History Department
History Department

Prof. Emeritus Philip White dies

Wed, October 28, 2009
Prof. Emeritus Philip White dies
Prof. Emeritus Philip White

White earned a doctorate in history from Columbia University in 1954. He was a noted scholar of nationality in world history.

Known for his pioneering efforts in political activism, White was a driving force behind the formation of student-led voting awareness groups and Democratic political organizations at The University of Texas at Austin.  He served as a faculty sponsor of the university’s Student Council for Voter Registration and the Student Action Committee for more than 20 years.

Known by many as an “unsung hero,” White helped form the first political coalition in Austin that joined white liberals, minorities and students. His efforts are also attributed to opening up Austin’s elected state offices to African Americans, Hispanics and outsiders to the city, according to a story printed in the Austin American-Statesman.

His steadfast dedication to his interests and tireless teaching and mentoring influenced generations of scholars and students, says Michael Hall, professor of history.

“’Less is more! Get to the nub of it and spare me the ornaments,’ was Phil White's constant advice to graduate students as he strove to improve their presentations,” Hall said. “He was well aware how little attention is given to classroom teaching in graduate education. His regular seminar on teaching was a passion of his later career.”

Nancy Sutherland, academic advising coordinator in the Department of History, said White will be remembered as a dedicated scholar and stimulating teacher who will be greatly missed by his many friends, students and colleagues at the university.

“Dr. White was passionate about history and the teaching of history,” Sutherland said. “He worked tirelessly on programs to help make current and future teachers of history better at all educational levels. When he spoke about his family and professional pursuits, his love of them was always apparent.  I've missed his presence in the department and send my sincere sympathies to his family.”

Antony Hopkins, the Walter Prescott Webb Chair in History, said, "I got to know Phil White by chance shortly after I arrived at UT in 2002, when he volunteered to help in assembling memorabilia for the poster project I had undertaken to beautify Garrison Hall, which at that time was still in its unreconstructed state. This encounter was the beginning of a closer relationship because Phil then joined me and a small group of colleagues in the department who were beginning to think about globalization and history. His own thinking, as often happens with the passage of time, had grown with him, and his early work on New York had developed into an interest in world history.

"At that time, Phil still had an office in Garrison, but since it could barely accommodate one person and certainly not two, he would call in to see me to talk about nationalism, the world, and eventually families—a subject on which we both held views that, being born of experience, were everything except authoritative. Our book, Global History: Interactions Between the Universal and the Local was published in 2006. Phil was delighted to have been part of a team that was energised by younger contributors; happily, too, he was in good form at the time of the launch.

"His own chapter, a wide ranging survey entitled 'Globalization and the Mythology of the "Nation State" '—his last publication, so I believe—has been well received by reviewers. John Lonsdale, one of my Cambridge colleagues, referred specifically to Phil's chapter when he told me that our book had been recommended reading for Tony Blair, who used it to prepare for a visit to Africa to assess the continent's problems. Phil and I met late in life and his characteristic modesty was well fortified, but we crossed a few barriers and I was fortunate to have a glimpse of the contribution he had made to Austin and the university, as well as to the study of history," Hopkins said.

At the time of his death, he had been working on a book about nationality.  

“Phil devoted his last years to investigating the roots of nationalism,” Hall said. “This research took him back into the evolution of group instincts in Homo sapiens and the burgeoning field of sociobiology. Phil plunged in relentlessly and took no easy escapes from the rigors of exacting scholarship. Sadly, it was a book he did not live to finish.”

Martha Gail Moore
Administrative Associate
Department of History

Jessica Sinn
Public Affairs Specialist, College of Liberal Arts

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