Laura Dassow Walls
- PhD, Indiana University, 1992
Areas of Specialization
Curriculum Vitae [PDF]
- American Transcendentalism, especially Emerson and Thoreau
- Transatlantic Romanticism
- Literature and Science
- Alexander von Humboldt
- Environmental Literature and Ecocriticism
Recently Taught Courses
||Themes in American Literature: "Freedom and Obedience, Liberty in Chains"
||American Literature to 1830
||American Literature 1830-1860
||Fictions of Science
||Apes and Angels: Evolution and Revolution in 19th-Century Literature
||The American Novel to the Civil War
||Special Topics: The American Transcendentalists
||Special Topics: Exploration and Empire in 19th-Century America
||Articulating And: Literature, Science, Theory
Comments on The Passage to Cosmos:
"Laura Dassow Walls leads the reader on a fascinating, breathless chase after the explorer-naturalist who anticipated planetary ecology and inspired both Darwin and Thoreau. Alexander von Humboldt was a pioneer environmentalist whose sympathies crossed nations, races, and cultures; his friendships included Jefferson and Goethe, Simón Bolívar, Moses Mendelssohn, and John C. Frémont. Walls's book bridges the worlds of science and the humanities with learning and sensitivity."
- Daniel Walker Howe, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848
"This searching, panoramic study of the polymathic Alexander von Humboldt's career and astonishingly diverse impact on his American progeny should be required reading for all students of nineteenth-century U.S. literary, cultural, and environmental history."
- Lawrence Buell, Harvard University
"Laura Dassow Walls's book is a multidimensional living cartography of Alexander von Humboldt's fascinating life, work, and legacy today. Written in an elegant, truly Humboldtian spirit, it rediscovers the man who was called the second discoverer of America, opening up a new, brilliant chapter in the long (although not continuous) history of Humboldt's presence in the United States."
- Ottmar Ette, University of Potsdam
"A major contribution to the field. Rediscovering Alexander von Humboldt, Laura Dassow Walls gives us a thinker rooted in the nineteenth century and speaking to the twenty-firsopposed to colonialism on ecological grounds, and bringing together literature and science to develop a vision of world justice."
- Wai Chee Dimock, Yale University
"The publication of this superbly written book is one of those rare events that changes an entire field of study. Not only does Laura Dassow Walls show that Alexander von Humboldt is inescapably central to an understanding of nineteenth-century American literature, she also shows how, despite C.P. Snow's contention and our own current assumptions, science and literature were for a time the most powerful of allies in America. For anyone interested in American thought and literature The Passage to Cosmos is a beautiful and necessary book."
- Robert D. Richardson, author of Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind, Emerson: The Mind on Fire, and William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism.
- Guggenheim Fellowship for 2010-11, for Writing the Cosmos: The Life of Henry D. Thoreau.
- Russell Research Award for the Humanities and Social Sciences, University of South Carolina, 2010.
- Merle Curti Award, Organization of American Historians, April 2010 (best book in American intellectual history, for Passage to Cosmos).
- Invited Visiting Professor, Ecole Normale Superieure Lettres et Sciences Humaines, Lyon, France, May 2009.
- Research Fellowship, Center for Humans and Nature, New York and Chicago, 2007; tenure period spring 2007.
- Mary Louise Van Artsdalen Prize (for outstanding scholarly achievement), Lafayette College, 2003.
- NEH Fellowship for "Recalling Cosmos," 2000; tenure period 2001-02.
- James P. Crawford Teaching Award, Lafayette College, 2000.
- ACLS Fellowship for "Emerson and the Culture of Truth," 1995-96; tenure period spring semester 1997.
- Schachterle Prize, Society for Literature and Science (best article by an untenured professor) for "Textbooks and Texts from the Brooks," 1995.
- James A. Work Prize for Outstanding Graduate Student in English, 1991.
- Mary Gaither Award (best British Literature essay written by a graduate student), 1989.
- Phi Beta Kappa, University of Washington, 1976.
Current Research Projects
My work braids together the variously intertwined and oppositional strands of nature, culture, and discourse in the early nationalist period of US America. My most recent book, Passage to Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Shaping of America (Chicago 2009), helped me to work through several problems I have seen with traditional literary criticism of this period:
First, the separation of literature from science hobbles our understanding of both by buying into modernist ideologies that write science out of culture and nature out of literature. "Science" as the professional encoding of knowledges about nature and "literature" as the triumph of subjectivity over the natural world are settlements that must both be questioned if we are to move beyond Cartesian dualisms into the chaotic and resistant natural world of the 21st century. All three of the writers I have studied intensively - Thoreau, Emerson, and Humboldt, two Americans and a German - suggest that normative science formed in the 19th century after, and at least in part as a result of, a disciplinary agreement between humanist critique and scientific power that arose in early nationalism.
