Dr Seán Williams

BA, MSt, DPhil

School of Languages and Cultures

Senior Lecturer in German and European Cultural History

Sean Williams
Profile picture of Sean Williams

Full contact details

Dr Seán Williams
School of Languages and Cultures
Jessop West
1 Upper Hanover Street
S3 7RA

Seán Williams researches literary and cultural history since the eighteenth century. His specialism is on the German and, more widely, “Germanic”-speaking worlds. This work includes the intersections of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland with Britain, the Netherlands, and especially Northern Italy.

Seán has held visiting fellowships in Germany, Italy, Norway, Switzerland, and the USA. Before coming to Sheffield as a Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow in 2015, he taught German and Comparative Literature at the University of Bern in Switzerland.

A significant part of Seán’s academic work, alongside teaching and his scholarly publications, is in the Public Humanities. Media highlights are curated on his personal website.


Seán has BA (Congratulatory First), MSt (Distinction), and DPhil degrees from the University of Oxford. He has also studied in Germany and the USA.

Research interests

Seán started his career writing about German literary and intellectual history, especially of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. His book, Pretexts for Writing, was widely praised. He has since adopted a broader, comparative and cultural historical perspective on the German eighteenth century, its legacies, and its connections to other cultures. Coincidentally, the study of European cultural history actually began in Germany around 1800.

Seán welcomes enquiries about postgraduate supervision; he currently supervises comparative projects from the nineteenth century to the present day.

Teaching activities

Seán teaches across the whole German syllabus for history and literature. He contributes to a second-year “Germanic” module on aesthetic theories and histories of tourism, and his third-year specialist module is comparative. Comparative Critique of Consumer Society examines 18th and 19th-century fashion magazines in English, Dutch, German, Italian, and – translated by students themselves – also in Czech, French, Russian, and Spanish. The course covers contested histories of modern freedoms and questions of ethical consumption into the present, discussing perspectives from German(ic) critical theory along the way.

Professional activities and memberships

In the department, Seán is currently the lead for Knowledge Exchange. He was previously Director of Learning and Teaching, as well as the Impact lead.


Selected Publications


Williams, SM (2019). Pretexts for Writing: German Romantic Prefaces, Literature, and Philosophy. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press. New Studies in the Age of Goethe.

Reviewed in:

  • (i) Modern Language Review: “This debut book, in short, contains much that is scintillant and surely announces the arrival of an important new scholarly voice in Germanistik.”
  • (ii) The German Quarterly: “a study of tremendous academic rigor with original insights.”
  • (iii) The Lessing Yearbook: “perceptive, timely, and ambitious: perceptive in that it zeroes in on serious gaps in research, the exploration of which may alter our views of eighteenth-century German literature.”
  • (iv) The Year’s Work in Modern Languages Studies: “an ambitious and rich study”.
  • (v) Choice: “a challenging study.”
  • (vi) The Goethe Yearbook: “an insightful, original, and persuasive work – compelling pretexts for reading.”

Edited books

Williams, SM (2019). Forum for Modern Language Studies. 55.4. Edited Special Section: Modern Central European Hotels and Spas in Cultural Criticism. 79 pages. See also: Grand Hotel Nostalgia, 415-425.

Williams, SM & Ramtke N. (2017) German Life and Letters. 70.1. Special number: Das Erblühen der Blumenlesen. German Anthologies, 1700-1850. 136 pages. See also: Williams & Ramtke. Approaching the German Anthology, 1700 – 1850: An Introduction, 1-21.

Williams SM & Wilson WD (Ed.) (2015) Oxford German Studies 43.1. Special Issue: Post-War Literature and Institutions. Maney.  

Journal articles


  • Williams SM (2023). Setting the Scene: Tourist Infrastructure, Landscape, and Literature in the Swiss Alps from the 1880s to 1930s. In: Richard McClelland (ed.), The Draw of the Alps. Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, pp. 53-85.
  •  Williams SM (2023). Tonsorial Time (is Money), or: High Modernism, Industrial Capitalism, and Hairdressing. In: Helen Baur, Elena Casanova, and Lilli Hölzlhammer (eds.), Gegenständliche Poetiken des Haares. Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 183-208.
  • Williams SM (2015) C.F. Gellert als Vorredner des Genies, Theorien und Praktiken der Autorschaft (pp. 333-362). Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG