Helen Williams

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Professor Heather Williams MA (Oxon), MSt, DPhil

Research Fellow

Tel: 01970 636543
E-mail: h.williams@wales.ac.uk

Research. Also some teaching on the BA in Celtic Studies and supervision on the MA in Celtic Studies.

I am an academic researcher and literary critic, specializing in French, Celtic and comparative literature. After graduating with a first in Modern Languages (French) from St Hilda’s College, University of Oxford, I then completed my masters and doctoral degrees also at Oxford on the poet Stéphane Mallarmé. I was a Junior Research Fellow at St Anne’s College, Oxford, then a lecturer at the University of Nottingham, and then the University of Aberystwyth, before joining the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies in 2007 as Pilcher Senior Fellow. I am an extremely experienced teacher, having lectured, assessed and designed courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level. I have also taught A level French part-time in a local secondary school, and have experience of outreach activities in schools. 

As a researcher, I have published widely on French poetry, the literatures of Brittany, translation studies and travel writing. I am also an experienced editor of scholarly work in my field and frequently act as reader for university presses and academic journals. 

I was British team leader of the joint project Cultural changes and exchanges: Brittany and Wales / Bretagne/pays de Galles: quand les chemins se croisent et se décroisent, which was funded by the British Council and the Ministère des Affaires étrangères (Partenariats Hubert Curien) with the aim of developing stronger links between the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies and the Centre de Recherche Bretonne et Celtique (CRBC), University of Brest, Brittany. This resulted in a series of joint workshops (details here), and a bilingual volume of essays Regards croises sur la Bretagne et le pays de Galles / Cross-Cultural Essays on Wales and Brittany.  

More recently, I gained project management experience as a Co-Investigator on the AHRC-funded ‘European Travellers to Wales’ project and its follow-on project for impact and engagement, ‘Travellers to Wales’. Both these gave me substantial experience in working with non-academic project partners in the field of impact and engagement. The project teams produced two research-based websites; the first contains a searchable database of travel writing about Wales in European languages: ‘Accounts of Travel: Travel Writing by European Visitors to Wales’. The second, developed in partnership with the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, and Visit Wales, is a site aimed at both armchair travellers and tourists, ‘Journey to the Past’. The project also curated a travelling exhibition and then developed educational materials based on the exhibits, which were turned into an ebook Refugees to Wales, by the Education Unit and the National Library of Wales. This is now freely available via the Welsh Government’s education site HWB. Recently I was co-editor of the Coleg Cymraeg’s Esboniadur, an Encyclopedia of Literary Terms, writing and editing articles, and publishing them directly online.

  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
  • Member of the Society for French Studies, the Society of Dix-neuviémistes

I am a flexible researcher, having complimented my background in mainstream French literature (Mallarmé’s Ideas in Language, 2004) with successful research in a number of adjacent fields: translation studies, postcolonial studies, travel writing, ecocriticism, Celtic Studies, Welsh Studies. What unites my work in these diverse fields is my methodology of close textual analysis and my commitment to Modern Languages as an inherently comparative discipline. Cultural interfaces are my main research focus, notably cultural exchange between Welsh, English, French and Breton. 

I teach the level 6 module ‘Representations of Brittany’: HPCS6007 on the BA in Celtic Studies degree programme. I also supervise dissertations on the MA in Celtic Studies course.


Within French Studies in Anglophone countries, Brittany has historically received very little attention, while scholarship in Brittany and in France as a whole has been slow to embrace the new critical frameworks that could facilitate Brittany’s dialogue with other disciplines.

I have published widely on the representation of Brittany in French-language literature both from Brittany and from the mainstream French tradition. My book Postcolonial Brittany: Literature Between Languages (2007) investigates the space between the two languages of modern-day Brittany through a series of close readings of literary texts that represent Brittany or Bretonness in the French language. Postcolonial Brittany was described as ‘pioneering work’ in French Studies, and is receiving increasing attention as scholarship in French and Francophone studies begins to explore mainland France, and its cultural products, as inherently multilingual and diverse.

The special issue of Nottingham French Studies (2021) devoted to the literatures and culture of Brittany, jointly edited with David Evans, University of Saint Andrews, aims to enlarge the range of dialogues in which Brittany and Breton Studies participate, bringing together international researchers on Brittany from the UK, France and the US. It presents, analyses and promotes a neglected corpus of Breton texts – in French and in Breton – which can provide a rich source for exploring a number of contemporary concerns in the humanities. 

My next project on the Wales-Brittany cultural interface is comparative and will investigate the uses that each culture has made of the other from 1789 onwards. It will be a case study in minority–minority cultural exchange as well as an investigation of the effects of hegemony on culture and identity. It aims to make a timely contribution to a new Modern Languages that seeks to critique French centralization rather than reproduce it, as well as to analyse Welsh culture from a transnational, multilingual perspective.

Cultural interfaces

I have worked extensively on translation and cultural exchange between Welsh, English, French and Breton. Specifically, I have published on translation between French and Breton, and have a strong interest in translation into Welsh. My work is informed by the critical frameworks of translation studies, travel writing studies, postcolonial literary criticism and ecocriticism.

