Laura Dassow Walls new White Chair Professor of English

Author: Lynn McCormack

Distinguished scholar of 19th-century American literature and culture Laura Dassow Walls will join the faculty this fall as the William P. and Hazel B. White Professor of English. Walls’s 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 Merle Curti Award of the Organization of American Historians, and the Michelle Kendrick Memorial Book Prize awarded by the Society for Literature, Science and the Arts.

“This unprecedented conjunction of awards,” said English chair John Sitter, “speaks to both the excellence of Laura Walls’s work and its profound interdisciplinarity.  More broadly, the appointments of Walls and José Limón to distinguished professorships, the appointment two years ago of Kate Marshall as an assistant professor, and the recent appointments of Kinohi Nishikawa in African American literature and Matthew Wilkens in modern and contemporary U.S. literature mark the beginning of a new era of American literary studies at Notre Dame.”

Others on campus expect Walls’s presence to yield benefits beyond the English Department. “With Laura Walls’s decision to move to Notre Dame, we find ourselves now with the greatest concentration of expertise in literature and science of any university in North America,” according to Don Howard, professor of philosophy and director of the Graduate Program in History and Philosophy of Science. “This new area of excellence nicely complements Notre Dame’s existing strengths, and we look forward to exploring innovative ways to turn this to advantage programmatically. For those of us in HPS, the appointment of Walls is like manna from heaven.”

Currently the John H. Bennett, Jr., Professor of Southern Letters at the University of South Carolina, Walls has written three books, edited four others, and published approximately thirty articles. She is now on a Guggenheim Fellowship working on what is likely to become the definitive biography of Henry David Thoreau.

Walls succeeds Gerald Bruns, the inaugural William P. and Hazel B. White Professor of English, who joined the Notre Dame faculty in 1984 and retired in 2008.  Retired from teaching, that is. Now living in California, Bruns continues to write and publish. His most recent book, On Ceasing to be Human, appeared in late 2010 from Stanford University Press.

March 31interview article from College of Arts & Letters