Sydney S. Gross
Director of Communications
The Academic Awards Committee of Columbia College is pleased to announce the 2016 winners of the student-nominated Lionel Trilling Book Award and Mark Van Doren Award for Teaching. Susan Pedersen, the Gouverneur Morris Professor of History, will be awarded the 41st annual Lionel Trilling Book Award, for her recent book, The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire. Liza Knapp, associate professor of Slavic languages, will be honored with the 55th annual Mark Van Doren Award for Teaching, for her unparalleled dedication to both the Department of Slavic Languages and the Core Curriculum.
The honorees are selected annually by a committee of Columbia College students to recognize faculty members for their contributions to academia and publishing. They will receive their awards at a ceremony on May 4, at 6 p.m., in Faculty Room, Low Library. All are invited to attend.
About the Lionel Trilling Book Award
The Lionel Trilling Book Award is awarded annually to a member of the faculty whose book was published in the previous year and upholds a level of excellence commensurate with the work of Lionel Trilling CC’25, GSAS’38. The award was established in 1976 in honor of Trilling, a gifted and dedicated Columbia professor who was committed to undergraduate education, as well as a public intellectual known for his scholarship and literary criticism, which appealed to a wide audience.
The committee called Pedersen’s book, The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire, “unprecedentedly thorough” and said she “brings to light historical topics with keen knowledge of the era.” The book tells the story of how internationalists sought to use the League of Nations to reform and stabilize the imperial order after the cataclysm of the First World War, and how, by creating new opportunities for scrutiny and contestation, they further destabilized that order instead.
Committee member Julian Yano CC’18 said the committee appreciated Pedersen’s “astounding insight… explaining exactly why post-World War I stability unraveled.”
“The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire, stood out to us because of the sheer force of its narrative, as well as the depth of its research,” said Anvita Budhraja CC’18, co-chair of the Academic Awards Committee. “In this very pertinent narrative that Professor Pedersen weaves, we recognize not only exceptional intellectual thought, but a relevance to the academic world that transcends both geographical and temporal boundaries.”
Pedersen, who specializes in British history, the British Empire, comparative European history, and international history, said ideas for the book came out of conversations with Columbia students.
“I began working on this book a few years after I arrived at Columbia in 2005, and many of its arguments were worked out in conversations and courses with students, undergraduate and graduate,” Pedersen said. “I'm particularly honored and delighted, then, that the students have chosen to award this book the Lionel Trilling prize.”
About the Mark Van Doren Award for Teaching
The Mark Van Doren Award for Teaching was established in honor of Mark Van Doren GSAS’20, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, novelist, playwright, critic, editor and biographer, as well as a renowned scholar and legendary Columbia faculty member. It has been awarded annually since 1962 in recognition of a faculty member’s humanity, devotion to truth and inspiring leadership.
Committee members said Knapp embodies all of Van Doren’s qualities as an exceptional teacher and mentor. They were impressed with her commitment to the Core Curriculum and “to fostering the growth of her students, particularly first-years,” as well as her dedication to the larger Columbia community, including her involvement in the Harriman Institute.
The committee observed Knapp’s Tolstoy and Dostoevsky class, as well as her Literature Humanities section, finding both to be “engaging learning environments for all of Knapp’s enthusiastic students,” they said.
“Liza Knapp’s energy and enthusiasm in the classroom is contagious,” said Rebecca Teich CC’18, a member of the Academic Awards Committee. “Her commitment to her students warrants admiration.”
“We were very impressed by Professor Knapp's commitment of time and resources to the growth of her first-years, as well as her passion for the Core, evidenced by her many years of teaching Literature Humanities," said Lily Liu-Krason CC’16, co-chair of the Academic Awards Committee.
Knapp, who teaches and writes about the Russian classics within the Russian context and in relation to English, French and American literature, said she was honored to be awarded the Mark Van Doren Prize.
“I am thrilled,” Knapp said. “Teaching literature here—the Russian classics, Literature Humanities texts, or other works—is a joy. The students make it new every time.”
About the Academic Awards Committee
The Columbia College Academic Awards committee is responsible for awarding the Van Doren and Trilling awards each year. The committee consists of 20 students that represent a cross-section of classes and majors. The group meets weekly throughout the academic year to determine the professor and book most fitting for awards, auditing the courses of Van Doren nominees and reading the books of Trilling nominees.
Van Doren criteria include class presentation of material, undergraduate community involvement and mentorship of students. Trilling nominations are considered for style, accessibility, scholarship, relevance, and whether or not the committee would recommend the book to peers.
Yano said committee members’ conversations in determining the honorees reflect conversations within Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilization. “I really like that the Academic Awards Committee takes and applies the Core spirit of informal, discussion-based learning to find astounding talent,” he said.