New Faculty Strengthen American Literary Studies at Notre Dame

Author: Kate Cohorst

Laura Dassow Walls

Laura Dassow Walls, a distinguished scholar of 19th century American literature and culture, will join the Notre Dame faculty in fall 2011 as the William P. and Hazel B. White Professor of English.

Her arrival, notes Professor John Sitter, chair of the Department of English, is the latest in a series of recent hires that have been critical to the growth of the department.

“The appointments of Walls and José Limón to distinguished professorships—as well as the appointment of Kate Marshall as an assistant professor and the hiring of two more junior professors of U.S. literature—greatly strengthen and transform American literary studies at Notre Dame,” he says.

Transcending Disciplines

Walls’ latest book, The Passage to Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Shaping of America (University of Chicago Press), recently won the Modern Language Association’s James Russell Lowell Prize, the Organization of American Historians’ Merle Curti Award for the best book in American intellectual history, and the Michelle Kendrick Memorial Book Prize from the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts.

“This unprecedented conjunction of awards speaks to both the excellence of Laura Walls’s work and its profound interdisciplinarity,” Sitter says.

Currently the John H. Bennett, Jr., Professor of Southern Letters at the University of South Carolina, Walls specializes in American Transcendentalism—especially Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, transatlantic Romanticism, literature and science, and environmental literature and ecocriticism.

She has written two other books—Seeing New Worlds: Henry David Thoreau and Nineteenth-Century Natural Science and Emerson’s Life in Science: The Culture of Truth—and edited three, including The Oxford Handbook of Transcendentalism. In addition, she edits the annual journal The Concord Saunterer: A Journal of Thoreau Studies.

Walls is currently working on a biography, Writing the Cosmos: The Life of Henry D. Thoreau, for which she was awarded a 2010–11 Guggenheim Fellowship, and doing research for an essay on Louisa May Alcott, who was one of Thoreau’s pupils.

As a scholar, Walls has taken a special interest in the scientific writings of Thoreau and his contemporaries, many of which had previously been ignored, and she explores texts written by scientists during the same time period.

“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,” she says.

Literature and Culture

José Limón

Limón, whom Sitter calls “a towering figure in Latino/Latina literary studies,” became Notre Dame Professor of American Literature in January 2011. Previously, he was the Mody C. Boatright Regents Professor of English and director of the Center for Mexican-American Studies at the University of Texas.

“I am honored to be joining such a stimulating and forward-looking English department and the excellent Institute for Latino Studies at such a distinguished institution,” he says.

Although English is Limón’s home department, he will also have close ties to the Department of American Studies and the Department of Anthropology. His research and teaching interests include cultural studies, Chicano literature, anthropology and literature, Mexicans in the United States, U.S.-Mexico cultural relations, critical theory, and folklore and popular culture.

Limón is the author of three major books in the field of Latino studies—American Encounters: Greater Mexico, the United States and the Erotics of CultureDancing With the Devil: Society and Cultural Poetics in Mexican-American South Texas, and Mexican Ballads, Chicano Poems: History and Influence in Mexican-American Social Poetry.

He also recently completed a book on the founding figure of Mexican-American studies, Américo Paredes, and has several other research projects underway.

New Perspectives

Kate Marshall

Assistant Professor Kate Marshall joined the faculty in fall 2009. She specializes in 20th and 21st century American literature, media and technology, and critical theory.

“My present and future research is devoted to projects that have developed out of my concern for the role of form in articulating the dynamic relationship between media, literature, and modernity,” she says.

Marshall has published articles on modern American fiction, science and literature, contemporary fiction, and teaching with technology. She is on the steering committee of Notre Dame’s new Global Modernisms Initiative and coordinates events for the Text-Media Studies working group.

The Department of English has also hired Matthew Wilkens, a postdoctoral fellow at Washington University’s American culture studies program who specializes in American literature after 1900. He will begin teaching at Notre Dame this fall.

Wilkens’ teaching and research interests include contemporary fiction, world Anglophone literature, modernism, digital humanities, new media studies, literature and science, and literary theory. He is currently working on a book called Revolution: The Event in Modern Fiction.

Also joining the faculty is Kinohi Nishikawa, who will come to Notre Dame in fall 2012 after his two-year postdoctoral fellowship in Northwestern University’s Department of African American Studies.

Nishikawa’s scholarly interests include American literature and print culture since 1865, African American literature, critical race theory, gender and sexuality studies, and the history of the book. He won the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching at Duke University, where he completed his dissertation on “Reading the Street: Iceberg Slim, Donald Goines, and the Rise of Black Pulp Fiction.”

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