Martin Meisel made English and Comparative literature his academic home because he believed it could accommodate his interests in literature, history, philosophy, the sister arts, even science, which had been his original bent. His subsequent path shows honorable scars of the struggle to maintain breadth while keeping clear of superficiality. Much of his teaching and scholarship has sought its footing in the nineteenth century broadly construed, and in the literature aimed at performance in the theater.
His most recent book, Babel in Russian and Other Literatures and Topographies: The Tower, the State, and the Chaos of Language (Lexington Books, 2019), takes a wider turn, as did its predecessor, Chaos Imagined: Literature, Art, Science (Columbia, 2016). In addition to essays and articles on narrative and dramatic literature and the visual arts, he is also author of How Plays Work: Reading and Performance (Oxford, 2007), Shaw and the Nineteenth Century Theater (Princeton and Oxford, 1963, 1969, 1976, 1985), and the prize-winning Realizations: Narrative, Pictorial, and Theatrical Arts in Nineteenth Century England (Princeton, 1983).
He has taught at Rutgers University, Dartmouth College, the University of Wisconsin, and Columbia University (since 1968), where he chaired the Department of English and Comparative Literature and the Theater Arts Division in the School of the Arts. For five of the years between 1986 and 1993, he was Vice-President for Arts and Sciences and effectively Dean of the Faculty, and he is currently the Brander Matthews Professor Emeritus of Dramatic Literature. He has held two Guggenheim Fellowships; a National Humanities Center Fellowship; a Woodrow Wilson International Center Fellowship; awards from the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities (Edinburgh) and the American Philosophical Society; a Bancroft Faculty Award and Columbia's Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching.
He grew up in New York, earned his bachelor's degree at Queens College, his master's and doctoral degrees from Princeton University, and was honored with the degree of Doctor of Letters by Columbia in 2011. He served in the United States Army in the late days of the Korean War. In addition to his teaching and writing, he has appeared on stage in character roles and as the occasional villain, and he has now and then directed.
Last updated June 9, 2020