A. Roger Ekirch, a University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech, has been selected to receive a 2022 Outstanding Faculty Award from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV).

The award is the commonwealth’s highest honor for faculty in Virginia’s colleges and universities. It recognizes superior accomplishments in teaching, research, knowledge integration, and public service.

Ekirch, an award-winning historian whose writing has been translated into 10 languages, has achieved international acclaim for his six books.

One of those books, “American Sanctuary: Mutiny, Martyrdom, and National Identity in the Age of Revolution,” traces the far-reaching historical repercussions of the bloodiest mutiny ever suffered by Britain’s Royal Navy. The book’s national recognition has included a Main Selection of the History Book Club and a Book of the Week designation from Publisher’s Weekly.

Another book, “Birthright,” tells the true story of James Annesley, a presumptive heir of five aristocratic titles, whose abduction inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel “Kidnapped.” Published in 2011, “Birthright” was adapted into a BBC television documentary for which Ekirch served as program consultant and commentator.

The work that has received acclaim from historians and sleep scientists alike, however, has been “At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past.” That book, published in 2005, continues to garner attention nearly two decades later for Ekirch’s startling discovery that, before the Industrial Revolution, the dominant sleep pattern in Western societies was segmented. Two intervals of sleep were bridged by an hour or two of wakefulness shortly past midnight, during which people, Ekirch found, did “anything and everything imaginable,” from meditating to brewing ale to pilfering their neighbor’s chickens.

“Professor Ekirch has made a major contribution to both the history and our scientific understanding of sleep,” said Charles Czeisler, director of Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine. “His findings have led to changes in the practice of sleep disorders medicine, particularly for patients with middle-of-the-night insomnia — quite a feat for a historian.”

In addition to his books and scholarly articles, Ekirch has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, Humanities, Harper’s Magazine, Smithsonian magazine, and The Wall Street Journal, for which he is a regular book reviewer.

Before joining the Virginia Tech faculty in 1977, Ekirch earned his bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College and his master’s and doctoral degrees from Johns Hopkins University. He served as Cambridge University’s first Paul Mellon Fellow and received four National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships as well as a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship. He is a fellow of the Society of American Historians at Columbia University.

Ekirch’s honors at Virginia Tech include the Phi Beta Kappa Sturm Award, the Alumni Award for Research Excellence, and the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences Award for Excellence in Research and Creative Scholarship, which he received twice. In 2019, the Board of Visitors unanimously approved his appointment as a University Distinguished Professor, Virginia Tech’s preeminent faculty rank.

“Dr. Ekirch richly deserves the singular honor of the Outstanding Faculty Award,” said Laura Belmonte, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. “He is a remarkably prolific scholar whose work has left an incalculable impact on several fields. His intellectual breadth, elegant prose, and ability to engage wide audiences both within and beyond the academy are rare. I am delighted that SCHEV has recognized his myriad contributions, and we are incredibly fortunate to have him on our faculty.”

Ekirch is one of a dozen professors across the commonwealth to be honored with the award this year. He joins Virginia Tech’s Linsey Marr, the Charles P. Lunsford Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering, as a 2022 recipient.  

“My hope is that this marvelous award suggests I’ve been on the right track as a teacher and scholar,” Ekirch said, “however tortuous and imperfect the journey.”

Written by Paula Byron