Second, that this disciplinary agreement is situated in early nationalism is no coincidence; it is a function of the emerging nation's need to create and bind an imagined community. Hence I have become increasingly interested in the national narratives of historians (Prescott, Parkman, Adams) as well as of literary artists (Emerson, Thoreau, Fuller, Poe, Melville, James Fenimore Cooper, Susan Cooper), all of whom inflect their work through the politics and poetics of exploration science.
Third, the fact that nationalism is the condition for "American Romanticism" intertwines US American literature to global (political) and planetary (geonatural) currents, in ways that thread through individual literary careers and the very process of canonization itself.
My work both stands inside disciplinary boundaries (I focus primarily on literary texts, broadly conceived), and reaches toward inter-, even trans-, disciplinarity. Understanding the formation of the "two cultures," literature and science, requires the weaving together of multiple disciplines without reducing any one to the terms of another. Currently I am at work on two projects: the first is a theoretical excursion that explores the ways literary texts weave humans and nonhumans together; this will, I hope, help bridge ecocriticism with science studies and with mainstream of literary criticism. Second, since nothing is more profoundly interdisciplinary than an individual life lived with intensity in the fullness of the world, I am exploring the possibility of using the life, times, and writing of Thoreau as a lens to trace networks of knowledge and authority as they accrete through individual choices and actions. I hope to develop in this way a "literary historical ecology." I believe the greatest challenge faced by literary studies today is the need to overcome the dualism implicit in criticism and theory between a reified "nature," assumed to belong to "science" hence of only marginal interest, and an equally reified "culture" which somehow is imagined to be exempt from "nature." Given the evidence everywhere around us that such dualisms have entirely collapsed, we urgently need to rewrite this settlement if literary studies are to thrive in the 21st century.
- The Passage to Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Shaping of America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009. Pp. xv + 404; notes, bibliography, index, illustrations.
- Emerson's Life in Science: The Culture of Truth. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2003. Pp. viii + 280; notes, bibliography, index, illustrations
- Seeing New Worlds: Henry David Thoreau and Nineteenth-Century Natural Science. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995. Pp. xiii + 300; notes, bibliography, index.
- The Oxford Guide to Transcendentalism. Ed. with Joel Myerson and Sandra Harbert Petrulionis. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.
- More Day to Dawn: Thoreau"s "Walden" for a New Century (with "Afterword"). Ed. with Sandra Harbert Petrulionis. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007.
- The Journal of Henry David Thoreau, Vol. 9. Co-editor with Wesley T. Mott. Princeton University Press; forthcoming.
- Material Faith: Thoreau on Science. Editor and author of "Introduction: The Man Most Alive" (ix-xviii). NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1999. Pp. xviii + 120.
- The Concord Saunterer: A Journal of Thoreau Studies is an annual, peer-reviewed journal of Thoreau Scholarship, sponsored by the Thoreau Society, which contains in-depth essays about Thoreau, his times and his contemporaries, and his influence today. The Saunterer is edited by Laura Dassow Walls of the University of South Carolina.
- "Beyond Representation: Deliberate Reading in a Panarchic World." ebr [electronic book review] "Critical Ecologies" thread, posted 7/29/2009. Peer-reviewed electronic journal .
- "Global Transcendentalism" and "Transcendentalism, Science, and Technology." The Oxford Guide to Transcendentalism. Ed. Joel Myerson, Sandra Petrulionis, and Laura Dassow Walls. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. 513-25, 572-82.
- "Ralph Waldo Emerson and Coleridge's American Legacy." Coleridge's Afterlives, 1834-1934, ed. James Vigus and Jane Wright. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008: 112-27.
- "Seeking Common Ground: Integrating the Sciences and Humanities." Coming into Contact: Explorations in Ecocritical Theory and Practice. Ed. Annie Merrill Ingram et al, Georgia University Press, 2007: 199-208.
- "Exploring the World." Oxford History of Literary Translation in English, vol. 4, ed. Ken Haynes. Oxford University Press, 2006: 498-504.
- "Science." American History through Literature, 1820-1870, ed. Janet Gabler-Hover and Robert D. Sattelmeyer. Charles Scribner's Sons, 2006: 1036-1045.
- "'If Body Can Sing': Emerson and Victorian Science." Emerson Bicentennial Essays. Ed. Ronald A. Bosco and Joel Myerson. Massachusetts Historical Society/University of Virginia Press, 2006: 334-366.
- "'As Planets Faithful Be': The Higher Law in Emerson's Anti-Slavery Lectures." Nineteenth-Century Prose 30.1-2 (Spring-Fall 2003): 171-194.
- "'Hero of Knowledge, Be Our Tribute Thine': Alexander von Humboldt in Victorian America." The Natural Legacy of Alexander von Humboldt, ed. Joerg-Henner Lotze. Alexander von Humboldt's Legacy and Its Relevance for Today. Northeastern Naturalist vol. 8, Special Issue No. 1 (2001): 121-34.
