“Das Druckenlassen verhält sich zum Denken, wie eine Wochenstube zum ersten Kuß”

(Friedrich Schlegel, 1798: “Publishing is to thinking as the birth chamber relates to a first kiss.”)

I write academic books and articles, general interest essays for newspapers and magazines, and online commentaries.


Intellectual and Literary History, 1700 – 1850: The Autonomy of Literature and Thought

1. BOOK [ForthcomingPretexts for Writing: German Romantic Prefaces, Literature and Philosophy. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press. New Studies in the Age of Goethe. Sponsored by the Goethe Society of North America.

Blurb: Around 1800, in the heyday of European Romanticism, print culture became a particularly rich source for metaphors about thinking as well as writing. A primary type of text—indeed, of “paratext”—that was contested and conceived anew in this age was the preface. In this incisive, highly original book, Seán Williams reads prefaces to German literature and philosophy in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries as pretexts for writing. Pretexts for Writing examines three of the most remarkable preface-writers of that era—Goethe, Jean Paul and Hegel—in the contexts not only of German, but also European print culture, thought and literature. In particular, Laurence Sterne’s two novels in English provoked playful responses by German “Romantic” authors to the contemporary problems of prefacing.

In this age of an “autonomous,” yet market-driven intellectual sphere, the Romantic preface was defined by its paradoxes. Authors wished to shake off the shackles of scholarly pedantry, yet wanted to be taken seriously all the same. They yearned to appeal to, but also to antagonize readers: desiring to be understood, yet not easily consumed. Thus the preface became not only a pragmatic, but also a creative and conceptual problem, and a broadly Romantic form in which almost every act of genuine reflection was understood to expose epistemological contradiction.

Williams also explores the “after story” of the Romantic preface in avant-garde authors such as Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Derrida. He thereby sketches out a far-reaching tradition in which an author implies or asserts his opposition to conventional ways of reading, yet in doing so demands adherence to his original prescription for approaching a work — as outlined in its preface.

2. ED. VOLUME [2017] German Life and Letters. 70.1 Special number on Das Erblühen der Blumenlesen. German Anthologies, 1700-1850, edited and introduced together with Nora Ramtke. (136 pages, here.)

3. [2017] with Nora Ramtke (co-author). ‘Approaching the German Anthology, 1700 – 1850: An Introduction‘, German Life and Letters 70.1, 1-21.

4. [2014] ‘C.F. Gellert als Vorredner des Genies’ in Matthias Schaffrick and Marcus Willand (eds.), Theorien und Praktiken der Autorschaft. (spectrum Literaturwissenschaft) (Berlin/New York: de Gruyter), pp. 333-362.

5. [2013] ‘Kant’s Novel Interpretation of History’ , Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies 49.2. Special issue on the eighteenth-century German novel, edited by Matt Erlin and Sean Franzel, 171-190.


Cultural and Literary History, circa and since 1800: Consumerism

1. [2018] ‘Consumption, Creativity, and Authors around 1800: The Case of E.T.A. Hoffmann‘, Publications of the English Goethe Society. (18 pages.)

2. [2017] ‘E.T.A. Hoffmann und die Alltagskultur um 1800’, E.T.A. Hoffmann-Jahrbuch, 7-28.

3. [2016] ‘E.T.A. Hoffmann and the Hairdresser around 1800’, Publications of the English Goethe Society 85, 54-66. Read for free.

4. [2016] ‘Philologische Notizen zu Blähungspulver und Jean Paul’, Jahrbuch der Jean-Paul-Gesellschaft, 183-195. 

5. BOOK [Under contract] A History of the Hairdresser. Cuts and Crises | Craft versus Art | Cultural Change and Revolution. [Working title]. Reaktion Books.



Cultural Studies, Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries: Especially Wellness and Politics

1. [2018], with Kari Nyheim Solbraekke (secondary author, Williams primary), ‘”Cancer Coiffures”: Embodied Storylines of Cancer Patienthood and Survivorship in the Consumerist Cultural Imaginary’Body & Society. 26 pages. Online First. Read for free. Extra material here.

2. [2017] ‘The Celebrification of Adolf Hitler’Celebrity Studies 8 (4) Forum, 1-5.

3. [2017] ‘On clichés, post-colonialism and the politicisation of Swiss literature: an interview with Martin R. Dean‘, German Life and Letters, 70.2, 284-290.

4. ED. VOLUME [2014] Oxford German Studies. 43.1 Special issue on Post-War Literature and Institutions, edited and introduced together with W. Daniel Wilson. (105 pages, see here). See ‘Preface’, 1-3:  here.



