Remembering Professor Emeritus Martin Otto Heisler
We are deeply saddened to report that Emeritus Professor Martin O. Heisler passed away on February 8th, 2021 in Lake Oswego, Oregon where he lived with his wife Barbara Schmitter Heisler since their retirements in 2005.
Professor Heisler had a long and distinguished career and was a major scholar in comparative politics and international relations. His areas of expertise were ethics across time and cultures, migration and ethnic relations, comparative and historical political studies, and international political sociology. He obtained his BA in 1960, MA in 1962, and PhD from UCLA in 1969 all in political science. After teaching at the university of Illinois for two years (1964-1966), Professor Heisler joined the Department of Government and Politics (GVPT) at the University of Maryland as a Lecturer under the chairmanship of Professor Elmer Plischke and advanced to Professorship in 1995 under the chairmanship of Professor Jonathan Wilkenfeld. He gave the department, college, and university 40 years of service until his retirement in 2006 and continued as Professor Emeritus with UMD.
During his long career at UMD, Professor Heisler also taught and did research at Aarhus University (1978-1983), first as a Fulbright Professor and then as Senior Lecturer. In 1991, he was a senior International Research Fellow at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris France, followed by a position as Visiting Fellow in the Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick, United Kingdom in 1992. In 2001, he returned to Paris, Frances as a Visiting Professor of International Relations at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques.
Professor Heisler valued exploration of theoretical and policy-related questions through transdisciplinary approaches to the social sciences. He loved editing and collaborative work projects, including a series on the "Comparative Studies of Political Life" and he edited or co-edited a number of books, special issues of journals, and symposia. His first book, Politics in Europe, was hailed as a breakthrough with a new way to think about European and comparative politics. Over his years with GVPT, he emerged as one of the distinguished elder statesmen in the field of comparative politics and become an internationally-renowned research scholar. Since 2004, with University Honors, The Ethnicity, Nationalism, Migration Section of the International Studies Association named its graduate student awards the "Martin O. Heisler Award." He was also awarded the "Curriculum Transformation Project" by the Women's Studies Program at UMD in 1995.
He was a great mentor to generations of undergraduate and graduate students and introduced them to the tradition of comparative analysis. His work on European politics, migration, identity, citizenship, and ethnic relations influenced that group of social scientists and they were enriched by his presence. Professor Heisler's service for the broader campus community included extensive service in the University Senate and its various committees and served on the Graduate Council.
Comments from Colleagues:
"Martin leaves behind generations of grateful students and a source of inspiration for humanist social scientists. He was in his 80s, still full of energy, always ready to add his voice to a discussion about authoritarianism, liberal values, old and new tribalisms, xenophobic populism, migrations, refugees, and so many others. He embodied the humanist calling of political science. For generations of undergrad and grad students at the University of Maryland, he represented the cosmopolitan, uninhibited, nuanced, sophisticated thinking of the Central European tradition. I write these words and realize that he belonged to that vanishing peer group for whom the world of Stefan Zweig, Elias Canetti, Hannah Arendt, and Walter Benjamin was so familiar. It was the world of Grand Hotel Abyss, with its unique mysteries, unavowed able secrets, and burning passions. He was a Holocaust survivor and had no patience for those who ignore, neglect, or negate the resurgence of Fascism. His personal history of surviving the Shoah is one of the most heartbreaking I've ever heard. He was extremely discrete about the tragedy. But the few details he was ready to share were frightening. Marty despised Viktor Orban and Donald Trump as much as Monsieur Gustave, played by Ralph Fiennes, scorned the fascist ruffians in Wes Anderson's 2014 aesthetic, moral, and political comedy/drama."
- Vladimir Tismaneanu, GVPT, UMD.
"I haven't seen Marty in years, but I recall him as a fine scholar and good person. I know he'll be missed."
- Paul Herrnson, Department of Political Science, UConn.
"I remember Marty for his warmth and kindness from the day I arrived at UMD. He always had time to stop and chat with me, making me feel welcome in the department. One of my fondest memories is when he and his wife Barbara invited me to their house for dinner. Afterward, he brought out brought out a fine Tokay wine for us to sip---very sophisticated and European for the not-so sophisticated American me. I didn't appreciate it at the time. But looking back, it is for some reason my favorite memory of him. He will be missed."
- Virginia Haufler, GVPT, UMD.
"Marty was an excellent colleague who was always ready and eager to engage in our collective decision-making and could contribute to virtually any conversation. He was very smart and a good man.
- Wayne McIntosh, BSOS/GVPT, UMD.
"Marty was a remarkable intellect, person, and political scientist. He took ideas and friendship seriously. He will be terribly missed."
- Mark Graber, UMD Francis King Carey School of Law.
"Martin Heisler brought grace and sophistication to our department along with a deep dedication to serious, informed argumentation. While sharing the 6th floor Journalism Building outpost of GVPT along with a small coterie of other young outcasts -- Jon Wilkenfeld, Eldon Lanning, Peter Bechtold, and myself -- and trudging up and down many flights of stairs, he never flagged in wit or determination. Our different approaches to political science notwithstanding, we shared much -- especially the awareness that exposure to other cultures and language is key to serious scholarship. Martin learned from the bitter experience of failed revolution in his native Hungary just how dangerous political life can be. Still, however much that lesson informed his scholarship, he remained optimistic about democratic aspirations. His verve, ready wit, and genuine bonhomie will be terribly missed."
- Charles Butterworth, Professor Emeritus, GVPT, UMD.
"Martin Heisler was a role model for me. He cared deeply about ideas and the life of the mind; nothing pleased him more than a rich intellectual exchange or a thoughtful conversation. He also cared passionately about faculty governance. I approached him frequently for advice, and was always rewarded with careful consideration and smart, humane guidance. I count myself lucky to have been his colleague."
- Ken Conca, Professor of International Relations, American University School of International Service; GVPT Faculty (1993-2010).
"Martin was my advisor and chair of my dissertation committee from 2004 to 2010 -- and he has been an important mentor for me ever since. A quintessential cosmopolitan and European intellectual, Martin was always insightful and original in his thinking. He had the wonderful ability to get you to consider matters from a different direction and thus, without being overbearing, pushing you further. He was always supportive and reliable in terms of academic development, but more importantly, he was supportive as a human being. His first concern was always my well-being and that of my family. I will never forget the last time I saw him, in 2019 in Toronto, when we caught up over some coffee and macaroons. I will miss him terribly."
- Jenny Wustenberg, PhD Alum, Associate Professor, Nottingham Trent University.
"Martin took with him a fountain of knowledge and history at UMD. He was respected by those who worked with him on all levels, including the staff because he always took the time to just stop in to chat. Martin will be missed."
- Cissy Roberts, Staff, GVPT, UMD.