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Professor Potkay Wins NEH Fellowship

Adam Potkay, professor of British literature, is in the final throes of his book, The Story of Joy, from the Bible to Late Romanticism, due for publication by Cambridge University Press in 2007.

He anticipates that this book will be of interest not only to lovers of literature, but also to those in philosophy, history, musicology and theology. “It’s chiefly a literary and intellectual history, though to some degree a more broadly cultural one,” Potkay said, “touching on music, opera and film, politics and advertising, memoirs and revelations.”

Potkay, professor of British literature, is celebrating his seventeenth year on the faculty here, notes that this was his third attempt at a NEH Fellowship—his first received—and one he considers a “once in a lifetime” award. “In this book, I offer a history of joy or, more specifically, the ways in which joy has been addressed in Western literature and art philosophy and religion, psychology and statecraft,” he explained.

Potkay is taking a one-year leave of his teaching assignments—which include 18th-Century and Romantic-era literature and the Bible as literature—to finish his manuscript right here in Williamsburg. “I have to get a plug in for the library!” he said. “Everything I need is here. Our holdings are quite remarkable. ”

A large portion of his book concerns 18th- and 19th-Century literature, and Potkay can access the early modern and eighteenth-century holdings of the British Library through ECCO (Eighteenth Century Collection) and EEBO (Early English Books Online).

“Five years ago I would have had to have gone to London or Charlottesville to finish this book,” Potkay said. “I received the NEH starting July 1 to finish Joy, but I applied for the fellowship two years ago. At that point, I was deep in the midst of the book—which I would have written anyway—but the fellowship makes it possible to work on it full time and finish it sooner than later.”

NEH fellowships support individuals pursuing advanced research that contributes to scholarly knowledge or to the general public’s understanding of the humanities. Recipients usually produce scholarly articles, monographs on specialized subjects, books on broad topics, archaeological site reports, translations, editions or other scholarly tools. Full-term (9- to 12-month) NEH fellowships carry a stipend of $40,000 and allow recipients to take time off from teaching and other faculty duties in order to work full time on their research projects.

By Lillian Stevens for Ideation magazine