Thomas N. Childers, one of the most influential historians on the origins of German fascism and modern Germany, has been named the UT history department’s outstanding alumnus for 2016.
He will be feted during the history department’s annual honors ceremony at 5:00 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, in the Toyota Auditorium of the Howard H. Baker Jr Center for Public Policy.
A native of Cleveland, Tennessee, Childers arrived at UT in 1965 on a football scholarship. After forsaking the football field but not his loyalty to the Vols, he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1969 and a master’s degree in history in 1971 before going on to Harvard, where he earned his doctorate.
Childers is a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, where he has taught since 1976. He has held visiting professorships at the University of Cambridge, Smith College, and Swarthmore College, and has lectured at other universities in London, Oxford, Berlin, Munich, and throughout the United States and Europe.
During his tenure at Penn, Childers has won numerous awards for his work in the classroom, including the Ira T. Abrahms Award for Distinguished Teaching and Challenging Teaching in the Arts and Sciences (1987); the Richard S. Dunn Award for Distinguished Teaching in History (1999); the Senior Class Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, chosen by popular vote by the graduating class (2000); and the Spotlight on Teaching Award as the Best Lecturer in the Humanities, selected by the university student body (2004).
Childers is the author and editor of several books on modern German history and the Second World War, including the The Nazi Voter, published in 1983. He emerged as—and remains—one of the most influential historians thinking and writing about the origins of German fascism. He has just completed a new interpretation of the rise and fall of the Third Reich, which will be published in 2017.
In the second half of his career, Childers became an American military historian. He developed a four-volume series of interconnected books on the experience of World War II, mainly from the perspective of American participants. Much of this work has been based on Childers’s own family. The first volume, Wings of Morning: The Story of the Last American Bomber Shot Down Over Germany in World War II, tells the story of his uncle’s experience as a navigator on a B-17. The second volume, In the Shadows of War, was a Book of the Month Club and History Book Club selection.
The third volume, Soldier from the War Returning: The Greatest Generation’s Troubled Homecoming from World War II, examines the largely forgotten difficulties of American veterans returning home. About the book, Jon Meacham, executive editor of Random House, wrote: “Childers breaks significant new ground by chronicling the hidden history of the emotional toll that World War II exacted on those who fought it, and on those who loved them. I did not think there was anything fresh to say about the defining conflict of the modern world. Childers has proven me wrong—very wrong indeed. This is an important and engaging work.”