Portrait shot of Edmond James in a suit looking at the camera

Talk: Illinois Comes of Age: President Edmund James and the Building of a Great University

The University of Illinois emerged as a great center of learning and scholarship during the 1904–1920 administration of President Edmund Janes James. During his 16 years as president, he set the University on a trajectory to become a world-class institution, developing one of the great academic libraries, hiring a first-rate faculty, and launching a campus-wide building program that resulted in the construction of many iconic structures, including Lincoln Hall and Foellinger Auditorium.

An Illinois native who studied at Northwestern and Harvard, James earned his Ph.D. from the University of Halle in Germany and revered German institutions and culture. James envisioned for the University the creation of a rigorous German model adapted to American conditions. Universities, he said in his inaugural address, should provide scientific preparation not only for the old professions but also for any expression of community life. 

This lively presentation is by Ryan Ross, Coordinator of History and Traditions Programs at the University of Illinois Alumni Alliance. A two-time graduate of Illinois, Ross is the curator of the Richmond Family Welcome Gallery at Alice Campbell Alumni Center, a collection of interactive exhibits that celebrates the heritage and global impact of the University. He is also the author of a monograph, Early Illinois Newspapers and Job Printers: The Terence A. Tanner Collection, and articles on UI history, printing history, private libraries, Illinois politics, and silent film.

Portrait shot of Edmond James in a suit looking at the camera Image courtesy of the University of Illinois Archives Isabel Bevier Papers.

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For further information on this event, contact Beth Watkins at (217) 265-5485 or

To request disability-related accommodations for this event, please contact Brian Cudiamat at (217) 244-5586 or cudiamat@illinois.edu (email link).