Alexander Ames Prize Winner
Alexander Ames won the Wilbur Owen Sypherd Prize in Humanities for his dissertation, The Letter and the Spirit: Calligraphy, Manuscripts, and Popular Piety in German Pennsylvania, 1750–1850. In it, Ames proposes a new approach to analyzing Pennsylvania German manuscript culture through the study of Fraktur, a German calligraphic style popular among German Pietists who made their home in the British colonies.
While scholarly tradition treated these manuscripts and objects as works of art, Ames uses them as a lens through which to understand the lived experiences, faith and culture of Pennsylvania Pietists, illuminating the significance of German Pietism to American religion. This influential movement, originating in the 17th century Lutheran church, emphasized personal devoutness over religious formality.
In his nomination letter, James Brophy, Francis H. Squire Professor of History at UD, described Ames’ dissertation as “trailblazing,” offering “new sight lines for interpreting transatlantic religious bonds.”
“For the first time, one sees illuminated hymns, musical notation, writing primers, and biblical quotations as part of an integrated, holistic pedagogy to enhance spiritual devotion through scribal practice … unlocking broader truths about Pietist sensibility through exacting analysis of local religiosity,” Brophy said.
Arwen Mohun, chair of the Department of History, called Ames “a formidable scholar in the humanities — a historian of American religion, a singular voice in the history of the book, and an authority on early American material culture.” At the same time, she said she considered Ames a “visionary citizen of UD,” too, citing his involvement on the American civilization doctoral degree program’s steering committee, conference presentations and even his musical talents playing the harp.