Jennifer Purcell Chair and Professor of History

Jennifer Purcell


Ph.D. University of Sussex, Britain
B.A., M.A. University of Colorado

Areas of Expertise:

Social and cultural history of 20th century Britain; women and national identity; gender; life history

Courses I Teach:

  • The Making of the British Monarchy, 1215-today
  • Crime and Society in 19th Century Britain
  • World War Two in Europe
  • Oral History
  • British Sitcom: Race, Class, and Gender
  • London Life and History Seminar
  • 19th Century Britain Seminar


My first book, Domestic Soldiers (Constable, 2010) explored the experiences of British housewives during the Second World War.  My next book project researched the life of a pioneer British of sitcom and soap opera, Mabel Constanduros. Constanduros was incredibly important to the evolution of these genres, yet few remember her and fewer academics have considered her life and her impact on British culture.  Mother of the BBC: Mabel Constanduros and the Development of Light Entertainment on the BBC, 1925-1957 (Bloomsbury) was published in 2020.

Currently I am Series Editor of the Bloomsbury Academic book series, Mass Observation Critical Series, with my colleague from the University of East Anglia, Benjamin Jones. This series is dedicated to publishing research based in the Mass Observation archive, which specializes in materials about everyday life in Britain from 1937 to today.  For the series, I am currently writing a book on public perceptions of the Royalty with Director of the Mass Observation Archive, Fiona Courage.  I am also editing the re-issue of Mass Observation’s first publication, Mass-Observation (1937) for the series.


2022      Royalty and the People: A Mass-Observation Collection, 1937-2020. London: Bloomsbury. Forthcoming. (Contract)

2022      Mass-Observation Critical Edition.  Editor.  London: Bloomsbury.  Forthcoming. (Contract)

2020      Mother of the BBC: Mabel Constanduros and the Development of Light Entertainment on the BBC, 1925-1957.  New York: Bloomsbury.

2020      “The BBC’s ‘Little Man’ in the Age of Supermen: Situation Comedy, National Character and Masculinity in the late-1930s,” Comedy Studies. 11:2, 265-274. DOI: 10.1080/2040610X.2020.1729486

2018      “‘Enthusiasm, experiment and gallantry in action’: Developing light entertainment on the fledgling BBC, 1922-1933,” Cultural and Social History 15:3, 415-432.  DOI: 10.1080/14780038.2018.1492786.

2015      “‘Behind the blessed shelter of the microphone’: Managing celebrity and career on the early BBC – Mabel Constanduros, 1925-1957.” Women’s History Review.  Published online, November 2014; print, volume 24, no. 3 June 2015. DOI:10.1080/09612025.2014.964068.

Public and Professional Presentations

2021      “Looking the East End in the Face? Mass Observing Royalty in Wartime,” Northeast Conference on British Studies, accepted (October), Online.

2021      “Domestic Soldiers: British Housewives and the Second World War,” Vermont Humanities First Wednesdays Lecture Series, May, Online.

2019      “Royal Observers: Mass Observing the Royal Family, 1937-1961,” Northeast Conference on British Studies, October, Montreal, QC.

2018      “The Power of Mass Observation: Understanding the Meaning of Writing Ourselves,” North American Conference on British Studies, October, Providence, RI.

2017      “From the Bugginses to the Royles: Working-Class Families in British Situation Comedy, 1925-2001,” Northeast Conference on British Studies, October, Beverly, MA.

2016      Comment, “Was that a dream or was it true?”: Women in the arts through wartime and recovery, North American Conference on British Studies, November, Washington, D.C.

2016      “Finding talent: The impact of amateur performers on the development of comedy on the fledgling BBC, 1922-1939,” Northeast Conference on British Studies, October, Colchester, VT.

2016      “Grandma’s lost her teeth!”: Tracing the origins of domestic sit-com in Britain, 1923-1958,” invited extended lecture of 2015 NECBS paper, Montreal British History Seminar, Montreal, QC.

2015      “Grandma’s lost her teeth!”: Tracing the origins of domestic sit-com in Britain, 1923-1958,” Northeast Conference on British Studies, October, Ottawa, ON.

2014      “‘Like Everyone Else, I was born… at an extremely tender age…(for the usual reasons)’: Early BBC Comediennes’ Autobiographies, 1945-1976,” Northeast Conference on British Studies, October, Lewiston, ME.

2014      Comment, “Female Agency and Representations of Femininity in Early Modern and Modern Britain and the Empire,” Northeast Conference on British Studies, October, Lewiston, ME.

2013      “Middle-class adventures ‘Down Mangel Street’ and Halcyon Row: Classed comedy on the BBC, 1925-1939,” Northeast Conference for British Studies, October, Storrs, CT.

