Laura Dassow Walls


Walls Thoreau Cover

William P. and Hazel B. White Professor of English
Graduate Program in History and Philosophy of Science

Specialty: American Transcendentalism; literature and science; environmental literature

Degrees: BA and MA, University of Washington; PhD, Indiana University

Laura Dassow Walls is the author of Henry David Thoreau: A Life, published by the University of Chicago Press in July 2017, in time to honor Thoreau’s 200th birthday. This book, the first full-length, comprehensive biography of Thoreau in a generation, draws on extensive new research and the full range of Thoreau’s published and unpublished writings to present Thoreau as vigorously alive in all his quirks and contradictions—fully embedded in his place and time, yet speaking powerfully to the problems and perils of today.

Professor Walls works in the field of literature and science, with a special concentration on Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and on American Transcendentalism more generally. Her quest to understand 19th-century American literature in its broad political, historical, and philosophical contexts has led to a continuing interest in British and German writers, philosophers, and scientists as well, particularly the German natural scientist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt. Her book The Passage to Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Shaping of America (Chicago 2009) traces the Humboldt network from Germany to the Americas in science, politics, literature, and the arts; it earned the Merle Curti Award for intellectual history by the Organization of American Historians, the James Russell Lowell Prize for literary studies by the Modern Language Association, and the Kendrick Prize for literature and science by SLSA, the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts. Her earlier books include Seeing New Worlds: Henry David Thoreau and Nineteenth-Century Natural Science (Wisconsin 1995), Emerson’s Life in Science: The Culture of Truth (Cornell 2003), and a volume coedited with Joel Myerson and Sandra Harbert Petrulionis, The Oxford Handbook of Transcendentalism (2010). She looks forward to exploring American Transcendentalism more broadly as an intellectual, social, and environmental reform movement, and she is planning a new work, Earthrise, on how the 19th-century concept of Earth as a living, self-making planet sent out shock waves that still, in this era of global warming, have not subsided. Her work has been supported by the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the ACLS, the Center for Humans and Nature, and the William P. and Hazel B. White Foundation.


Selected Recent Books:

  • Henry David Thoreau: A Life. University of Chicago Press, 2017.
  • Views of Nature by Alexander von Humboldt, a new translation by Mark W. Person. Co-editor with Stephen Jackson. University of Chicago Press, 2014.
  • Thoreauvian Modernities: Transatlantic Conversations on an American Icon. Co-editor with François Specq and Michel Granger. University of Georgia Press, 2013.
  • The Passage to Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Shaping of America. University of Chicago Press, 2009.
  • The Oxford Guide to Transcendentalism. Ed. with Joel Myerson and Sandra Harbert Petrulionis. Oxford University Press, 2010.
  • More Day to Dawn: Thoreau’s “Walden” for a New Century, with “Afterword.” Co-editor with Sandra Petrulionis. University of Massachusetts Press, 2007.


Selected Recent Articles:

  • “Technology.” Henry David Thoreau in Context, ed. James Finley. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. 165-74.
  • “Natural History in the Anthropocene.” Cambridge Global History of Literature and the Environment, ed. Louise Wesling and John Parham. Cambridge University Press, 2016. 187-200.
  • “‘The Value of Mutual Intelligence’: Science, Poetry, and Thoreau’s Cosmos.” Thoreau at 200: Essays and Reassessments, ed. Kevin Van Anglen and Kristen Case. Cambridge University Press, 2017. 235-255.
  • “Of Compass, Chain and Sounding Line: Taking Thoreau’s Measure.” Reasoning in Measurement, ed. Alfred Nordmann and Nicola Mößner. London: Routledge, 2017. 11-24.
  • “Cosmos.” Keywords for Environmental Studies, ed. Joni Adamson, William A. Gleason, and David N. Pellow. New York: New York University Press, 2016. 47-50.
  • "'As You Are Brothers of Mine': Thoreau and the Irish." New England Quarterly 88.1 (March 2015): 5-36; republished in Emerson and Thoreau: Dimensions of Two Intertwined Careers, MIT Batch for Kindle, April 2015.
  • "The Cosmopolitan Project of Louisa May Alcott." Toward a Female Genealogy of Transcendentalism, ed. Jana L. Argersinger and Phyllis Cole. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2014: 423-445. 
  • “Walking West, Gazing East: Planetarity on the Shores of Cape Cod.” In Thoreauvian Modernities: Transatlantic Conversations on an American Icon. Ed. François Specq, Laura Dassow Walls and Michel Granger. University of Georgia Press, 2013. 21-42.
  • “Humboldt’s Passage to America.” Alexander von Humboldt and the Americas. Co-editor with Vera Kutzinski and Ottmar Ette. Berlin: Verlag Walter Frey, 2012. 23-50.
  • “Articulating a Huckleberry Cosmos: Thoreau’s Moral Ecology of Knowledge.” Thoreau’s Importance for Philosophy, ed. Rich Anthony Furtak and Jonathan Ellsworth. Fordham University Press, 2012. 91-111, 263-65.
  • “Geography, Literature, and the Spaces of Interdisciplinarity.” American Literary History 23.4 (2011): 860-72.
  • “Greening Darwin’s Century: Humboldt, Thoreau, and the Politics of Hope,” in Victorian Review 36.2 (Fall 2010): 92-103.
  • “Of Atoms, Oaks, and Cannibals, or, More Things that Talk” in Isis 101 (September 2010): 590-98.
  • “Beyond Representation: Deliberate Reading in a Panarchic World,” in ebr [electronic book review] “Critical Ecologies” thread, posted 7/29/2009. Peer-reviewed academic journal.
  • “Ralph Waldo Emerson and Coleridge’s American Legacy.” Coleridge’s Afterlives, 1834-1934, ed. James Vigus and Jane Wright. Palgrave Macmillan, 2008: 112-27.
  • “‘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.


Major Honors and Awards:

  • NEH Fellowship for 2015 in support of Laura's biography of Henry David Thoreau
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson Society Distinguished Achievement Award, 2012
  • Guggenheim Fellowship, 2010-11
  • James Russell Lowell Prize, Modern Language Association, 2010
  • Merle Curti Award, Organization of American Historians, 2010
  • Michelle Kendrick Memorial Book Prize, Society for Literature, Science and the Arts, 2010
  • Russell Research Award for the Humanities and Social Sciences, University of South Carolina, 2010
  • Visiting Professor, Ecole Normale Superieure Lettres et Sciences Humaines, Lyon, France, 2009
  • Research Fellowship, Center for Humans and Nature, New York and Chicago, 2007
  • NEH Fellowship, 2001-02
  • ACLS Fellowship, 1995-96


Contact Information
330 Decio Hall
(574-) 631-2573

Postal address
Department of English
233 Decio Hall
Notre Dame, IN 46556