Most recently the travel texts discovered by the AHRC-funded ‘European Travellers to Wales’ project have been the main focus of my research. This has allowed me to pioneer a new translingual framework for studying Wales and Welsh culture, which is sensitive to languages other than Welsh and English, and to contexts beyond Britain. I am particularly interested in connections between Wales and France.

French poetry

My Mallarmé’s Ideas in Language (2004) is a series of close readings of Mallarmé’s poetry and theoretical work that investigate his ideas in language rather than his ideas on language. The book argues that his way of embedding ideas in verbal textures earns him a place not just in the history of poetry, but also in the history of philosophy, and of the discourse of critical theory. I carry the textual analysis skills gained on this project to all my work. This research also led to my interest in literary theory, which culminated in my editorial work for the Coleg Cymraeg’s Encyclopedia of literary terms, the Esboniadur.

In addition to the above, I have expertise in editing and translation.

My research has required me to engage extensively with the museum and heritage sectors.


with Kathryn Jones and Carol Tully, Hidden Texts, Hidden Nation: (Re)Discoveries of Wales in Travel Writing in French and German (1780–2018) (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2020)

Postcolonial Brittany: Literature Between Languages (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2007)

Mallarmé’s Ideas in Language (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2004)

Barddoniaeth i Bawb? Stéphane Mallarmé [Poetry for all? Stéphane Mallarmé] ([Aberystwyth]: Cronfa Goffa Saunders Lewis, 1998). This is a work of literary criticism for the reader with a background in Welsh literature. It also contains some of my own translations of Mallarmé’s verse into Welsh.

Edited collections:

with David Evans (eds.), Nottingham French Studies, 60:2 (July 2021), special issue on 'New Dialogues with Breton Literature and Culture'

with Kathryn Jones and Carol Tully (eds.), Studies in Travel Writing, 18:2 (2014)

with Anne Hellegouarc’h (eds.), Regards croisés sur la Bretagne et le pays de Galles/ Cross-Cultural Essays on Wales and Brittany (Brest: CRBC, 2013)

Articles and chapters in books:

with David Evans, ‘New Dialogues with Breton Literature and Culture’, introduction to Nottingham French Studies, 60:2, special issue (July 2021), edited by Heather Williams and David Evans

 ‘Are the Bretons French? The case of François Jaffrennou/ Taldir ab Hernin’, Nottingham French Studies, 60:2, special issue (July 2021), edited by Heather Williams and David Evans

 ‘La construction du Moyen Âge dans les récits de voyage français portant sur le pays de Galles’, in Hélène Bouget and Magali Coumert (eds.), Quel Moyen Âge? La recherche en question, Histoires des Bretagnes, 6 (Brest: CRBC, 2019), pp. 65–81

 ‘Celtic environments: Welsh industrial landscapes through French travelogues’, Dix-Neuf, 23:3–4 (2019), 208–19, special issue on ‘Ecoregions’, edited by Daniel Finch-Race and Valentina Gosetti  

 ‘The poetry of Celtic places’, Nineteenth-Century Contexts: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 41:1 (2019), 63–74

 ‘Views of mid-Wales by artists, exiles and royals from Europe’, Ceredigion, 18:2 (2018 [2019]), 27–53

 ‘Travelling ideas between Wales and Brittany’, VTU Review: Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences “St. Cyril and St. Methodius” University of Veliko Tarnovo, 2:1 (2018), 47–54

 ‘Rousseau and Romanticism in Wales’, in Russell Goulbourne and David Higgins (eds.), Jean-Jacques Rousseau and British Romanticism (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017), pp. 75–90  

‘Translating Bretonness – colonizing Brittany’, in Sonya Stephens (ed.), Translation and the Arts in Modern France (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2017), pp. 30–44 

‘Cartrefoli’r Chwyldro: cyfieithu ar gyfer y Cymry uniaith yn y 1790au’ [Domesticating the Revolution: translating for the monoglot Welsh in the 1790s], in Angharad Price (ed.), Ysgrifau Beirniadol, 34 (Bethesda: Gwasg Gee, 2016), pp. 45–66

Iolo Morganwg, Edward Williams and the radically bilingual text: Poems Lyric and Pastoral (1794)’, International Journal of Welsh Writing in English, 2 (2014), 147–67 [this article won the M. Wynn Thomas Prize 2015]

with Kathryn Jones and Carol Tully, ‘Introduction: Wales and travel writing’Studies in Travel Writing, 18:2 (2014)

‘Introduction: cultural changes and exchanges: Brittany and Wales’, in Anne Hellegouarc’h and Heather Williams (eds.), Regards croisés sur la Bretagne et le pays de Galles/ Cross-Cultural Essays on Wales and Brittany (Brest: CRBC, 2013), pp. 27–35

‘Pour une éco-poétique de la Bretagne: la nature comme cliché dans les littératures bretonnes’, in Anne Hellegouarc’h and Heather Williams (eds.), Regards croisés sur la Bretagne et le pays de Galles/ Cross-Cultural Essays on Wales and Brittany (Brest: CRBC, 2013), pp. 129–44