2011      “The Comedy of Mabel Constanduros: Celebrity, Gender, and the BBC,” Northeast Conference on British Studies, October, Worcester, MA.

2011      “The Power of Mass-Observation,” invited paper.  The Second World War: Popular Culture and Cultural Memory, July, Brighton, UK.

2011      “Women’s Use of Humour: The Comedy of Mabel Constanduros,” Social History Conference, April, Manchester, UK.

2010      “Heroism or ‘Purgatory’? Negotiating the Propaganda of the ‘People’s War’,” North American Conference on British Studies, November, Baltimore, MD.

2010      Comment, “Citizenship,  Identity and the Self in Britain,  1880s-1940s,” Northeast Conference on British Studies, September, Burlington, VT.

Editorial Duties

2019-Present     Series Editor, Mass Observation Critical Series.  London: Bloomsbury.

2019-Present     Editorial Board, Adam Matthew Mass-Observation 1981-1989 database


Saint Michael’s College

2021-Present     Faculty Representative to the Board

2021-Present     Faculty Executive Committee

2020                    Strategic Planning Co-Curricular Subcommittee

Summer 2020    Academics Planning Committee (Covid-19 fall planning)

2020-present     Judicial Review Board

2019-present     Criminology Major Steering Committee

2018-present     Dispute Resolution Panel

2017-2020          Chair, Department of History

July 2019            Summer Admissions Open House

July 2019            Incoming Students Advising

2017-2018          SMC Re-Branding Committee

2017-2018          History and Society LSC subcommittee

2017-2018          SMC “Generous Enrolment Mediator” (GEM) for History

October 2018    Organized Kuntz Lecture, “Memory, Screen and Reflections,” with Gilli Bush-Bailey

Feb 2018            Faculty Yield Initiative

Fall 2017             Admissions presentations to prospective students and parents

Nov 2017            Honors Program Discussion Panelist, “Propaganda: A World of Coercion”

August 2017       SMC Connects Facilitator

2015-2016          Chair, Faculty Welfare Committee

2015-2016          Faculty Executive Committee

2013-2016          Faculty Welfare Committee

August 2016       SMC Connects Facilitator

July 2016            Summer Advising

April 2016           Presenter to accepted students’ parents, “Taste of the Liberal Arts” program

Mar 2016            Organized Kuntz Lecture, “Vera Lynn Sings: Domesticity, Glamour, and National Belonging on 1950s British Television,” with Christina Baade

2013-2015          Retirement Planning Committee

2014-2015          Strategic Planning Initiative Faculty Development Committee

2014-2015          Historical LSC Assessment Committee

2014-2015          East Asian History Search Committee

April 2015           Presenter to accepted students’ parents, “Taste of the Liberal Arts” program

Jan 2015             Invited Lecture, Air Force Association, “Domestic Soldiers”

Dec 2014            Panelist, Humanities Center World War I Centenary Panel, on-campus discussion

August 2014       Faculty mentor, Canvas Boot Camp

July-Aug 2014    Faculty mentor, Canvas Café

July 2014            Summer Advising

May 1, 2014       “Vermont Edition” panelist, radio program on Grading (VPR)

April 2014           Presenter to accepted students’ parents, “Taste of the Liberal Arts” program

April 2014           Panelist, “What is Feminism?” on-campus discussion

Mar 2014            Assisted the URC’s evaluation of VPAA summer grants

Feb 2014            Humanities Colloquium presentation, “Middle-Class adventures ‘Down Mangel St.’ and ‘Halcyon Row’: Interpreting the working-classes on the BBC, 1925-1957”

August 2013       Panel presenter, “Three Models for Successful Advising”

July 2013            Summer advising

2012-2013          Undergraduate Research Committee

Oct 2011             Motivating Engagement and Good Writing on-campus presentation

2011-2013          Gender Studies Advisory Committee

2010-2013          Faculty advisor of Phi Alpha Theta, history honors society

2010-2012          Honors Committee

2009-2011          History Department Meeting Secretary

2008-2010          Residence Hall Floor Visitor Dialogue Program Faculty Participant

Nov 2010            Organized on-campus Norbert A. Kuntz lecture, “Murder in the Metro,” with Gayle Brunelle and Anne Croswhite-Finley

Nov 2009            Organized on-campus lecture, “The Tour Buses Don’t Stop Here: Voices from Small Town Vermont,” with Vermont History Magazine journalists Karl Decker and Nancy Levine.

