Art History Professor Peter Christensen Awarded Berlin Prize

The annual award is intended to foster transatlantic dialogue in the arts, humanities, and public policy.

Headshot of Peter Christensen.
Art history professor Peter Christensen was one of 23 scholars recognized by the American Academy in Berlin.

By David Andreatta

Peter Christensen, the Arthur Satz Professor of Humanities, has been named a recipient of the prestigious Berlin Prize, an annual award intended to foster transatlantic dialogue in the arts, humanities, and public policy.

The prize, awarded by the American Academy in Berlin, includes a semester-long fellowship in Berlin, where recipients are given the time and resources for scholarly pursuits.

Christensen intends to use his fellowship in Fall 2024 to begin writing a book on what it means to “live with dignity” that stands to be the first to approach the question from the standpoint of design and architecture. Specifically, his research will delve into how the concept of dignity can inspire a way of life amid a changing global climate that simultaneously values humanity and the environment.

“Unlike a standard of living or wealth . . . dignity does not grow ad infinitum,” Christensen wrote in his proposal. “Rather, it exists in the proverbial ‘sweet spot’ between poverty and excess, and the material manifestation of space and the quality of life connoted by dignity most readily communicate the degree to which an individual lives with dignity.”

The tentative title of his book is Living with Dignity.

The American Academy in Berlin awarded 23 prizes for the 2024­­–25 academic year. Recipients hailed from a broad range of academic fields that included film studies, history, journalism, music, and political science, among others.

In announcing the winners, the academy noted the recipients are representative of the highest standards of excellence in their fields.

Christensen’s most recent work includes a new book, Prior Art: Patents and the Nature of Invention in Architecture, published in May by MIT Press. The book marries intellectual property and architectural invention and chronicles the ways in which each influenced how buildings are conceived, designed, and constructed. Christensen is also the author of Precious Metal: German Steel, Modernity, and Ecology (Penn State University Press 2022) and Germany and the Ottoman Railways (Yale University Press 2017).

The American Academy in Berlin is an independent, nonpartisan research and cultural institution dedicated to sustaining and enhancing intellectual, cultural, and political ties between the United States and Germany. The academy was created in 1994 and its first class of fellows was introduced in 1998.