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History Professor’s Childhood Travels Lead to Fulbright Honor

UC’s Christopher Phillips, a New York Times published historian, has  received a Fulbright to study comparisons between the post Civil War era in the U.S. with post-World War II Czechoslovakia.

Date: 6/13/2013
By: Theo Marshall
Other Contact: M.B. Reilly
Other Contact Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Melanie Cannon
Christopher Phillips’ love of history began early in his childhood, during family vacations with his grandparents in the 1960s.

And those early travels will next carry Phillips, a Fulbright recipient and a professor of history in the University of Cincinnati's McMicken College of Arts & Sciences, to further research where he will examine the comparative historical experiences of the border states (in the United States) following the American Civil War and postwar Czechoslovakia (later the Czech Republic and Slovakia) during the post-World War II Communist crisis in central and Eastern Europe.

Raised in the rural Midwest, his grandparents took Phillips to historical sites primarily in Maryland, Virginia, District of Columbia and Pennsylvania.

“The trips fell at the tail end of the Civil War centennial, and among the various places we went was Gettysburg,” he said. “I had no understanding of that war, but I distinctly remember being fascinated by all of it from the moment we entered that small town.”

He recalled wandering away from his family’s campsite as a child to visit a cannon display on Emmetsburg Pike at Gettysburg.

“They (his grandparents) were frantic,” he said. “A park ranger found me and delivered me back to the campground a couple of hours later. A few years ago, I revisited the place. I had walked two miles - not bad for a 5 year old.”

Phillips later went on to dedicate his first book to his grandmother and great aunt, who “showed [him] the cannons.”  “It was an inside joke,” he said, “but I am what I am because of them.”
Christopher Phillips
Christopher Phillips

His interest in history didn’t stop in childhood, and grew as he did. Phillips recalled a high school assignment to write a research paper, for which he chose the Battle of Gettysburg. While the assignment required only 20 pages, he happily churned out 50. It was then he realized he enjoyed the process of writing and researching.

“My writing on the Civil War era has been shaped by my interest in cultural borders and identities, both of which I theorize as unique political responses to historical circumstance,” Phillips said. “Much of my work encounters the meanings and contexts of identity formation in the border states, and the enduring influence of the war on them.”

For his Fulbright-supported work, he is interested in "comparing how these similar narratives of culture, politics, revolution, and nationalism in border regions within two Republics - the U.S. and Czechoslovakia - could have ended so differently,” he said.

Phillips recently finished indexing his latest book, his seventh due out in July, a task he calls tedious and thankless, but valuable.

“Historians want to be able to use the book for their own work and need a quick way to find information,” he said.
While plenty of authors contract someone to their indexing, Phillips believes the task is a lesson in projecting the nuances of his work.

“It’s puzzle building in inverse, and certainly teaches you about your own book, after the fact and from the inside out,” he said. “Come to think of it, indexing ought to be one of the required exercises for our graduate program.”

Phillips doesn’t take on the extra task lightly, as a father to two athletic sons. He spends free time helping to coach their baseball teams, while his wife, Jill, is a local high school basketball coach.

“Sixty-five basketball games in the winter and 85 baseball games each fall, spring and summer challenge my time management skills,” he said. “But as my wife says, you have to take a big bite out of life to get full. So we live fully, and are generally overstuffed - metaphorically speaking.”

He couldn’t imagine how full his life would become when he first arrived at UC in 1999. The research opportunities, and proximity to the South and Midwest, are what captured his interest in the university initially.

“It seemed like kismet when I was offered the job, and it’s been a fantastic experience both professionally and personally since then. I genuinely love this place.”

  • UC’s Christopher Phillips is the author of six books on the Civil War era, including “Damned Yankee: The Life of Nathaniel Lyon” and the forthcoming “The Rivers Ran Backward: The Civil War on the Middle Border and the Making of American Regionalism.” His Civil War commentaries have been published in The New York Times in 2011 and 2012:
  1. "Missouri’s War Within the War"
  2. "Grant Goes to War"
  3. "The Fall of the House of Underwood"
  4. "The Breadbasket of the Union"
  5. "A Storm in Zion"