April 2009           Invited lecture, ‘The Women’s Rebellion’ for Elder Education, South Burlington

2007-2009          Founder and faculty advisor of SMCVoice, student-led club dedicated to researching and documenting campus life and opinion

Fall 2007             History Department Meeting Secretary

Service to the Profession

Northeast Conference on British Studies (NECBS)

2014-Present     Treasurer

2014-2016          2016 conference meeting local arrangements organizer at Saint Michael’s College

North American Conference on British Studies (NACBS)

2021      Chair, Undergraduate Essay Prize Committee

2019-Present     Undergraduate Essay Prize Committee

2018      NACBS local arrangements and treasurer for national conference in Providence, RI.  Managed $110,000 budget, with over 500 attendees.

National History Day

April 2019           Judge and team captain for 2018-19 Vermont statewide competition

April 2018           Judge for 2017-18 Vermont statewide competition

Feb 2016            Organizer of research workshop for Vermont History Day participants at Saint Michael’s College

April 2016           Judge for 2015-6 Vermont statewide competition

2003-2004          Colorado History Day Mentor and Judge

New England Historical Association (NEHA)

2011-2013          NEHA Jim Hanlan Book Prize Committee Member

2010                    NEHA Graduate Prize Committee Member


Life Off Campus:

I enjoy hiking, camping, and kayaking. I am also addicted to traveling in the United Kingdom and Europe.

Recent News

Jennifer Purcell, chair of the History Department and British historian, appeared twice recently on the national news station NBCLX to speak about the death and funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. In an appearance after the Queen’s funeral, Jen spoke about the 70-year reign of the monarch, her lifetime service to her country, and what that meant to the citizens of Great Britain. She has been researching the royal family for an upcoming book about the public’s perception of the monarchy as part of the Bloomsbury Academic book series, Mass Observation Critical Series. The series is dedicated to publishing research based on the Mass Observation archive, which specializes in materials about everyday life in Britain from 1937 to the present day. NBCLX, an affiliate of NBC, is geared toward providing news to Millennials and Generation Z. It broadcasts over the air and on cable in 30 U.S. markets and reaches about 32 million households. It also streams online at Jen also was quoted by the New York Times in a recent story about the newest season of Netflix’s series, “The Crown.” She provided context for the story about the role of valets in the royal household. Also, Jen’s book, Mass-Observation: Text, Context and Analysis of the Pioneering Pamphlet and Movement, is coming out early February. Her other book, Royalty and the People: A Mass-Observation Collection, 1937-2022, with co-author Fiona Courage, is complete and to the publishers. It should be published in August or September. Jen also joined the North American Conference on British Studies (NACBS) Executive Committee as national treasurer; and presented the paper, “Mass Observing the Royalty in times of austerity: 1947 and 2022,” at the Northeast Conference on British Studies annual conference in Maine.”
(posted February 2023)

Gretchen Galbraith, dean of faculty, was one among several presenters for the annual Faculty Speaker Series, taking place from January 3 through January 12, 2023. Featured in this year’s lineup also were presentations from Annie O’Shaughnessy of the Graduate Education Department, George Ashline of the Mathematics and Statistics Department, Peter Vantine of the Classical and Modern Languages and Literature Department, Jen Purcell of the History Department, Kate Soons of the  Health Sciences Program, and Patrick Walsh of economics. With topics ranging from the British monarchy to the Pythagorean Theorem, there was something for everyone during this year’s series.
(posted February 2023)

Jennifer Purcell of the Saint Michael’s history faculty did a radio interview earlier this past winter about her book, Mother of the BBC, with Scottish DJ, John Cavanagh. He has a program that airs globally on independent radio stations as “Soundwave.” The interview went out on Saturday night, February 5. Cavanaugh also produces his interviews for an online publication for the blind and visually impaired called “Playback.” Jen also has done another interview about the book for a podcast in honor of the BBC’s 100th anniversary this year. Also, the first book in the Mass Observation Critical Series that Jen edits also came out this past winter. Kim Mair’s book, The Biopolitics of Care in Second World War Britain is the first book of the series. Another book will be out next month, and one of her two publications for the series, an edited volume of a 1937 book entitled Mass-Observation, should come later in the year. Jen on July 23 also presented an online lecture about the British royalty on June 23, in association with the book she is writing on attitudes to the royalty with Director of the Mass Observation Archive, Fiona Courage. Jen also recently shared about a related coming event of which she is an integral part: “We officially launched the Mass Observation Critical Series at a zoom event on May 25.  I introduced g the series along with my co-editor, Ben Jones (U of East Anglia, UK). It’s the first event planned in the 85th anniversary Mass Observation seminar series program. The authors were joined by the publisher and series editors to talk about these exciting new books and future publications. Mass-Observation is a United Kingdom social research project; originally the name of an organization which ran from 1937 to the mid-1960s, and was revived in 1981 at the University of Sussex. Mass-Observation originally aimed to record everyday life in Britain through a panel of around 500 untrained volunteer observers who either maintained diaries or replied to open-ended questionnaires (known as directives). They also paid investigators to anonymously record people’s conversation and behavior at work, on the street and at various public occasions including public meetings and sporting and religious events. Jen’s research and writing focuses on British history.
(posted July 2022)

