Carla Rahn Phillips

Fellow of the Society for the History of Discoveries


Carla Rahn Phillips, Union Pacific Professor Emerita (since May 2013) in Comparative Early Modern History at the University of Minnesota, is a prize-winning scholar of international stature whose interests encompass early modern European social and economic history and maritime history.  She has written seven books, twenty-six articles in refereed journals, and forty-one book chapters and invited articles. In 2008, King Juan Carlos I of Spain named her to the Royal Order of Isabel the Catholic, the equivalent of a knighthood. Spain’s Royal Academy of History elected her as a Corresponding Member in 2005.  She has held prestigious fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the Tinker Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the John Carter Brown Library, and the Huntington Library. Four of her books have received national or international prizes, one of them garnering two awards.

Carla was born in Los Angeles, a seventh-generation Californian whose Spanish ancestors were among the founders and settlers of San Diego, San Gabriel, Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara.  Her undergraduate education was also in California, at Pomona College, where she graduated in 1965 with a cum laude B.A. in History and the Cecil Short Prize in Music for performance in choral music.  For graduate work, Carla moved to New York, earning an M.A. in 1966 and a Ph.D. in 1972—both in History—from New York University.  The next year NYU awarded her its Founders’ Day Award for “having achieved a place in the highest bracket of scholastic preferment.”

In 1972, she began her teaching career at the University of Minnesota as an Assistant Professor, progressing to Associate Professor in 1978 and to Full Professor in 1986.  In 1987, she was a Visiting Professor at the University of California, San Diego. In 2005 she became the Union Pacific Professor of Comparative Early Modern History at Minnesota.  During her career, she served the Department of History and the College of Liberal Arts in a variety of positions, including Director of Graduate Studies in the History Department on two occasions. She taught a variety of courses in early modern European history and served as dissertation adviser for eleven successful doctoral students.  In 2006 and 2010, she led a Summer Dissertation Seminar at Minnesota in “The Comparative History of the Early Modern World,” sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Also under the auspices of the Mellon Foundation, she has taught a summer institute in Spanish Paleography several times, most recently at the Newberry Library in Chicago in the summer of 2013.

Her service to the wider academic community is wide-ranging and impressive.  She served on numerous committees for the American Historical Association and in 1996-99 was its Vice President for the Professional Division.  She was General Secretary (chief officer) of the Society for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies in 1984-88 and hosted or co-hosted the society’s annual meeting in Minneapolis in 1986 and 1997.  She was a founding member of the Forum on European Expansion and Global Interaction, served as its president in 1996-98, and hosted its biennial meeting in Minneapolis in 1996. In addition, she was a vice president of the International Committee for the History of Nautical Science in 2009-2012 and has served on the executive committees of The Society for the History of Discoveries, the North American Society for Oceanic History, and the Sixteenth Century Studies Association.  She has served on the editorial or advisory boards of American Neptune, Sea History, Mains’l Haul: A Journal of Pacific Maritime History, Oxford Companion to World Exploration, Oxford Encyclopedia of Maritime History, Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World, Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte/Archive for Reformation History, Repertorium Columbianum, and “Minnesota Studies in Early Modern History,” a book series.  She has also been a consultant to the Maritime Museum of San Diego, the Mariners’ Museum of Newport News, the government of Colombia, the International Historical Watercraft Society, the Ocean Sciences Research Institute, the Fort Guijarros Museum Foundation in San Diego, “Project 1992” in St. Augustine, and the Corpus Christi Museum.  Since 1999 she has been a member of the Executive Committee of the Program for Cultural Cooperation between Spain’s Ministry of Culture and United States’ Universities.

Her scholarship began with her dissertation on the central Spanish municipality of Ciudad Real.  That research developed into her first book, Ciudad Real, 1500-1700: Growth, Crisis, and Readjustment in the Spanish Economy (Harvard University Press, 1979).  Her interest in maritime history began when Jack Parker, curator of the James Ford Bell Library at the University of Minnesota, pointed her to a packet of documents regarding galleons built for Spanish naval service.  That developed into her second book, Six Galleons for the King of Spain: Imperial Defense in the Early Seventeenth Century (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986).  The book garnered the Leo Gershoy Prize of the American Historical Association (1987), the Spain in America Prize (first prize) from the Spanish government, and a listing among Choice’s “Outstanding Academic Books.”  A Spanish translation appeared in Madrid in 1991. Next she published two books co-authored with her husband, William D. Phillips, Jr. The first, The Worlds of Christopher Columbus (Cambridge University Press, 1992), received the Spain in America Prize (second prize), and the New York Times reviewed and cited it as a notable book of 1992.  The second was Spain’s Golden Fleece: Wool Production and the Wool Trade from the Middle Ages to the Nineteenth Century (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), winner of the Leo Gershoy Prize of the American Historical Association for 1998 and a listing in Choice’s Outstanding Academic Titles, 1998-2002.  A Spanish translation appeared in 2005. Carla’s next solo book was The Treasure of the San José: Death at Sea in the War of Spanish Succession (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007), about a ship sunk by the British that carried what has long been thought (incorrectly) to be the richest treasure ever sunk.  The Professional and Scholarly Publishing division of the American Association of Publishers honored the book with its “Award for Excellence in World History and Biography/Autobiography” in 2007.  The publisher Marcial Pons Historia issued a Spanish translation in 2010. That same year, Carla and William Phillips published their most recent joint book, A Concise History of Spain (Cambridge University Press, 2010).

Carla’s interest in maritime history now occupies most of her scholarly energies.  She is finishing a translation and introduction for the Hakluyt Society in the U.K. about a Spanish voyage to the South Atlantic in 1581-84.  She is also involved in various projects with the Maritime Museum of San Diego, where she became the first holder of the “Robert and Laura Kyle Chair in Maritime History” in 2009.  The Museum is currently building a reconstruction of the galleon that Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo sailed into San Diego Bay in 1542 — the first European ship to visit San Diego. She chaired the historical advisory committee that planned the construction and volunteers with the build crew whenever she visits San Diego.

For her many outstanding publications in early modern social, economic, and maritime history, for her fine record of teaching and mentoring students, particularly at the University of Minnesota, and for her contributions to the scholarly community of maritime historians, we honor Carla Rahn Phillips and name her Fellow of the Society for the History of Discoveries.

Fifty-Fourth Annual Meeting of the Society for the History of Discoveries
Tampa, Florida
November 1, 2013

Prepared by Carol Urness



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