Hairdressing historian set to become broadcasting star

One of the UK’s most promising researchers has been tipped to be a future broadcasting star by the BBC.

Dr Seán Williams from the University of Sheffield’s School of Languages and Cultures (SLC) has been named as a New Generation Thinker.

The New Generation Thinkers prize is an initiative launched by BBC Radio 3 and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to find the brightest minds from across the UK who have the potential to transform their research into engaging broadcast programmes.

Dr Williams, who is also a Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield in recognition of his outstanding research activities, is an expert on German and Comparative Literature, especially of the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Since taking up his post in Sheffield in October 2015, Dr Williams has launched a new project to write a cultural history of the hairdresser.

The project explores the emergence of the modern hairdresser, who rose to prominence in the mid-18th century. The book traces this history to the hairdresser we’re familiar with today.

Dr Williams said: "I’m delighted to be a New Generation Thinker, because it means my work will now reach wider audiences.

“While writing a cultural history of the hairdresser, people often tell me about their hairdressing experiences, or ask me whether films or literary texts they have in mind feature in my work.

“This helps my research in that it brings possible sources to my attention, but it also enables me to place a common, everyday experience such as hairdressing in a historical context, talking about the evolution of the hairdresser in society since the 18th century, across Europe and beyond."

Professor Andrew Thompson, Chief Executive of the AHRC, said: "Over the last decade we've seen a golden age of dramas and documentaries on our screens and airwaves, underpinned by high quality research, communicated by passionate academics.

"The New Generation Thinkers Scheme feeds this huge appetite for experts to share their specialist knowledge that helps illuminate our lives and stimulates our curiosity.

"This year's ten are a superb example of the broad range of subjects and insights that the arts and humanities give to our lives, helping us to understand the past, the present and the future."

The Hairdresser in History project

Additional information

New Generation Thinkers

New Generation Thinkers was launched in November 2010 at Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival of Ideas. The New Generation Thinkers scheme invites applications from academics at an early stage of their career who are passionate about communicating modern scholarship to a wider audience. Since 2010, 40 academics from across the UK have presented documentaries on Radio 3, taken part in discussion programmes and made taster films for BBC Arts Online. Listeners can hear contributions from previous New Generation Thinkers on Radio 3's Free Thinking programme and via the Free Thinking website:

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class research in a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern dance, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, English literature, design, the creative and performing arts, and many more. Each year the AHRC spends approximately £98m to fund research and postgraduate training often in collaboration with partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds provide considerable economic, social and cultural benefits to the UK.

The University of Sheffield

With almost 27,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2016 and was voted number one university in the UK for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education in 2014. In the last decade it has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.

Sheffield has five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.


For further information please contact: 

Sean Barton
Media Relations Assistant
University of Sheffield
0114 222 9852