Jennifer Purcell of the Saint Michael’s history faculty gave a virtual talk for the Vermont Humanities First Wednesday Program on May .; originally this talk was to be presented in person at the First Congregational Church of Manchester, but due to the COVID-19 crisis, this year’s First Wednesday talks were only online. Here’s the announcement from the Vermont Humanities website on Jen’s topic: “How did British housewives experience the Second World War and contribute to the war effort? Saint Michael’s history professor Jen Purcell tells the stories of seven housewives from across Britain. They grappled with the challenges of wartime, navigated shifting relationships at home and in the community, and struggled to be recognized for their efforts.”
(posted July 2021)

Jennifer Purcell of the history faculty this summer received a glowing review from Gilli Bush-Bailey, Royal Central School of Speech & Drama, University of London, UK, for a new Purcell book titled Mother of the BBC: Mabel Constanduros and the Development of Popular Entertainment on the BBC, 1925-57.
(posted February 2021)

Elizabeth “Liz” Scott, the College’s archivist in Durick Library, has found a useful worthwhile project to pursue remotely while in isolation during the pandemic at her home in Jericho “I have been working with Jen Purcell [history faculty] and Mike Stefanowicz [director of admission] to put together something for the future,” inviting all members of the Saint Michael’s College community “to help us in documenting this unprecedented time. We are piloting a project that is intended to capture thoughts and feelings as we meet the day-to-day challenges brought about by Covid-19.”
(posted June 2020)

Jennifer J. Purcell, associate professor and chair of the History Department, has a publication, “Mother of the BBC: Mabel Constanduros and the Development of Popular Entertainment on the BBC, 1925-57 (Bloomsbury)” coming out in March: Jen also recently signed paperwork to become series editor for The Mass Observation Critical Series with Bloomsbury.  This will be a massive, long-term endeavor putting out multiple volumes derived primarily from the work of Mass Observation from scholars across disciplines including history, sociology, anthropology, cultural studies, political science, and psychology. Related to that, Bloomsbury will be issuing a contract for Jen’s next book on British popular opinion of the royalty in the 20th-21st centuries.  The tentative title is Royal Observers: Mass Observing the Royalty, 1937-2020. Her article, “The BBC’s ‘Little Man’ in the Age of Supermen: Situation Comedy, National Character and Masculinity in the late-1930s” was accepted and is coming out at the end of the year in Comedy Studies. Finally, Vermont PBS just asked Jen to speak at their BritCom tea in April 2020.
(posted February 2020)

Jennifer Purcell, associate professor and chair of history, in March formalized her contract with publishing house Bloomsbury for her new book titled Mother of the BBC: Mabel Constanduros and the Development of Popular Entertainment on the BBC, 1925-1957 (May 2019).  Also, Jen been asked by Bloomsbury to be editor of a book series on Mass-Observation, a British social research organization which, since 1937, has been dedicated to studying the everyday lives of ordinary people in Britain.  Her first book, Domestic Soldiers (2010), was based on her research of the M-O archives. Constanduros’s emphasis on the everyday and the family had far-reaching impacts on the shape of sitcom and soap opera in Britain, two popular lenses through which the nation sees itself at home.  Her role in developing entertainment on the BBC and the ways in which she cultivated her career make her the ‘Mother of the BBC,’ but in constructing a popular image of family life she might also be considered the ‘Mother of the Nation,’ Jen explains.
(posted June 2018)

Jennifer Purcell, associate professor of history, spent June in the final phase of her research on Mabel Constanduros as a Richmond University (London) Centre for Visual Arts and Cultures Summer Research Fellow consulting archives in and around London. She organized the Northeastern Conference on British Studies (NECBS) Annual Meeting on campus Oct 14-15.  Saint Michael’s welcomed 80 scholars of British history from across the country and the UK to campus. Jen also gave a paper at the above-mentioned conference on the development of comedy on the early BBC, titled “Finding Talent: The Impact of Amateur Performers on the Development of Comedy on the Fledgling BBC, 1922-1939.” And, she will be in Washington, DC Nov. 11-12 as a commentator on a panel at the North American Conference on British Studies (NACBS) annual meeting about popular culture in the middle 20th century in Britain.
(posted November 2016)

Jennifer Purcell, assistant professor of history, is author of a paper that was published in Women’s History Review in November; she also presented a paper at the Northeastern Conference on British Studies in October.
(posted December 2014)