Marshall W. Fishwick (1923–2006)


Marshall Fishwick was a multidisciplinary scholar, professor, writer, and editor who started the academic movement known as popular culture studies and established the journal International Popular Culture. In 1970 he cofounded the Popular Culture Association with Ray B. Browne and Russel B. Nye, and the three worked to shape a new academic discipline that blurred the traditional distinctions between high and low culture, focusing on mass culture mediums like television and the Internet and cultural archetypes like comic book heroes. In an academic career of more than fifty years, Fishwick wrote or edited more than forty books, including works on popular culture, Virginia history, and American studies. Fishwick was a popular professor—the novelist Tom Wolfe called him “the most magnetic teacher I have ever known”—who taught at Washington and Lee University in Lexington and later at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, where he retired in 2003.

Marshall William Fishwick was born in Roanoke on July 5, 1923, to English parents. He grew up singing in church with his brother John, who eventually became president of the Norfolk and Western Railway. He financed his studies at the University of Virginia (BA, 1943) by singing professionally. While serving with the U.S. Navy’s Atlantic Fleet during World War II (1939–1945), he wrote poetry, and in 1945 a collected volume of his poems, The Face of Jang, was published.

Fishwick returned to school after the war—University of Wisconsin (MA, 1946) and Yale University (PhD, 1949)—and published his dissertation as Virginia: A New Look at the Old Dominion (1959). Other early publications on Virginia history included Virginians on Olympus (1951), General Lee’s Photographer: The Life and Work of Michael Miley (1954), Gentlemen of Virginia (1961), and Lee after the War (1963). He also wrote many books on popular culture: The Hero: American Style (1969), Common Culture and the Great Tradition: The Case for Renewal (1982), Seven Pillars of Popular Culture (1985), and Great Awakenings: Popular Religion in America (1995).

Fishwick taught at Washington and Lee University (1949–1962) before directing the Wemyss Foundation (1962–1964) and Lincoln University’s Art and American Studies departments (1964–1970), and then teaching at Temple University (1970–1976). Settling at Virginia Tech until his 2003 retirement, he founded the American Studies and Popular Culture programs. Among his well-known students were journalist Roger Mudd and novelist Tom Wolfe, who wrote forewords for some of Fishwick’s books.

Fishwick’s professional recognitions include honorary degrees from the University of Bombay (now the Univeristy of Mumbai), the University of Dhaka, and Krakow University. With eight Fulbright Awards and several other grants, he taught in Bangladesh, Denmark, Germany, India, Italy, South Korea, Poland, and Russia. He described some of his travels in Around the World in Forty Years (1984).

The Popular Culture Association, of which he had once served as president, named a travel grant program for Fishwick, and in 1997 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award in Popular Culture from the American Culture Association. He was an advisory editor for the Journal of Popular Culture and the Journal of American Culture and also edited works on communication, education, history, literature, and theology. In his religious life, he served as a member of the Guild of Scholars of the Episcopal Church and historiographer of the Diocese of Southwest Virginia.

Fishwick had three daughters and a son with his first wife, two stepdaughters, and thirteen grandchildren. His third wife was historian Ann La Berge, a Virginia Tech colleague he married in 1995. He died at their Blacksburg home of complications from a blood disease on May 22, 2006. Fishwick’s last book, Cicero, Classicism, and Popular Culture (2007), was published posthumously and includes several recollections about Fishwick from people who knew him personally and professionally.

Major Works

  • The Face of Jang (1945)
  • Isle of Shoals (1946)
  • Virginians on Olympus (1950)
  • Since I Was Born (editor, 1952)
  • General Lee’s Photographer (1954)
  • The Virginia Tradition (1955)
  • Virginia: A New Look at the Old Dominion (1959)
  • Gentlemen of Virginia (1961)
  • The South in the Sixties (1962)
  • Lee after the War (1962)
  • Faust Revisited: Some Thoughts on Satan (1963)
  • Great Silver Crowns (1963)
  • Jamestown: First English Colony (1965)
  • For Thy Great Glory (coauthored with Richard T. Feller, 1965)
  • American Studies in Transition (editor, 1965)
  • Clara Barton (1966)
  • Jane Addams (1968)
  • The Hero: American Style (1969)
  • Icons of Popular Culture (editor, 1970)
  • Remus, Rastus, Revolution (editor, 1971)
  • Heroes of Popular Culture (editor; compiled by Ray Broadus Browne, 1972)
  • Popular Architecture (edited with J. Meredith Neil, 1974)
  • Parameters of Popular Culture (1974)
  • American Heroes (1975)
  • Icons of America (edited with Ray Broadus Browne, 1978)
  • Springlore in Virginia (1980)
  • Common Culture and the Great Tradition (1982)
  • Tarnished Gold: Bengal at Bay (1983)
  • Bangladesh: Inter-Cultural Studies (editor, 1983)
  • The Hero in Transition (coeditor, 1983)
  • Ronald Revisited: The World of Ronald McDonald (editor, 1983)
  • Around the World in Forty Years (1984)
  • Seven Pillars of Popular Culture (1985)
  • The Medium and the Messiah: Cycles and Salvation (1986)
  • The God Pumpers: Religion in the Electronic Age (coeditor, 1987)
  • Symbiosis: Popular Culture and Other Fields (coeditor, 1988)
  • Speaking of Virginia (1989)
  • Dominant Symbols in Popular Culture (coeditor, 1990)
  • Rejuvenating the Humanities (coeditor, 1992)
  • Preview 2001+ : Popular Culture Studies in the Future (coeditor, 1995)
  • Great Awakenings: Popular Religion and Popular Culture (1995)
  • Popular Culture: Cavespace to Cyberspace (1999)
  • The Global Village: Dead or Alive? (coeditor, 1999)
  • Cicero, Classicism, and Popular Culture (2007)

July 5, 1923
Marshall Fishwick is born in Roanoke.
Marshall Fishwick receives his BA from the University of Virginia.
Marshall Fishwick receives his MA from the University of Wisconsin.
Marshall Fishwick receives his PhD from Yale University and his dissertation Virginia: A New Look at the Old Dominion is published in 1959.
Marshall Fishwick teaches at Washington and Lee University in Lexington.
Marshall Fishwick chairs Lincoln University's Art and American Studies departments.
Marshall Fishwick teaches at Temple University.
Marshall Fishwick cofounds the Popular Culture Association with Ray B. Browne and Russel B. Nye.
Marshall Fishwick teaches at Virginia Tech where he founds the American Studies and Popular Culture programs.
Marshall Fishwick retires from Virginia Tech.
May 22, 2006
Marshall Fishwick dies at his home in Blacksburg.
  • Browne, Ray B. “In Memoriam: Marshall Fishwick.” Perspectives Online 45.1 (Jan. 2007).
  • Elliott, Jean. “Marshall Fishwick, retired professor and founder of popular culture studies, dies at 82.” Virginia Tech News 24 May 2006.
  • Esposito, Greg. “Fishwick disciplined popular culture: Author Tom Wolfe called Marshall Fishwick the ‘most magnetic teacher’ he ever had.” The Roanoke Times 24 May 2006.
APA Citation:
Smith, Leanne. Marshall W. Fishwick (1923–2006). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/fishwick-marshall-w-1923-2006.
MLA Citation:
Smith, Leanne. "Marshall W. Fishwick (1923–2006)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 30 May. 2024
Last updated: 2021, December 22
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