-story by Kaitlyn Sewell '15
History Professor Michael Fischbach
Randolph-Macon College History Professor Michael
Fischbach is spending the summer writing his fifth book. Combining two of his historical
interests, Fischbach will be explaining and analyzing the stances toward the Arab-Israeli
conflict adopted by the Black Power and New Left movements in America in the 1960s
During the last four years of research, Fischbach gathered evidence of the interest
shown in the Palestinian cause by various political and cultural figures of the
1960s—including Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, the Black Panthers, and members of the
Weather Underground, among others. He has traveled to archives in eight states plus
the District of Columbia, and interviewed a number of people in person, by phone,
via email, and even by regular mail in the case of a 1960s radical still in prison.
He also uncovered previously unknown details of Martin Luther King’s interest in
the Palestinians thanks to an interview with a physician who treated King when he
became ill in 1959 during a visit to East Jerusalem.
A seven-time recipient of the Walter Williams Craigie Teaching Endowment Grant,
Fischbach believes that his research would not be possible without the assistance
“I am so grateful for this opportunity,” Fischbach shares. “I’ve often spoken to
colleagues teaching at larger schools, and they are always taken back by the amount
of financial support I get from various sources at the college.” The Walter Williams
Craigie Teaching Endowment was established to support and sustain faculty research,
teaching and other scholarly activity by providing funds on a competitive basis.
Fischbach, who earned his B.A. from Northwestern University, and his M.A. and Ph.D.
from Georgetown University, joined the faculty in 1992. He has taught courses such
as Modern Iraq, The Sixties, Islam to the 14th Century, the Modern Middle East,
the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and Modern Egypt. He also is the recipient of the Thomas
Branch Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Fischbach considers his job—as a professor, historian, and thought-provoker—invigorating.
Being a witness to a student’s transformation of his or her perception of the world
is rewarding to him.
“It is great to challenge students to think about life, to ask ‘why did this happen?’”
says Fischbach. “That is what history is about. Any student who leaves one of my
classes, saying ‘the world isn’t the way I thought it was,’ is a success story for
Claire Sneed ’96
and Timothy Nolan ’01 are two of those students. Sneed was a Foreign
Affairs Officer with the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations in the
U.S. Department of State before being seconded to the British government and moving
to England, and she attributes much of her learning to Fischbach. Nolan, one of
Fischbach’s advisees, found himself “overly prepared” for graduate school at The
American University and, after working for the U.S. Senate, is now working at the
Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
When he is not teaching, Fischbach enjoys reading and researching, as well as collecting
historical and political memorabilia—including things as diverse as 1960s psychedelic
rock posters and war relics—which he shows to his students. He is a self-proclaimed
“hardcore espresso drinker,” and enjoys spending time off campus at Ashland Coffee
and Tea. He is equally excited about Birdsong Café, a new dining option in
Brock Commons that offers espresso drinks.
Advice for Students
“Take time to enjoy your life at college,” Fischbach advises students. “Don’t just
wait to look back nostalgically at this time when you are older.” He also encourages
a balance between studies and recreation. “Learn in the broadest sense, and make
the most of what you learn.”