Roger Ekirch is an award-winning author and a professor of history at Virginia Tech. His writing has been translated into eight languages. Although early America remain his teaching interest, his research has ranged widely to include European as well as American history - even the history of sleep, a more recent pursuit.
His latest book, American Sanctuary: Mutiny, Martyrdom, and National Identity in the Age of Revolution, was published in February 2017 by Pantheon, an imprint of Alfred A. Knopf. A “Main Selection” of the History Book Club, American Sanctuary opens in 1797 with the bloodiest mutiny ever suffered by Britain’s Royal Navy, aboard the frigate Hermione in the Caribbean. Besides rocking the momentous American election of 1800, the powerful aftershocks of the Hermione crisis helped to shape the infant republic’s identity - how Americans envisioned both themselves and the nation’s destiny. It also led directly to the country’s historic decision to grant political asylum to refugees from foreign governments, a major achievement in fulfilling the resonant promise of American independence, voiced by Tom Paine, to provide “an asylum for mankind.” “Ekirch’s brilliant reconstruction . . . is a triumph of historical research and analysis. American Sanctuary is one of the most important—and enjoyable—books I have read in many years,” states Peter S. Onuf, Thomas Jefferson Foundation Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia. The Wall Street Journal raved, “Deeply researched and elegantly written . . . Gripping and timely . . . It isn’t often that a reviewer of a history book needs to avoid spoilers, but Mr. Ekirch, a professor of history at Virginia Tech, is such a masterful storyteller that ‘American Sanctuary’ reads like a mystery.” A “dramatic tale,” wrote the New York Times, “in the mode of Nathaniel Philbrick’s nautical histories.”
In addition to scholarly articles in such journals as the William and Mary Quarterly, Past & Present, and Sleep, his writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Guardian, Humanities, Harper’s Magazine, the Huffington Post, Smithsonian Magazine, and the Wall Street Journal, for which he has been a regular book reviewer. Prof. Ekirch has been interviewed on the BBC, CBC, “Morning Edition,” “Talk of the Nation,” “On Point,” and “Weekend Edition,” as well as on “BBC One,” “Book TV,” “The History Channel,” PBS’s “Points of View,” Canadian Public Television, and the BBC's "One Show.” In 2011, his fourth monograph, Birthright (W.W. Norton, 2010) inspired the BBC television documentary “Kidnapped” (2011), for which Prof. Ekirch served as the program consultant and a commentator.
Meanwhile, his path-breaking work uncovering the history of “segmented sleep” has revamped traditional assumptions about normal human slumber. A member of the editorial board of Sleep Health: The Journal of the National Sleep Foundation, he has given keynote addresses to medical gatherings in Kyoto, Cambridge (UK), Göttingen (Germany), Washington, D.C., Richmond, Denver, and, most recently, in London at the Royal Society of Medicine. Invited to give a lecture on the “Anthropology of Sleep,” he has been a participant in Oxford University’s online MSc program in sleep medicine. With far-reaching implications for the study of modern sleep disorders, his research has been profiled in feature articles in more than fifty publications, ranging from the Washington Post and the Financial Times to Applied Neurology and the New Yorker. "Many people wake up at night and panic. I tell them that what they are experiencing is a throw-back to the bi-modal sleep pattern,” Prof. Russell Foster, Chair of Circadian Neuroscience at Oxford, observed in the Feb. 2012 issue of the BBC News Magazine featuring Prof. Ekirch’s work. The government of Japan has incorporated his research into national guidelines for sleep hygiene, as has the United Kingdom Sleep Council. In an article in Scientific American Mind, Walter A. Brown, M.D. of Brown University Medical School marveled, “The source of this new assault on conventional thinking comes not from a drug company or a university research program but from a historian.” His scholarship has also inspired art exhibitions at the Galleria Raucci Santamaria in Naples, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and the Bonniers Konsthall Museum of Contemporary Art in Stockholm.
Earlier books have included Bound for America: The Transportation of British Convicts to the Colonies, 1718-1775, published in 1987 by Clarendon/Oxford University Press; Birthright: The True Story of the Kidnapping of Jemmy Annesley (W.W. Norton, 2010); and At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past (W.W. Norton, 2005), a panoramic study of nocturnal culture before the Industrial Revolution (now in its ninth printing) which garnered four prizes, among them an award given by the history honor society Phi Alpha Theta for the “best subsequent book” in all fields of history. His article in 2001, “Sleep We Have Lost: Pre-Industrial Slumber in the British Isles,” in the American Historical Review, earned two awards, including the James L. Clifford Prize given by the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies.
During Prof. Ekirch’s career, he has received four fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and in 1981-1982 he became the first Paul Mellon Fellow at Cambridge University, where he taught in the Faculty of History and resided as a Fellow Commoner at Peterhouse. Over the summer of 1995, he directed an NEH “Summer Seminar for School Teachers. ” In 1998, he was awarded a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship. At Virginia Tech, Prof. Ekirch has received the Phi Beta Kappa Sturm Award, 2006, the Alumni Award for Research Excellence in 2009; the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences Award for Excellence in Research and Creative Scholarship (2009 and 2015); and the Faculty Excellence Award (2009), presented annually by graduate students in the Department of History. The following year, the Virginia Social Science Association bestowed its “Scholar Award in History.”
Roger Ekirch was born in Washington, D.C. He graduated cum laude with highest distinction in His most recent book, American Sanctuary: Mutiny, Martyrdom, and National Identity in the Age of Revolution, history from Dartmouth College in 1972. Obtaining his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Johns Hopkins University, he arrived at Virginia Tech in 1977. He and his family make their home on Sugarloaf Mountain in Roanoke County.
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