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Ada Palmer is a cultural and intellectual historian who grew up in Annapolis, MD. She attended Simon's Rock College of Bard from 1997-1999, and then transferred to Bryn Mawr, where she graduated in 2001. She obtained her Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2009. From 2009-2014 Palmer was an Assistant Professor of History at Texas A&M University, specializing in the history of the Renaissance. In 2014 Palmer became an Assistant Professor in the History Department at the University of Chicago. She published her first monograph, Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance, based on her dissertation, in 2014. She teaches on European intellectual history, the Renaissance, Early Modern and Enlightenment periods in Europe, and the history of science and technology, among other topics.
Palmer is very active in the science fiction fan and filker communities. She is an authority on manga and anime and has staffed a number of anime conventions, with special attention paid to cosplay events. In addition, she composes and performs her own music (mostly a capella) that generally incorporates folk and Renaissance styles. She is a member of the a cappella filk group Sassafras, and as part of that group has composed a song cycle based on Norse mythology and the history of medieval Iceland in which the myths took their most well-known written form, entitled Sundown: Whispers of Ragnarok.
In addition to this, Palmer is also a science fiction novelist. Her first series, Terra Ignota, had the first book, Too Like The Lightning, released in May 2016. Set in Earth's far future, the series is written in the style of 18th-century philosophical fiction. It received the 2017 Compton Crook Award and was nominated in 2017 for the Hugo Award for Best Novel. The sequel, Seven Surrenders, was released in early 2017, and the third volume in the series, The Will To Battle later that year. The final volume in the series, Perhaps The Stars was released in late 2021.
Palmer won the 2017 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.