concluding speech about the relationship between the university and the mass media. I thought this was an important topic since no precise criteria exist for determining where the job of a historian ends and that of the journalist begins. If the reconstruction of what happened yesterday is history, why shouldn't the reconstruction of what is on the verge of happening also be history?

When I was requested by my friends at Yale to speak today on the same subject, I wondered if what I had said then could apply here. In my speech at Bologna, I focused on the problem from the point of view of European universities, and it is well known that the American situation is rather different. Is the relationship between the university and the mass media in the United States radically different from that in Europe, and in particular, from that in Italy?