Shorter Academic Pieces (three pages and under, especially book reviews)

1. [2018]. Contribution to ‘Doing German Differently: New Research Practices and Partnerships around the UK‘, German Life and Letters 71:3, 374-394 (389-391).

2. [2018] Miriam Albracht, Iuditha Balint and Frank Weiher (eds.), Goethe und die Arbeit. Modern Language Review, 113.4, pp. 896-897.

3. [2017] James Hawes, The Shortest History of Germany. History Today (October 2017), pp. 104-105 for a general audience, here.

4. [2017] Malte Osterloh, Versammelte Menschenkraft. Die Großstadterfahrung in Goethes Italiendichtung. Modern Language Review, 112.2, pp. 535-536.

5. [2015] T. J. Reed, Light in Germany. Scenes from an Unknown Enlightenment. History Today (October 2015), pp. 57-58 – for a general audience.

6. [2015] Julia Bertschik and Wolfgang de Bruyn (eds.), Der Schatten des großen Königs. Friedrich II und die Literatur. Arbitrium, 33.3, pp. 325-327.

7. [2015] Charlotte Lee, The Very Late Goethe. Self-Conciousness and the Art of Ageing. Journal of Contemporary European Studies, 23.2, pp. 308-309. Here. 

8. [2014] Jörg Kreienbrock, Malicious Objects, Anger Management and the Question of Modern Literature. Monatshefte, 106.4, pp. 693-696.

9. [2013] ‘Vorrede zu Vorreden: Jean Paul’s Pretexts for Literary Parody’. Sylvia Naish prize lecture in newsletter of the Society of Friends of London’s Institute for Germanic and Romance Studies. 10 pages.

10. [2013] Thomas Wegmann, Dichtung und Warenzeichen. Reklame im literarischen Feld 1850-2000. Modern Language Review 108.1, pp. 322-3.

11. [with Rose Baker] Conference Report of  Theories and Practices of the Archive. Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach. April 2012.  (Here.)

12. [2012] Christoph Jürgensen and Gerhard Kaiser (eds.), Schriftstellerische Inszenierungspraktiken – Typologie und Geschichte. And Stephan Pabst (ed.), Anonymität und Autorschaft. Zur Literatur- und Rechtsgeschichte der Namenlosigkeit. Modern Language Review 107.4, pp. 1297-1300.

13. [2012] Olaf Kramer, Goethe und die Rhetorik. Modern Language Review 107.4, pp. 1279-1280.

14. [2010] Marcel Sturm, Goethes Weg nach Weimar: Kontinuität des Sturm und Drang in den Jahren 1770- 1790. New Perspectives on the Eighteenth Century. Southeastern American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. 7.1, pp. 99-101.

16. [2010] Andrea Geier and Jan Süselbeck (eds.), Konkurrenzen, Konflikte, Kontinuitäten: Generationenfragen in der Literatur seit 1990. Focus on German Studies (17), pp. 125-127. (Here.)

17. [2010] Agnes Jäger, History of German Negation. Zeitschrift für Sprachwissenschaft. 29.1., pp. 191-195.


Writing for a General Audience (in English and German), Print and Online:

I have written for:

BBC History Magazine (July 2018, 2-page centrefold, and History Extra), on travelling to Bern, Switzerland, and its history;

The Statesman (Indian broadsheet newspaper), on cancer wigs and popular culture;

The Guardian, on ice-skating in 2018 and in the eighteenth century;

Times Higher Education supplement, on empathy and literature;

The Conversation on Britain, Switzerland and Brexit;

The Liberal Democrat Voice on Brexit, on strategy, on direction, and on liberal rent reforms.

The Huffington Post on historical cures for baldness;

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung on higher education (book review);

History Today on the Enlightenment (book review) and the history of Germany (book review);

The Chronicle , contributing academic satire;

Culture Wars on singleness;

The Huffington Post on internet dating;

The Huffington Post on Snowden and Goethe.

There’s a chat about summer reading with me on the website of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and on Christmas reading here.


Online Educational Pages

For a general audience on germanlit.org, I have written five entries, on: 

C.F. Gellert and his novel;

Frederick II;

E.T.A Hoffmann (with Nicole Sütterlin);

and the present-day Swiss authors 

Thomas Hettche 

Martin Dean and

Melinda Nadj Abonji.


Academic Publishing Service: 

October 2010 – July 2012: Assistant to the Germanic Editor, Modern Language Review. Peer reviewer (Angermion, The German Quarterly, The Goethe YearbookGerman Studies Review, Seminar, etc.)



Post: Germanic Studies, School of Languages and Cultures
Jessop West, 1 Upper Hanover Street, Sheffield S3 7RA, UK