Services set for WMU historian Ernst Breisach

contact: Cheryl Roland
| WMU News
Photo of Dr. Ernst A. Breisach.

Dr. Ernst A. Breisach

A Saturday, Dec. 10, funeral service is planned for Dr. Ernst A. Breisach, Western Michigan University professor emeritus of history, who died in Kalamazoo Nov. 25. He was 93.

Breisach taught in the WMU Department of History for 39 years, and served as department chair from 1967 to 1989. After his retirement from the WMU faculty in 1996, he remained active as a scholar and deeply involved with a variety of University initiatives.

Breisach was an internationally known scholar who was lauded for his meticulous research on Renaissance history. He also was widely regarded as a specialist on historiography—the way history is written. In addition to writing about Renaissance Europe, he published on such topics as modern existentialism and American progressive history.

The author of six books and numerous articles, he was the recipient of fellowships for his work from both the Fulbright Commission and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Breisach was honored many times for his scholarship and teaching contributions. In 1983, he was one of the first recipients of WMU's Distinguished Faculty Scholar Award, which is the highest honor the University bestows on its faculty members. For the past 28 years, he chaired the committee responsible for selecting subsequent recipients of that prestigious award. 

Breisach also was the 1988 recipient of an Academic Excellence Award, which is presented to just two Michigan professors annually by the Michigan Association of Governing Boards. In 1998, he was one of six WMU faculty members selected for their scholarly accomplishments as foundation members for the WMU chapter of the national honor society Phi Beta Kappa, which was established that year.

Born in Austria, Breisach grew into adulthood during Hitler's reign and World War II. He served in the German army and was wounded fighting on the Russian front. After the war, he earned doctoral degrees in history and economics from the University of Vienna and the Wirtschaftshochschule in Vienna. Breisach and his wife, Dr. Herma Breisach, who was also a historian, emigrated to America in 1953. He taught at Olivet College before joining the WMU faculty in 1957. The late Herma Breisach went on to earn a library science degree and lead the Serials Department in WMU's Waldo Library for 23 years.


Visitation and a memorial service will be held at Kalamazoo's St. Luke's Episcopal Church, 247 W. Lovell St. The visitation period is from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9. The funeral service is at 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10. Dr. Shirley Ort, associate provost and director of scholarships and student aid at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, will deliver the eulogy. She is a WMU alumna and former student of Breisach's.