University of South Carolina

Laura Dassow Walls, author of award-winning book on Alexander von Humboldt
Laura Dassow Walls, author of award-winning book on Alexander von Humboldt.

Humboldt scholar's book awards unprecedented

Obscure today, Alexander von Humboldt was once so well known that transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson declared the mid-19th century “The Age of Humboldt.”

The German naturalist and scholar is earning renewed attention as a result of a book by a University of South Carolina professor who has won an unprecedented trio of top prizes in literature and history.

Dr. Laura Dassow Walls will receive the Modern Language Association’s James Russell Lowell Prize for her book, “The Passage to Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Shaping of America,” Jan. 7 at the MLA’s annual convention.

The prestigious literary award follows Walls’ winning the Merle Curti Award for best book in American intellectual history by the Organization of American Historians in April. In October, she won the Michelle Kendrick Memorial Book Award for the best book in literature and science by the Society for Literature, Science and the Arts.

An English professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, Walls is the first scholar ever to win both a Lowell Prize in literature and a Curti Award in history.

“Dr. Walls’ accomplishment is absolutely unprecedented,” said Dr. Mary Anne Fitzpatrick, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Her work is enriching the understanding of literary history, illuminating for us what is gained when literature is not separated from science.”

Walls says Humboldt was as iconic to his time as Einstein has been to our own. Her intent for “The Passage to Cosmos” was to share Humboldt’s life in America as a scientist, explorer, political economist, ethnologist and spokesman for social justice and to share his idea of “Cosmos” with readers today.

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