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

Continued: Humboldt

“Unlike a physical universe, which exists on its own, without us, Humboldt offered the notion of the ‘Cosmos,’ a universe that was an ordered and beautiful whole, a joint co-creation of humanity and nature,” Walls said. “This extraordinary idea moved a whole generation of American artists and writers, among them the founders of American environmentalism: Emerson, Thoreau, John Muir and George Perkins Marsh.”

She said the trio of awards from different disciplines reflects Humboldt’s 19th-century fight to keep the “two cultures” of sciences and humanities knitted together at a time when they were being split.

“That my book about Humboldt has been honored across this range of disciplines shows that Humboldt’s project truly does, as I have always believed, have new relevance in our time,” said Walls. “So much of what we need to know today lies in the spaces between disciplines, and I think this level of attention to Humboldt shows we are now at a stage where the many rich disciplinary specialties that arose beginning in the 19th century can, in the 21st, fruitfully enter new conversations, find common ground and build exciting new partnerships.”

The Curti, Kendrick and Lowell prizes aren’t the only honors Walls received in 2010. In May, she was named a 2010 fellow by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. The Guggenheim Fellowship is one of the most esteemed awards artists, scholars and scientists can earn. The holder of the John H. Bennett Jr. Chair of Southern Letters in USC’s English Dept; Walls also received USC’s Russell Research Award last spring.

“It’s been an incredible year,” Walls said. “I’ve been honored at every turn, and it is so very gratifying to be honored by colleagues in my home field of literary studies with the Lowell Prize. Doing interdisciplinary work can mean leaving one’s original training. This prize signifies to me that I succeeded in making the many allied disciplines relevant to one another, enriching the cultural and literary landscape for others as well as myself.”

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