‘Cymru trwy lygaid Rousseau (ac eraill)’ [Wales through the eyes of Rousseau (and others)], Y Traethodydd, CLXVIII (2013), 241–54

‘Rousseau and Wales’, in Mary-Ann Constantine and Dafydd Johnston (eds.), ‘Footsteps of liberty and revolt’: Essays on Wales and the French Revolution (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2013), pp. 35–51

'Cymru, y Chwyldro Ffrengig a Gwyn Alff Williams: ailasesu’r dystiolaeth’ [Wales, the French Revolution and Gwyn Alff Williams: Reassessing the evidence], Llên Cymru, 35 (2012), 181–5

Chwedlau ac arferion marwolaeth Llydaw’ [Tales and customs around death in Brittany], Llên Cymru, 34 (2011), 216–25

‘ “Me zo bet sklav”: African Americans and Breton literature, Comparative American Studies, 8:2 (2010), 126–39, special issue on ‘The Celts and the African Americas’, edited by Daniel Williams

Between French and Breton: the politics of translation’Romance Studies, 27:3 (2009), 223–33

‘Ecofeirniadaeth i’r Celtiaid’ [Ecocriticism for the Celts], Llenyddiaeth Mewn Theori, 3 (2008 [2009]), 1–28

‘Ar drywydd Celtigrwydd: Auguste Brizeux’ [In search of Celticity: Auguste Brizeux], Y Traethodydd, CLXI (2006), 34–50

Writing to Paris: poets, nobles, and savages in nineteenth-century Brittany’, French Studies, 57 (2003), 475–90

Séparisianisme or internal colonialism’, in Charles Forsdick and David Murphy (eds.), Francophone Postcolonial Studies: A Critical Introduction (London: Arnold, 2003), pp. 102–11 [reprinted 2014]

Une sauvagerie très douce’, in Nigel Harkness, Paul Rowe, Tim Unwin and Jennifer Yee (eds.), Visions/ Revisions: Essays on Nineteenth-Century French Culture (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2003), pp. 99–106

‘Diffinio Llydaw’ [Defining Brittany], Y Traethodydd, CLVII (2002), 197–208

‘Mallarmé and the language of ideas’, Nineteenth-Century French Studies, 29 (2001), 302–17

Mallarmé’s early correspondence: the language of crisis’Romance Studies, 19 (2001), 148–59

Dafydd ap Gwilym and the debt to Europe’Études celtiques, 34 (1998–2000), 185–213 [based on the essay that won proxime accessit in University of Oxford Sir John Rhŷs essay prize (1996)]

‘Mallarmé dans la critique littéraire galloise’, Revue d’études françaises, 5 (2000), 109–15

‘La Pensée corporelle de Mallarmé’, Vives Lettres, 9 (2000), 109–22

‘Diffinio dwy lenyddiaeth Llydaw’ [Defining the two literatures of Brittany], Tu Chwith, 12 (1999), 51–6

Taliesin, l’Alexandre gallois, le retour de la cynghanedd’, Formules: Revue des littératures à contraintes, 2 (1998), 85–95

‘Barddoniaeth i bawb o bobl y byd: cabledd?’ [Poetry for all: heresy?], Taliesin, 95 (1996), 56–62

Encyclopedia entries:

‘Minority’, in Charles Forsdick and Barbara Spadaro (eds.), Translating Cultures: a Glossary (forthcoming, online resource)

 ‘Henri Martin’s Eisteddfod speech’, in Charles Forsdick and Barbara Spadaro (eds.), Objects in Translation: a ‘Translating Cultures’ Exhibition (forthcoming, online resource)

 ‘strwythuraeth’, ‘ôl-strwythuraeth’, ‘dadadeiladu’, ‘theori ffeminyddol’, ‘arwyddwr/arwyddedig’, ‘différance’, ‘ôl-foderniaeth’, in Robert Rhys and Heather Williams (eds.), Esboniadur Beirniadaeth a Theori Lenyddol : <wici.porth.ac.uk> (2018)

 ‘Tristan Corbière’, ‘Auguste Brizeux’, ‘Les Chouans’, in The Literary Encyclopedia: <https://www.litencyc.com> (2017), French section ed. Nigel Harkness and Jennifer Yee

 ‘Minority’, in Charles Forsdick, Zoë Kinsley and Kate Walchester (eds.), Keywords for Travel Writing Studies: A Critical Glossary (London: Anthem, 2019), pp. 151–3

 ‘llenyddiaeth taith’, ‘Symbol’, ‘Symboliaeth’, Renan, villanelle, ‘Études celtiques’, in Simon Brooks and Robert Rhys (eds.), Esboniadur Beirniadaeth a Theori Lenyddol: <https://wici.porth.ac.uk/index.php/Categori:Beirniadaeth_a_Theori>  (2016)

 ‘Celtomania’, in John T. Koch (ed.), Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia, 5 vols. (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2006)

I have reviewed for Annales: Histoire, Sciences sociales, Barn, Cambrian Medieval Celtic StudiesFrench Studies, Llên Cymru, Modern and Contemporary FranceNew Welsh ReviewNew Zealand Journal of French StudiesNineteenth-Century French Studies, and Planet.