Associate Professor

David Williams

DPhil, Oxford
MPhil, St Andrews
BA, Harvard

Extension: 28287
Office:
SJU Sweeney Hall 2208

Email: david.williams@uwaterloo.ca

Website

Biography

I studied English-language poetry in the United States, Scotland, and England, before coming home to Canada in 2010 to teach modern and contemporary British and Irish literature at UW and St Jerome’s. I’ve published two books on contemporary poetry. The first (Defending Poetry, 2010), which grew out of my doctoral thesis, studied how the ancient tradition of poetic defence, or apologia, was carried forward by three important poets of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. My most recent book (The Life of Words, 2020) traces out ways in which contemporary poetry has engaged with etymology and the long history of etymological thought.

Selected publications

Books

The Life of Words : Etymology and Modern Poetry. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020.

Defending Poetry: Art and Ethics in Joseph Brodsky, Seamus Heaney, and Geoffrey Hill. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Articles and Chapters in Books

"Poetry in the Oxford English Dictionary: A Quantitative Profile"  in Poetry and the Dictionaryedited by Andrew Blades and Piers Pennington. Liverpool University Press, 2020: 57-80.

"N-Grams" in Digital Humanities for Literary Studies: Methods, Tools, and Practices (Coding for Humanists), edited by James O'Sullivan. Texas A&M University Press, 2020.

" 'Alien' vs. Editor: World English in the Oxford English Dictionary; Policies, Practices, and Outcomes 1884–2020" in International Journal of Lexicography (forthcoming).

"Getting More out of the Oxford English Dictionary (by Putting More In)" in Dictionaries 38.2 (2017): 106-113.

"The “Oxford Dictionary” in T. S. Eliot" in Notes & Queries 63.2 (2016): 293-296.

"T. S. Eliot in The Oxford English Dictionary’ in Notes & Queries 63.2 (2016): 296-301.

"All corruptible things: Geoffrey Hill's Etymological Crux." Modern Philology 112.3 (2015): 522-553.

"Method as Tautology in the Digital Humanities." DSH: Digital Scholarship in the Humanities (formerly Literary and Linguistic Computing) 30.2 (2015): 280-93.

"Poetic Antagonyms." The Comparatist 37 (2013): 169-85.

"Tête-à-tête, Face-à-face: Brodsky, Levinas, and the Ethics of Poetry." Poetics Today 30.2 (2009): 207-35.

Current research

I continue to be interested in questions of poetic value, in the relationship between poetry and society, and in the good of poetry per se, but recently my work has led me to think more on a particular feature of contemporary poetry, which is its relationship to etymology and other stories we tell about words. My current project is a monograph on “word history and word fantasy” in modern poetry, starting in the period between the publication of Noah Webster’s American Dictionary in the US (1828) and the first full publication of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) in the UK (1928), and continuing to the present day.

From time to time I carry on a one-sided discussion of topics in poetry, lexicography, language, and the Digital Humanities on my research blog, The Life of Words, which picks up from a previous blog, Poetry & Contingency, where I posted on similar topics for a couple of years.

Grants, fellowships and awards

  • Ontario Early Researcher Award (2015-2020)

  • Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Development Grant: "Poetry and Contingency," 2011-13
  • SJU Faculty Research Grants (2011, 2012, 2013)
  • uWaterloo-SSHRC Seed Grant: "Applying search & stylometry techniques to OED2 & poetic text corpora", 2011-12
  • British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship, Oxford University, 2007-2010
  • Junior Research Fellow in English, Hertford College, Oxford, 2007-2010

Areas of graduate supervision

I continue to be interested in questions of poetic value, in the relationship between poetry and society, in the good of poetry per se, and poetry’s relationship to language, to etymology, and to the other stories we tell about words. Recently my work on words has led me towards larger questions about how we talk and think about words, centered on Oxford English Dictionary, the most complete, compelling—sometimes confounding—record of English lexis.

From time to time I carry on a one-sided discussion of topics in poetry, lexicography, language, and the Digital Humanities on my research blog, The Life of Words, which picks up from a previous blog, Poetry & Contingency, where I posted on similar topics for a couple of years.

Affiliation: 
University of Waterloo

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