Philip White, professor emeritus of American history, died Oct. 15 at the age of 86.
White earned a doctorate in history from Columbia University in 1954. He was a noted scholar of nationality in world history.
A pioneer 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 he remembers building a friendship with White when they worked together on a project to beautify Garrison Hall in 2002.
“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,” Hopkins said. “He would often talk with me about nationalism, the world, and eventually families - a subject on which we both held views that, being born of experience, were everything except authoritative.”
White and Hopkins later co-authored a book “Global History: Interactions Between the Universal and the Local” in 2006. White’s chapter “Globalization and the Mythology of the Nation State” generated many high marks from reviewers. Hopkins recalls a time when one of his colleagues at the University of Cambridge told him White’s chapter was read by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to prepare for a visit to Africa to address the continent’s problems.
“Phil and I met late in life and his characteristic modesty was well fortified," Hopkins said. "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."
At the time of his death, White 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.”