For more than twenty years, Laura Dassow Walls has been telling us that you cannot explore humanity’s place in the cosmos without bringing in poetry and science. She has given us a much richer vision of the achievement of American Transcendentalism in books on Thoreau and Emerson, most recently with the first full-length biography of Thoreau in a generation, Henry David Thoreau: A Life (2017). Walls has also led the current reevaluation of the extraordinary polymath Alexander Von Humboldt, whose vision of science and humanism as twin pillars of modernity underpins a cosmic consciousness of breathtaking power, a vision Walls argues is desperately needed today. In all her work, she has been tracking the historical specificity, aesthetic form, and moral urgency of our conceptions of nature’s plan. Most recently, Walls has been looking at our understanding of “planetarity,” something she will explore at IU under the rubric of the “Terrenial Turn.”
A Ph.D. from IU’s English Department, Walls is now William P. and Hazel B. White Professor of English at Notre Dame, and has received fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment of Humanities (twice), and the Guggenheim Foundation. She has also received the James Russell Lowell Prize from the MLA, for The Passage to Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Shaping of America (2009).