Historian Mauricio Tenorio-Trillo receives Humboldt Award

Prof. Mauricio Tenorio-Trillo has received a prestigious award from a German foundation for his research on Latin American history.

Granted annually by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation of Germany, the  Humboldt Research Award honors a scholar “whose fundamental discoveries, new theories or insights have had a significant impact on their own discipline and who are expected to continue producing cutting-edge achievements in the future.”

Tenorio-Trillo was nominated by Sebastian Conrad, a professor of history from the Free University in Berlin, in recognition of his work in global history, as well as his more recent pursuit studying the history of 19th-century world philology of the languages of the Iberian Peninsula, a region in Portugal and Spain.

“Starting in the late 18th century and the second part of the 19th century,” Tenorio-Trillo said, “I argue the world experienced a ‘logophilic,’ or love of words, moment, when people sought the meaning of words as concepts according to the evolution of different languages.”  

Tenorio-Trillo, the Samuel N. Harper Professor of History, Romance Languages and Literatures, and the College, said he knew he was a candidate but didn’t expect to receive the award.

“It was a great and happy surprise,” Tenorio-Trillo said. “For me, I want to believe the recognition is a way to show the excellence of topics and languages which are often considered marginal in mainstream scholarship.”

The Humboldt Award comes with a prize of 60,000 euros, which Tenorio-Trillo will put toward travel and research in Germany for his project looking at the historical study of Spanish, Portuguese and Catalan languages in the 19th century. In particular he is interested in the rise of “word hunters,” amateurs and professionals who became fascinated with the origins of languages, and who would eventually create the dictionaries and grammars of modern Spanish, Portuguese and Catalan.   

“It is a fascinating history that involves book collectors, nationalists and imperialists of all sorts, poets, and professional philologists and linguists,” said Tenorio-Trillo. “And of course, behind any single world language there is always 19th-century German philology, thus my need to visit Berlin libraries and archives.”   

Tenorio-Trillo joined the University of Chicago in 2007. In 2015, he received the Laing Prize from the University of Chicago Press for his book, I Speak of the City: Mexico City at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, which looks at the decades between 1880 and 1930 when Mexico City emerged as a modern city.

Tenorio-Trillo received his PhD in history from Stanford University. He is also an affiliated faculty at the Center for Latin American Studies and the Katz Center for Mexican Studies, and an associate professor at the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas in Mexico City.

Up to 100 Humboldt Research Awards are granted each year by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, which is named after the late Prussian naturalist and explorer.