This is an ambitious book, and not one for the dilettantish reader. Craig Koslofsky sees ‘the night’, not so much as a discrete object of historical study in its own right, but as a mechanism for exploring (one is tempted to say, shedding light on) a range of important themes in the social, cultural and political history of early modern Europe. Its scope, as the author informs us at the outset, covers the reciprocal relationships between night and ‘witchcraft persecutions, confessional formation, absolutism and court culture, the civilizing process, social discipline, gender and the public sphere, and colonization, race, and the early Enlightenment’. To which one can only add, wow. The central idea in the book is the concept of ‘nocturnalization’, defined here as ‘the ongoing expansion of the legitimate social and symbolic uses of the night’.
Night-time is a compelling subject for the historian because it is both an inescapable facet of common experience (something connecting us to our ancestors) and also a resonant source of metaphor and meaning (something that often emphasises our differences from them). Koslofsky, a distinguished historian of Reformation-era Germany,