Letter from the Editor
Ask David Hackett Fischer, University Professor and Earl Warren Professor of History, how he became a historian, and he’ll probably respond, “Do you have time for a story?”
Raised in a family of storytellers in the history-rich border state of Maryland, Fischer was steeped in the art of narrative. His aunt Eliza was in her 90s in the late 1930s when she first offered her young nephew an indelible account of a tragic moment in history.
“Aunt Eliza told a story about when she was a teenager living north of Baltimore,” Fischer recalled recently from his book-filled office in Golding Judaica Center. “She said she remembered a summer day when it was raining hard and she heard a sound like the wind in the trees. But when she stepped outside, there was no wind. She looked up the road, and she saw a line of wagons as far as her eyes could see. Each wagon was filled with the wounded of Gettysburg. It was their cries that sounded like the cry of the wind.
“That sort of storytelling is a recipe for making a historian,” Fischer said, “and that’s how I got started.”
This narrative approach has sustained him throughout his career as a teacher and a scholar. Asked to describe Fischer’s teaching style, history major Becky Cohen ’08 says, “He always sets the scene and tells a story, making the broader picture come to life with intimate details.” When Cohen took Fischer’s course on the American Revolution, she devoured his book “Paul Revere’s Ride” with the kind of abandon usually reserved for great novels. “I just couldn’t put it down,” she says.
Fischer’s lasting impact on students, colleagues and another audience much-coveted by historians — general readers — is the focus of our cover story. This time, the stories focus on Fischer himself, who this academic year marks a half-century at Brandeis.
Of course, historians aren’t the only ones who create captivating stories. Fiction writers do, too. If you’re one — or dream of becoming one — here’s your chance to shine. Brandeis Magazine is announcing its first-ever short story contest. The winning story will be published in our Summer 2013 issue, which will be dedicated to fiction writing. The contest is open to alumni only. Stories should not exceed 3,500 words and must be previously unpublished. Send your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org no later than April 8, 2013.
Finally, as you recover from one of the most vitriolic presidential campaign seasons in memory, check out our web exclusive about the role campaigns play in electoral politics. “Debates, advertising, television appearances, news coverage and campaign strategies — the usual grist for the punditry mills — count for virtually nothing on election day,” writes Allan Lichtman ’67, professor of history at American University.
|Laura Gardner, P’12