Professor W. Daniel Wilson

W. Daniel Wilson

Personal profile

Professor Wilson's research focuses on literature, culture and society of eighteenth and nineteenth-century Germany, with particular focus on political, social and gender aspects, and its later reception. His early work was on narratology and then moved increasingly into areas such as the situation of the writer (patronage, the book market, relations to political authority) and other social and political themes in literature. A strong interest is images of Islam in eighteenth-century Germany in the context of European political, military and cultural history. His work on Johann Wolfgang Goethe has received international acclaim and notoriety, in particular three books on Goethe's activities as a minister of state in the Duchy of Saxe-Weimar (based on previously unexamined archival documents): Geheimräte gegen Geheimbünde: Ein Kapitel der klassisch-romantischen Geschichte Weimars (1991), on Goethe's and his duke Carl August's politically motivated membership in the potentially subversive secret society of Illuminati; Unterirdische Gänge: Goethe, Freimaureri und Politik (1999), which detailed the political aspects of Goethe's membership in the Weimar Masonic lodge; and particularly Das Goethe-Tabu: Protest und Menschenrechte im klassischen Weimar (1999), which examined Goethe's participation in the suppression of dissent and human rights. On the occasion of the 250th anniversary of Goethe's birth in 1999, this work occasioned widespread debate in the German (and indeed European, British and American) media. A further volume, Goethes Weimar und die Französische Revolution: Dokumente der Krisenjahre (2004), collected 572 documents, most of them previously unpublished, detailing the impact of the French Revolution in the Duchy of Weimar during the most critical years 1792 and 1793.

Professor Wilson's book on Goethe and homosexuality - the first full-length scholarly study of this topic, and supported by an AHRC Matching Leave Grant in 2010 - appeared in German from Insel Verlag in 2012. He has published various other articles on gender topics and the history of homosexuality. His book on the 'friendly' censorship of Goethe's erotic poetry by Schiller, Duke Carl August, Herder, Eckermann, Riemer, Kanzler Müller, Grand Duchess Sophie and the editors of the Weimar Edition appeared in April 2015 with Wehrhahn Verlag. For four years he carried out archival research and wrote a book on the history of the Goethe Society (Goethe-Gesellschaft in Weimar) in the Weimar Republic and 'Third Reich', which was published by the trade press DTV (Munich) in 2018. This work was supported by a Small Research Grant from the British Academy / Leverhulme Foundation. Professor Wilson is now writing a book on Goethe and the Jews. In 2016 he received the Reimar Lüst Award for International Scholarly and Cultural Exchange of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

Professor Wilson earned his PhD from Cornell University in 1978 before teaching at the University of Toronto and McGill University. From 1983 to 2005 he was professor of German at the University of California at Berkeley (where he was department head for four years) before moving to Royal Holloway in January 2006 as Professor of German. He was Head of the new School of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures until 2008. From 2008 to 2020 he served as joint honorary secretary of the English Goethe Society and as co-editor of Publications of the English Goethe Society. Since August 2019 he has been Professor emeritus.

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