Preston is the fourth William & Mary faculty member to win a National Humanities Center fellowship since the center opened 32 years ago. She will spend the year alongside other scholars, each of whom will be working on a substantial research project.
“These fellowships generally go to scholars who have completed—or nearly completed—research on a major project,” Preston explains. “I’m currently working on a book on the performance of English-language opera in the United States during the second half of the 19th Century, and the role that women played in the dissemination of that music.”
Preston has published three books, and recently has completed two other large projects that will be published in late 2009 or early 2010. She is delighted to focus on this particular book, having conducted the research for it over the course of many years. Finding uninterrupted time to write, however, was difficult, in particular during the years she served as chair of the Department of Music. The time at the Humanities Center will allow her to focus exclusively on this project, which is titled Against the Grain: Women Managers and English Opera in Late Nineteenth-Century America.
“English opera is one style of musical theatre about which we know very little. It was, however, very popular. I am also interested in the women who were the stars or prima donnas of the companies, as many of them were musical directors of their own troupes,” she said. “This is contrary to the social expectation of women during the time and certainly flies in the face of our perceptions about what was socially permissible for women during this period.”
Preston noted that the NHC fellowship experience is structured to foster scholarly interaction and collaboration.
“We are expected to use the time to think, network with other scholars and write. The 33 fellows are, in fact, in residence with offices in the center and are expected to be there,” she explained. “There is a real opportunity to get to know the other fellows, develop a sense of community, share ideas in seminars, lectures and conferences.”
Preston’s NHC fellowship comes on the heels of another major honor. Just last semester, she taught American music courses at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, as the Walt Whitman Distinguished Chair of American Culture, a Fulbright Fellowship award.
She joins the ranks of leading scholars who will come to Research Triangle Park in 2009-10 from the faculties of 23 colleges and universities in 14 states and also from four institutions in other nations including Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and the United Kingdom. Chosen from 475 applicants, the scholars represent the fields of history, literature, philosophy, art history, anthropology, environmental studies, musicology and religion.
The NHC, a privately incorporated independent institute, is the only independent entity of its kind in the world dedicated solely to advanced studies in the humanities. Since 1978 the center has awarded fellowships to leading scholars in the humanities, whose work there has resulted in the publication of more than 1,200 books in all fields of humanistic study.