- "Romancing the Real: Thoreau's Technology of Inscription." A Historical Guide to Henry David Thoreau, ed.William E. Cain. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000: 123-51.
- "Believing in Nature: Wilderness and Wildness in Thoreau's Science." Thoreau's Sense of Place: Essays in American Environmental Writing, ed. Richard Schneider. Iowa City, Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 2000: 15-27.
- "Consilience Revisited." ebr [Electronic Book Review] (December 27, 1999): click here.
- "The Anatomy of Truth: Emerson's Poetic Science." Configurations: A Journal of Literature and Science. 5.3 (Fall 1997): 425-61.
- "Chains of Translation: On Being a Pacific Thoreauvian." American Studies of Scandinavia 29.1 (1997): 1-17; also Nordlit 1 (1997): 223-40.
- "Textbooks and Texts from the Brooks: Inventing Scientific Authority in America." American Quarterly 49.1 (March 1997): 1-25.
- "Walden as Feminist Manifesto." ISL: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment. 1.1 (1993): 137-44.
- "'The Napoleon of Science': Alexander von Humboldt in Antebellum America." Nineteenth-Century Contexts 14 (1990): 71-98.
- Featured on "Book TV," C-SPAN, reading from Passage to Cosmos, Virginia Festival of the Book, aired March 18, 2010: Watch the video here .
- "The Transatlantic Conversations of Louisa May Alcott." Romantic Conversations, Thoreau Society, MLA, Philadelphia, December 29, 2009.
- "Walking West, Gazing East: Cosmopolitanism on the Shores of Cape Cod." Plenary Address, Thoreauvian Modernities, Lyon 2/ENS-LSH, Lyon, France, May 14, 2009.
- "Greening the Nineteenth Century." Plenary address, Nineteenth Century Studies Association, Milwaukee, WI, March 26, 2009.
- "The Form is Their History: Inscribing the Humboldtian Landscape." American Society for Environmental History, Tallahassee, Florida, February 26, 2009.
- "Humboldt's Passage to America." Alexander von Humboldt and the Hemisphere: A Working Conference for Humboldt Studies. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, Jan. 17, 2009
- "Beyond Representation: Deliberate Reading in a Panarchic World." Invited speaker, session organized by the Division of Literature and Science, Modern Language Association, San Francisco, December 28, 2008.
- "A Constant New Creation: Thoreau Greets Darwin." Keynote speaker for Henry David Thoreau: His Journey to the Twenty-First Century, Minneapolis, MN, October 6, 2007.
- "The Passage to Cosmos: Humboldt on Humans and Nature." Chicago Summit, Center for Humans and Nature, Libertyville, Illinois, June 6-7, 2007.
- "'Every Truth Leads to a Power': Emerson, Faraday, and the Minding of Matter." Transatlanticism in American Literature: Emerson, Hawthorne, Poe. Oxford University, UK, July 15, 2006.
- "The Solar Eye of Science: Transcendentalism's New Copernican Revolution." STS Colloquium, MIT, March 14, 2005; Kenan Lecture Series, Wake Forest University, Feb. 24, 2005.
- "Humboldt's Cosmos and the Birth of the Two Cultures." Plenary Speaker, Alexander von Humboldt: From the Americas to the Cosmos. City University of New York, Oct. 14-16, 2004.
- "Bridging the Two Cultures." Keynote speaker, in debate with Edward O. Wilson, at the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment, Cambridge, MA, June 6, 2003.
- "'If Body Can Sing': Emerson and Scientific Naturalism." Invited speaker, Emerson Bicentennial Celebration, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Mass., April 24-26, 2003.
- "A Material Faith: Thoreau and the Science of Life." Invited speaker, Boston University Colloquium on the Philosophy of Science, November 12, 1998.
- "Chains of Translation: On Being a Pacific Thoreauvian." Lecture presented at symposium, Writing and a Sense of Place, by invitation of the University of Tromsö, Norway, August 15-18, 1996.
Laura Dassow Walls is currently on the editorial boards of ESQ, NEQ, and Humboldt im Netz and chairs the MLA Executive Committee of the Division of Literature and Science. She has served on the boards of the Thoreau Society and the Emerson Society, and on the editorial boards of Isis (History of Science Society) and The Concord Saunterer. She is a member of MLA, the Thoreau Society, the Emerson Society, the History of Science Society, the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts, and the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment. She has served as adviser for several film projects and is featured on screen in "Wilderness Men: Alexander von Humboldt, Natural Traveller" (2000), directed by Peter Nicolson and available through BBC Video.
Featured on "Book TV," C-SPAN, reading from Passage to Cosmos, Virginia Festival of the Book, aired March 18, 2010. Watch the session here