Lewis R. [Skip] Fischer

In memoriam Lewis [Skip] Ross Fischer 1946-2018.

There was prescience in the Fischer family when, as a child, “Skip” earned his nickname. For the four decades of his university career, Skip was maritime history’s master mariner, though, as a close collaborator recently pointed out, he was not just to be found on the bridge; in the engine room, and counting house, too, Skip ensured the ship’s smooth running. Indeed, the tasks involved in creating and maintaining the scholarly and professional infrastructure of maritime economic history across the globe were multiple and demanding. Yet, Skip paid them diligent attention, bringing to the challenge an intelligence that is rare even amongst academics who might come close to matching his dedication. Maggie, his partner in life as in publishing, understood that dedication, and we should flag as well a truly exceptional collaboration in their work together.

At Memorial generations of undergraduates and graduates grew from learning under the guidance of an enthusiastic teacher and mentor. For the students who did not encounter him in his research specialism, Skip was the knowledgeable protagonist of American popular culture through its music of the 1960s and 70s.

Graduate research on the shipping and shipbuilding of Prince Edward Island recommended Skip to the Memorial team embarking on the Atlantic Canada Shipping Project. He arrived, in 1976, to join the most ambitious computer-based historical project in Canada of that period. Assuming a large share of the work in generating and analyzing its data, Skip’s prolific publishing career started with the dissemination of the project’s findings. On his retirement, in 2015, the count of titles in the name of Lewis R. Fischer reached perhaps two hundred. These are spread across sub-fields in maritime economic history, including insurance, chartering and freights, and ports and seafaring labour: Skip’s catalogue is thus a vital resource for new maritime history researchers.

Encouraging early career scholars was one reason for Skip’s attention to providing maritime historians with a journal, a conference outlet and an occasional publication series. Started in the 1990s and still bearing fruit, these initiatives were connected with the umbrella organization that was also Skip’s project, the International Maritime Economic History Association. International is the vital word, though we are not forgetful of his commitment to Canadian maritime history via the periodical The Northern Mariner/Le Marin du Nord. Skip’s larger aim was to encourage conversations and research partnerships outside national boundaries, much as he had done with colleagues in Scandinavia, the British Isles, and Continental Europe. In 2012 many of those colleagues came together to present Skip with a festschrift. The editors indicated in their preface that the tribute was but a small recompense for Skip’s “efforts, enthusiasm and generosity” (p. 2). At Memorial we too have appreciated those qualities and now the MSRU joins an international community in marking the loss of a much-respected colleague.

Valerie Burton,
Chair of the Maritime Studies Research Unit.

Skip’s festschrift: Gelina Harlaftis, Stig Tenold and Jesus Ma Valdaliso, The world's key industry : history and economics of international shipping (2012).


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