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Theresa Braunschneider’s Study of Nighttime Activities in the 18th Century Wins ACLS Fellowship

Theresa Braunschneider, associate professor of English at Washington and Lee University, has been awarded a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Society (ACLS) that she will use for a sabbatical year during 2009-10 to complete her new book, After Dark: Modern Nighttime in 18th Century Literature. She is the first W&L faculty member to win the fellowship.

“I hope to read and research and write a good deal more because of this award,” says Braunschneider. “I was surprised and thrilled to be given such an honor. I like that it means not only that I receive support to spend the year writing but it’s also a kind of endorsement of my project.”

“This is an extremely competitive fellowship,” says Lesley Wheeler, professor of English and department chair, “and it will enable her to develop this exciting new work. Between this and the major prize she won for her book Our Coquettes, she is clearly having a banner year.”

Braunschneider says she didn’t realize until she received her acceptance letter that the competition was so stiff. ACLS awarded only 57 fellowships out of 1,007 applications.

Scholars in all of the humanities and social sciences assessed the applications, which have to show how a project might benefit academics in other fields. “It means I did a good job with the proposal in speaking to other audiences about my project, and making them understand what might be useful about it,” says Braunschneider.

Her new book will look at how the radical changes in the use of nighttime in the 18th century were linked to notions of modernity.

She explains that in the early 18th-century writers used the very new phenomenon of public nocturnal assembly in London to define the age as modern. “People were going out at night—to pleasure gardens, balls, assemblies, theater and opera,” she says. “This reflected a broader 18th-century enlightenment notion that people could be independent from natural cycles. New lighting technologies meant going to bed at four in the morning and getting up in the afternoon. It was a real shift in people’s schedules. And the period’s writers often measure their modernity—their sense of difference from and advancement beyond earlier periods—by this shift, suggesting, ‘w are not beholden to the rising and setting of the sun to determine our social schedules. We are a modern people who have paved and lit the streets of London.’”

Braunschneider will examine the ways in which writers of the period actively debated how the fall of darkness should affect individual behavior and social interaction, and how they regularly defined their “age” in terms of its nocturnal activity.

No previous study has analyzed the literary treatment of nighttime or used time of day as a central category of analysis. Braunschneider hopes that time of day could be become a category of analysis for scholars in many different fields—socially, politically, philosophically, musically, psychologically, economically and/or literarily.

Braunschneider earned her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in English and women’s studies. Her research for the new book will primarily emphasize the dynamic relationship between conceptions of gender, modernity and nighttime.