Dr Seán Williams
BA, MSt, DPhil
School of Languages and Cultures
Senior Lecturer in German and European Cultural History
Full contact details
School of Languages and Cultures
1 Upper Hanover Street
Seán has BA (Congratulatory First), MSt (Distinction), and DPhil degrees from Oxford. He has also studied in the USA and Germany. 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.
- Research interests
Seán started out writing about German literary and intellectual history, especially of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. His work has since developed into much broader European cultural history. Coincidentally, the study of European cultural history actually began in Germany around 1800.
His book Pretexts for Writing is concerned with print culture around 1800, while his second book project – under contract with Reaktion Books – looks at cultural history since the eighteenth century, through the figure of the hairdresser.
Seán has edited special editions of German Life and Letters (on German literary anthologies 1700-1850) and Oxford German Studies (on post-war literature and institutions), and a special section of Forum for Modern Language Studies on Central European grand hotels, spas, and cultural criticism - a collection of essays examining material in German, Russian, Serbian, Croatian, Slovene and English.
Seán has published articles on topics ranging from philosophical contests with the eighteenth-century novel form, early consumer culture (from glassware to digestive cures), through to wigs and everyday stories of cancer survivorship in contemporary society. His work has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Hegel Archives, the Wellcome Trust, and other organisations.
Dr Seán Williams' research in under 60 seconds:
- Pretexts for Writing: German Romantic Prefaces, Literature, and Philosophy. Rutgers University Press.
- Home truths and uncomfortable spaces : Swiss hotels and literature of the 1920s. Forum for Modern Language Studies, 55(4), 444-465. View this article in WRRO
- Modern Central European hotels and spas in cultural criticism: Grand hotel nostalgia : an introduction. Forum for Modern Language Studies. View this article in WRRO
- The celebrification of Adolf Hitler. Celebrity Studies, 10(2), 300-304.
- ‘Cancer Coiffures’: Embodied Storylines of Cancer Patienthood and Survivorship in the Consumerist Cultural Imaginary. Body & Society, 24(4), 87-112. View this article in WRRO
- . The Modern Language Review, 113(4), 896-896.
- Consumption, Creativity, and Authors around 1800: The Case of E. T. A. Hoffmann. PEGS: Publications of the English Goethe Society, 87(2), 81-98. View this article in WRRO
- E.T.A. Hoffmann und die Alltagskultur um 1800. ETA Hoffmann-Jahrbuch, 25, 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.
- APPROACHING THE GERMAN ANTHOLOGY, 1700-1850: AN INTRODUCTION. German Life and Letters, 70(1), 1-21.
- E.T.A. Hoffmann and the Hairdresser around 1800. Publications of the English Goethe Society, 85(1), 54-66. View this article in WRRO
- View this article in WRRO Philologische Notizen zu Blähungspulver und Jean Paul. Jahrbuch der Jean-Paul-Gesellschaft, 2016, 61-73.
- Julia Bertschik and Wolfgang de Bruyn (eds.), Der Schatten des großen Königs. Friedrich II und die Literatur. Arbitrium, 33.3, 325-327.
- Jörg Kreienbrock, Malicious Objects, Anger Management and the Question of Modern Literature. Monatshefte, 106.4, 693-696.
- Computer-Aided Intelligent Recognition Techniques and Applications.
- C.F. Gellert als Vorredner des Genies, Theorien und Praktiken der Autorschaft (pp. 333-362). Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG
- . The Modern Language Review, 112(2), 535-535.
- The Very Late Goethe: Self-Consciousness and the Art of Ageing. Journal of Contemporary European Studies, 23(2), 308-309.
- Research group
Seán is available for postgraduate supervision, on topics from the eighteenth century to the present day. He currently supervises three PhD projects: nineteenth-century conceptions of Swissness by Jade Johnson (as primary supervisor), motherhood in Weimar Germany by Katherine Calvert (as secondary supervisor), and cross-cultural conceptions of the post-nuclear in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries by Alessandra Sau (primary supervisor).
- Teaching activities
Seán introduces first-year undergraduate students to the cultural history of the German-speaking territories in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
He is module convenor for the second-year module German Culture and Ideas: the first semester works through the concepts of “curiosity”, “common sense”, “obsession”, and “discipline” in order to understand the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
His final-year module Luxury and Liberty is a comparative study of the cultural history of consumerism in Germany and Britain, again in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
More broadly, Seán also contributes to the team teaching of twentieth and twenty-first century literature in German, including Swiss Studies.
- Professional activities
Seán is Impact & Engagement Lead for the School of Languages and Cultures. He has given talks on the practice of public engagement throughout the UK, and published on the topic.
He was named a BBC/AHRC New Generation Thinker in 2016 and was an AHRC Engaging with Government Fellow in 2018.
He is Fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, and Executive Board member of the Association of German Studies in Great Britain and Ireland.
He was a member of the University of Sheffield Senate, and is on the Management Committee of the Humanities Research Institute.
Seán is a regular contributor to international radio, cultural magazines, broadsheet newspapers, and television. He has presented discussion shows and his own documentaries on BBC Radio 3, and he has written for The Guardian, The Observer, The Telegraph, The Economist’s 1843 Magazine, The Statesman, BBC History Magazine, History Today, the Public Domain Review, and Neue Zürcher Zeitung, among others.