Ursula Schaefer

Obituary Ursula Schaefer (1947-2022)

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Ursula Schaefer, Professor Emerita of English Linguistics and Medieval Studies, at the age of 74 on 7 June 2022. We will remember her as an outstanding scholar, inspiring teacher, and dedicated university administrator.

Ursula Schaefer was born in Überlingen in the South of Germany in 1947. She studied English and history in Freiburg and Munich and became lecturer in English philology at Albert-Ludwigs-University Freiburg, where she completed both her PhD and her postdoctoral dissertation. The latter on ‚Vokalität: Altenglische Dichtung zwischen Mündlichkeit und Schriftlichkeit‘ (‘Vocality’: Old English Poetry between Orality and Literacy), testified to her enduring interest in orality and literacy, a scholarly project which took her from its emergence in the Freiburg collaborative research centre (Sonderforschungsbereich) via many publications to another collaborative research centre at Technische Universität Dresden. Before she took over the Chair of English Linguistics at TU Dresden in 1999, she served as Professor of Medieval English Literature at Humboldt University Berlin in 1993, where she also became pro-vice chancellor in 1996. Her aptness for administrative matters was also apparent at TU Dresden, where she was dean of the Faculty of Linguistics, Literature and Cultural Studies from 2003 to 2006 and then again pro-vice chancellor from 2010 to 2013. Upon retirement, she moved back to her beloved Freiburg, where she continued giving lectures, but finally found more time to play tennis.

Ursula Schaefer belonged to that dwindling group of scholars who proudly bore the label ‘philologist’: her expertise ranged from Anglo-Saxon poetry via Middle English standardizations to present-day language ideologies. Her numerous publications include two monographs (on Middle English poetry and ‘Vocality’), various edited collections, more than 40 articles and encyclopaedia entries, and a textbook on Middle English (co-authored with Lilo Moessner). As a fierce defender of professional integrity, she pursued research for its own sake regardless of its capacity for generating grants – even though she was successful in obtaining them.

In addition to her other endeavours, Ursula Schaefer conceptualised and established the Master’s degree in “Europäische Sprachen” (“European Languages”) at TU Dresden, which, as a cross-linguistic and international linguistics degree, continues to attract students from Europe and beyond.

We will miss Ursula Schaefer’s expertise, friendship, and mentorship; we will always remember her booming voice, her impeccable sense of style, her almost limitless generosity and her fine sense of humour. She will not cease to inspire us.


Claudia Lange