Michael Olmert

Professor of the Practice

3116 Tawes Hall

Office Hours:
12:15-1:30 p.m. Tu/Th
or by appointment


Olmert holds an MA and PhD in English literature and for the last 26 years has been teaching at the University of Maryland, where he lectures on Medieval Studies, Shakespeare, 17th and 18th Century Studies, and Modern British Drama.

He is also an active television, film, and print writer, with five books, three plays, two feature films, an IMAX film, over 90 TV documentaries, three Primetime Emmys, and some 200 magazine articles, reviews, and essays to his credit.  He has also published ten articles in refereed learned journals. 

His latest book is on the architecture and cultural history of the eighteenth-century backyard.  Called Kitchens, Smokehouses, and Privies: Outbuildings and the Architecture of Daily Life in the Eighteenth Century Mid-Atlantic, it was published by Cornell University Press in 2009.  It is based on extensive research in Maryland and Virginia, especially at Colonial Williamsburg.  Olmert also wrote the Official Guidebook to Colonial Williamsburg (1985), on the most-studied 18th Century town in the world. 

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has posted a video-cast in which Olmert talks about the demotic 18th century backyard in Early America. It's available here at http://www.history.org/media/videoplayer/?cat=vodcast&file=HiddenWilliamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg has also posted a podcast, enhanced with a slide show, of Olmert talking about "Smokehouses and Other Outbuildings," at http://history.org/media/podcasts.cfm, and has included his article "Of Follies" in the Colonial Wiliamsburg magazine, Summer 2013 (pdf available here).

His other books include Milton’s Teeth & Ovid’s Umbrella (Simon & Schuster, 1996; reprinted by Barnes & Noble, 2005), which is about the nature of History.  The Smithsonian Book of Books (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992; reprinted 2003) is to do with the codex and print revolutions.  A quotation from Milton’s Teeth was the answer to the New York Times Magazine “Doublecrostic” puzzle on January 23, 2005.  A quotation from his Smithsonian Book of Books is carved over the door of the library in Curtis, Michigan.

Olmert also wrote the feature film The Leopard Son (Discovery Pictures, 1996), narrated by Sir John Gielgud, and the IMAX film Wildfire (1999).  His feature film Meerkat Manor: The Story Begins was released in 2008.  His screenplay about the Cold War and Albert Einstein, called Einstein and Margarita, is in fund-raising and development.

He has also written three stage plays:  Moving the Chains (2010) is about the University of Maryland football player Darryl Hill, the “Jackie Robinson” of ACC football.  The play will have a table-read by D.C. professional actors at the Lincoln Theatre on Feb. 21, 2011.  Olmert’s play Great Creating Nature (2005) is about botany and betrayal in the early 17th Century, and centers around the life of the father-and-son plant-collectors, the John Tradescants.  And his Shakespeare and Doctor Lopez (2004) is about Queen Elizabeth I’s Jewish physician; it had a rehearsed table-read with professional actors at Theatre J in Washington in 2007. 

In 2001, 2002, and again in 2006, Olmert won Primetime Emmy awards for writing television documentaries (all on paleontology; all on the Discovery Channel).  In 2003, he wrote the well-received Walking with Cavemen, a two-hour special on human evolution, narrated by Alec Baldwin.  The writing on this show was awarded a gold medal at the New York Festivals in 2004.  For PBS, he wrote the documentary on the making of the Holocaust Museum, For the Living (1993), narrated by Ed Asner.

In 2009, he wrote National Geographic’s documentary on the latest archaeology in Southeast Asia, Secrets of Angkor.  He also wrote two 2-hour specials in the Discovery Atlas series: Australia (2006; narrated by Russell Crowe) and France (2008; narrated by Candice Bergen). 

Shows written by Olmert have also won, among other awards, the American Bar Association award for Mr. Justice Brennan (PBS, 1996), the CableAce award for The Great Siberian Grizzly (Animal Planet, 1997), and the NEA award for The Lion’s Pride (CBS, 1996).

His television work has involved writing for and directing a number of major actors in addition to Gielgud, Baldwin, Crowe, and Asner, including Richard Dreyfuss, Gabriel Byrne, Malcolm McDowell, Gary Sinise, Stockard Channing, Martin Sheen, and F. Murray Abraham.

In 2007, two of Olmert’s senior students won the prestigious Philip Merrill Award and selected him as their most influential college teacher; no teacher has had two winners in one year before.  In 2010, another Olmert senior student won the award.  On five occasions, he’s been nominated for the Interfraternity and Panhellenic Council’s Teacher-of-the-Year Award.  In 1999, he received the Phi Kappa Phi honor society faculty-mentoring award.  (Only two are awarded each year, covering all campuses of the University of Maryland system.)  

Olmert has taught Study-Abroad courses in literature, archaeology, and architecture in Yorkshire, in Norfolk, and in London, and Alumni Study Tour courses in Sicily, Florence, Tuscany, Sorrento, Greece, India, Burgundy and the Rhone valley, the Cotswolds, Scotland, and Ireland. 

He has delivered 60 invited public lectures, including a lecture at the “One-day University,” a national series using master teachers from several prestigious universities.

In 2005, he was inducted into the University of Maryland Alumni Hall of Fame (with Larry David, Gary Williams, Morgan Wooten, and Connie Chung).   

5  III  2011


B.A., University of Maryland, English

M.A., Georgetown University, English

PhD, University of Maryland, English

Area Groups

Medieval and Renaissance; Mythology and Folklore; Post-1900 British and Irish; Restoration and 18th Century


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Spring 2015

ENGL312 Romantic to Modern British Literature
ENGL454 Modern Drama

Fall 2014

ENGL379M Special Topics in Literature: British Plays in Performance
ENGL454 Modern Drama

Spring 2014

ENGL379T Special Topics in Literature: Folklore, Themes, and Archetypes in Literature
ENGL451 Renaissance Drama II

Fall 2013

ENGL379M Special Topics in Literature: British Plays in Performance
ENGL454 Modern Drama

Spring 2013

ENGL289P Why Poetry Matters
ENGL379M Special Topics in Literature: British Plays in Performance

Fall 2012

ENGL311 British Literature from 1600 to 1800
ENGL454 Modern Drama

Spring 2012

ENGL379T Special Topics in Literature: Folklore, Themes and Archetypes in Literature
ENGL454 Modern Drama

Fall 2011

ENGL312 Romantic to Modern British Literature
ENGL379M British Plays in Performance

Spring 2011

ENGL311 British Literature from 1600 to 1800
ENGL452 English Drama from 1660 to 1800

Fall 2010

ENGL403 Shakespeare: The Early Works
ENGL454 Modern Drama

Spring 2010

ENGL241 Introduction to the Novel
ENGL311 British Literature from 1600 to 1800