Dr Seán WilliamsDr Seán Williams

Vice-Chancellor's Fellow; Member of the University Senate

Impact and Engagement Lead, School of Languages and Cultures

BBC/AHRC New Generation Thinker 2016

Fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce

Executive board, Association of German Studies in Great Britain and Ireland

Email: s.m.williams@shef.ac.uk

Twitter: @WiggishHistory

In the eighteenth century, “modernization” – for example, the division of labour as part of the industrial revolution, and the general professionalization that accompanied more centralized bureaucracies – led to many among the rising middle classes feeling as if their lives had become more “specialized”. They sought out ways to restore a more “wholesome” sense of individuality. In the German-speaking territories, literature and later philosophy laid claim to being “autonomous” domains (rather than branches of general learning); the answer to the now fragmented self and society, writers proposed, was art or speculative thought. Other solutions to developing a “whole” personality included self-development and education (Bildung) or, less intellectually, consumerism and leisure (especially wellness). I work on these eighteenth-century ideas and their cultural legacies, in German-speaking and in comparative contexts. (My current publications make reference to material mostly in German, but also in English, French, Dutch, Danish and Norwegian.) In doing so, I’ve moved from conceptions of authorship, literature and thought around 1800 to topics such as consumerism and wellness. Above all, I am currently tracing one “profession” that has eluded “professionalization” and is in my view a subversive character of culture: the hairdresser. (The term hairdresser was coined in the eighteenth century.)

I was awarded his DPhil from the University of Oxford in 2014. After a research fellowship in Germany, I was a lecturer in German and Comparative Literature at the University of Bern, in Switzerland.


Recent writing: a full publications list and links to all my media work are on my personal homepage.

'The Celebrification of Adolf Hitler', Celebrity Studies, 8 (4) Forum, 1-5.

‘E.T.A. Hoffmann und die Alltagskultur um 1800’, E.T.A. Hoffmann-Jahrbuch, 7-28.

‘On clichés, post-colonialism and the politicisation of Swiss literature: an interview with Martin R. Dean‘, German Life and Letters, 70.2, 284-290.

With Nora Ramtke, Das Erblühen der Blumenlesen. German Anthologies, 1700-1850, special number of German Life and Letters, 70.1 (2017). See introduction, 1-21. Edited book. (136 pages.)

'Philologische Notizen zu Blähungspulver und Jean Paul', Jahrbuch der Jean-Paul-Gesellschaft, 2016, 183-193.

'E.T.A. Hoffmann and the Hairdresser around 1800', Publications of the English Goethe Society, 81.1 (2016), 54-66.

'C.F. Gellert as Vorredner des Genies', in Matthias Schaffrick and Marcus Willand (eds.), Theorien und Praktiken der Autorschaft (Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 2014), pp. 333-362.

With W. Daniel Wilson, Post-War Literature and Institutions, special issue of Oxford German Studies 43.1 (2014). See also preface, 1-3. Edited Book (105 pages).

'Kant's Novel Interpretation of History', Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies, 49.2 (2013), 171-190.

Teaching and Supervision:

I teach the German Enlightenment and Romanticism, Thomas Mann, and contemporary Swiss literature. 

I am available for postgraduate supervision, and currently supervise two PhD projects: by Jade Johnson (as primary supervisor), and Katherine Calvert (as secondary supervisor).