Seth Williams

Student, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Columbia University

Heyman Center Fellow (Graduate Student) 2016 - 17

Project Description:

“Virtual Motion: Dance and Mobility in Early Modern English Literature,” Seth Williams’ dissertation manuscript, asks how early modern literature may be apprehended as a choreographic medium. It treats dance as aesthetic patterns of movement that span a range of virtual and actual spaces, from the imagination of readers to specific material and textual phenomena, which include the human body most consequentially, but also scripts and libretti, moving scenery, engravings, and manuscript miscellanies. It argues that as dance circulates between such media, it helps to emblematize broad forms of social upheaval characterized by motional effects, for example the migration of people and the spread of religious beliefs. During the Heyman Center Fellowship, the Fellows were the first to see and critique Williams’ fourth chapter, which centers on the role of dance in the political factions that spanned the British Civil War and 1688 Revolution. He started the year having completed archival work for this chapter, and produced an initial, 40-page draft to share at the weekly seminar. Questions and comments from other Fellows helped him attend especially to the geographical dimension of the project, and also to get a sense of how the material would read for scholars who do not specialize in dance. As a result of the Heyman Center’s financial support, Williams was able to present work from this project at two conferences: the Shakespeare Association of America and the Dance Studies Association, both of which provided further opportunities for feedback. He also used funds from the fellowship to expand his library and acquire standard reference works in his field, which he will continue to use for the rest of my career. Williams writes, “These [books] are now directly behind me in my office, and are a reminder of the conviviality and intellectual enrichment that I enjoyed during my time at the Heyman Center. That office, incidentally, is far closer to the Center than I could have anticipated: during the year of my fellowship I applied to and received a tenure-track appointment at Barnard College in dance studies, where I will also supply support to its English department, its Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program, and to the PhD program in Theatre at Columbia. I’m so pleased that the Heyman Center played a role in the year that saw me complete my doctoral studies and start my faculty career, and am thrilled that so many of the Fellows will continue to challenge and enrich me as colleagues.”

Seth Stewart Williams is a doctoral candidate in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He returned to graduate studies after a performance career in dance that included work with the Mark Morris Dance Group, Sean Curran Company, and the New York Baroque Dance Company. His dissertation, "Virtual Motion: Dance and Mobility in Early Modern English Literature," studies how literature becomes a choreographic medium both on and off the stage. It argues that literature deploys the aesthetics of dance in order to foreground the motional dynamics at work in major cultural controversies, for example those concerning the migration of people or the spread of religious beliefs.