Joseph S. Meisel Interim Chair of Music, Adjunct Associate Professor of History

Joseph S. Meisel is a historian of modern Britain, with primary research emphasis on Victorian politics and political culture. He received A.B., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees in history from Columbia University, and has taught at Columbia, Teacher's College, and Baruch College of the City University of New York. Prior to coming to Brown as Deputy Provost, he worked at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation as Program Officer for Research Universities and Humanistic Scholarship. A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Meisel has authored numerous articles and essays on various aspects of British history as well as the books Public Speech and the Culture of Public Life in the Age of Gladstone (2001) and Knowledge and Power: The Parliamentary Representation of Universities (2011). He is also co-author of the "The Humours of Parliament": Harry Furniss's View of Late-Victorian Political Culture (2014).

Brown Affiliations

scholarly work


The Humours of Parliament: Harry Furniss's View of Late Victorian Political Culture (co-author with Gareth Cordery). Columbus:  Ohio State University Press, 2014.  Paperback ed. 2016.

Knowledge and Power: The Parliamentary Representation of Universities in Britain and the Empire. Parliamentary History Texts & Studies. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

Public Speech and the Culture of Public Life in the Age of Gladstone. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001. 


Articles and Essays in Books:

"Gladstone's Visage: Problem and Performance." In William Gladstone: New Studies and Perspectives. Roger Swift, Roland Quinault, and Ruth Clayton Windscheffel, eds. Farnham: Ashgate, 2012. pp. 73-98.

"American University Presses, 1929-1979: Adaptation and Evolution." Book History, vol. 13 (2010), pp. 122-153.

"A Magnificent Fungus on the Political Tree: The Growth of University Representation in the United Kingdom, 1832-1950." History of Universities, vol. XXIII/1 (2008), pp. 109-186.

"Humor and Insult in the House of Commons: The Case of Palmerston and Disraeli." Parliamentary History, vol. 28, pt. 2 (2008), pp. 228-245.

"Palmerston as Public Speaker." In Palmerston Studies, vol. 1. David Brown and Miles Taylor, eds. Southampton: Hartley Institute, University of Southampton, 2007. pp. 39-67.

"«Pam» contre «Dizzy» : Humour et insulte à la Chambre des communes (milieu XIXe siècle)." In L'Insulte (en) politique: Europe et Amérique latine du XIXe siècle à nos jours. Thomas Bouchet, Matthew Leggett, Jean Vigreux, and Gwen Verdo, eds. Dijon: Éditions universitaires de Dijon, 2005. pp. 33-40.

"Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Gladstone." In The Political Legacy of Margaret Thatcher. Stanisalo G. Pugliese, ed. London: Politico's Publishing, 2003. pp. 45-57.

"The Word in Man: Gladstone and the Great Preachers." In The Gladstone Umbrella: Papers Delivered at the Gladstone Centenary Conference, 1998. Peter Francis, ed. Hawarden: Monad Press, 2001. pp. 137-155.

"Words by the Numbers: A Quantitative Analysis and Comparison of the Oratorical Careers of William Ewart Gladstone and Winston Spencer Churchill." Historical Research, vol. 73, no. 182 (2000), pp. 262-295.

"The Importance of Being Serious: The Unexplored Connection Between Gladstone and Humour." History, vol. 84, no. 274 (1999), pp. 278-300.

"Air Raid Shelter Policy and its Critics in Britain Before the Second World War." Twentieth-Century British History, vol. 5, no. 3 (1994), pp. 300-319.

"The Germans are Coming! British Fiction of a German Invasion, 1871-1913." War, Literature, and the Arts, vol. 2, no. 2 (1990), pp. 41-79.

research statement

My research focuses on nineteenth- and twentieth-century British political history, and particularly the cultural life within and surrounding politics. This has involved studies of the various ways that politicians "performed" their roles in Parliament and "out-of-doors," and the ways in which images of politicians and political life were communicated to the broader public.

My first book, Public Speech and the Culture of Public Life in the Age of Gladstone (2001), examined the factors underlying the growth of oratory as a major function of politics, religion, and the law in the 19th century, and the ways that institutions and people adapted to the increasing demands that the practices of public speaking imposed. I have continued to explore the role of oratory and related aspects of political performance (for example, humor) in several articles and essays in books.

The relationship between politics and performance with additional focus on visual imagery is explored further in The Humours of Parliament: Harry Furniss's View of Late-Victorian Political Culture (2014), co-authored with Gareth Cordery.  This study reconstructs and contextualizes a popular magic lantern show given by the famous cartoonist and parliamentary obsrever in the early 1890s, as well as its tours of North America and Australia. In addition to examining the popular presentation and representation of Parliament during this critical period, the book also offers a rare in-depth account of an important Victorian performance genre.  

Another research interest is the history of education in Britain, and especially higher education. The Public Speech book , for example, includes a significant discussion of the ways that speaking exercises became incorporated into education and professional training at varoius levels. An important theme of the Humours of Parliament book is the ways in which the magic lantern show functioned as a form of popular political education. My interest in politics and education are most directly combined in my monograph Knowledge and Power: The Parliamentary Representation of Universities in Britain and the Empire (2011), which details the phenomenon of university seats in Parliament and in imperial legislatures. Although all but overlooked, the representation of universities was a part of the British constitution for 350 years, and spread in various ways to North America, Australasia, the Mediterranean, and India as British educational and political models accompanied imperial expansion.

An earlier research focus on political and cultural phenomena in Britain associated with fears of war is a subject to which I may return.