An artist, a neuroscientist, and a historian walk into a bar. . .

Or rather, they walk into a BBC interview studio–and they discuss the night from their different disciplinary perspectives.   Here are the results!

Do we manipulate the darkness, or does it manipulate us?

Oxford Professor of Circadian Neuroscience, Russell Foster, explains his research which shows how the blue-tinged sky of dusk is a trigger that tells our bodies it’s time to prepare for bed[, a]nd why it would be good for us to go back to rising with the dawn and going to bed at sundown.

Rut Blees Luxemburg finds surprising richness of night-time colours in her photographs, and historian Craig Koslofsky shows how early modern Europeans first colonised the night by introducing street lighting.

And most interstingly of all, Craig Koslofsky of the University of Illinois talks about his research for Evening’s Empire:  A History of the Night in Early Modern Europe.  If you just want to hear about the book, scroll ahead to about 32:15 in the podcast. 

(Found via this story, which cites not only Koslofsky’s recent book, but also the research of A. Roger Ekirch on the historical evidence for “segmented sleep,” the common experience of sleep disturbed by regular interruptions.)

7 thoughts on “An artist, a neuroscientist, and a historian walk into a bar. . .

  1. I’m glad to see a professional validation of my new post-kids rhythm. I see every sunset, and go to bed shortly after sunset; more time in the dark during the winter, but pretty close. I don’t know that I feel “better” though!


  2. As soon as they abandoned the so-called “Presidential Synthesis” as an organizing framework (back in 1952, I think) I said “here we go,” pretty soon we’re going to have a chaos of contesting paradigms; atlantic v. continental history, backcountry v. frontcountry… Now we’re going to see “nocturnality” studies emerging to topple the hegemons of “clear-day thinking” who’ve been lording it over the humanities since the primordial sun came up.

    More seriously, if slightly off-topic, Roger Ekirch previously wrote a book, _Poor Carolina_, analyzing politics and society in North Carolina, the probably least prototypically “southern” colony in the eighteenth century North American continental “South,” and doubtless many other things as well. I’ve often wondered what factors determine (if that’s the right word) the emergence of “project personality” in individual scholars. Some researchers continue to mine fairly narrow (of often very significant) veins of subject matter, book after book or in series of essays, while others tend to jump around considerably, with the connection or directionality of change in the “body of work” emerging either belatedly or sometimes fairly artifactually, or not at all. I’m in the “jump around” school myself, but as I say, I’ve often wondered whether it’s connected to temperament, or is grounded in subject matter, or even in discipline or sub-field or what.


  3. @Indyanna, it’s personality, I’m sure. I a “jump around” person, but good friends in my field are definitely deep diggers in more or less one area.


  4. I only read the beeb article, not the podcast or book, and this is not a comment on the science at all, but I really hate the way that ‘look people did it in the past’ becomes a euphamism for ‘look it’s natural’, so we must be ‘doing it wrong’. Dude, people in the past were shaped by culture too! Maybe this worked for them at that point; it doesn’t mean we should all jump on the bandwagon. Rant over.


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