Elliott Brandsma

PhD student, Scandinavian Studies

Faculty advisor: Susan Brantly

Elliott BrandsmaElliott is a PhD student in the Department of German, Nordic, and Slavic+. He is from San Antonio, Texas, and completed his undergraduate study at Texas State University-San Marcos.

Elliott was a Fulbright Scholar to Iceland through the U.S. Department of State for the 2013-14 academic year. He also attended the University of Iceland for his master’s degree and spent a year in the Icelandic as a Second Language bachelor’s program.

As a PhD student, Elliott studies how trends and features of literary modernism took root across the Nordic region during the first half of the 20th century. Two of the authors he works on – Icelandic novelist Halldór Laxness and Swedish poet Harry Martinson – have won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

“Although they hail from different countries, their work addresses similar themes – loss, abandonment, the fate of man – but their writings also possess a similar belief in human dignity and the solace and beauty of nature,” Elliott said. “Both authors’ works demonstrate what I believe is a uniquely Nordic form of modernism, and I spend a lot of time at UW thinking about how the Scandinavian writers, in general, made distinctive contributions to this movement, whose influence lives on in contemporary world literature.”

Elliott’s writings on Martinson have been published by the Harry Martinson Society, based in Sweden, and he has published an article on writer Eyvind Johnson in the journal Humanities.

Elliott received a Graduate School Fellowship in 2019-20 to support his first year of graduate school. He came to UW-Madison because it is one of the few North American universities that has a department dedicated to Scandinavian literature, folklore, and culture.

“Here, I hope to make contributions not only to the study of 20th century Icelandic and Swedish literature but also to American understanding of the Nordic region as a whole,” Elliott said. “While some Americans have an opportunity to visit or make stopovers in Northern Europe during their lifetime, many can’t name a single Nordic author, let alone one that they’ve read. My mission is to change that.”

Before joining his PhD program, Elliott taught high school English in Miami, Florida, for three years. The Graduate School Fellowship allowed him to focus on coursework and readjust to academic life.

“Having time to explore my interests before taking on a teaching assistantship has made my studies at UW-Madison so much more enriching, rewarding, and manageable. I am so grateful,” Elliott said.

As he moves forward in his career, Elliott hopes to write books on Nordic literature for both scholarly and general audiences, translate novels and poems by noteworthy Scandinavian authors, and teach others how to speak and write in Swedish and Icelandic.

“UW-Madison has provided ample opportunity for me to advance these goals and develop professionally,” he said.