Philip Burnham

1951 -

Class of 2016

Literary Arts – Journalist, Historian, Educator

Awarded “Best Biography Spur Award, 2015,” by the Western Writers of America

Served on faculty of University of New Mexico, the University of

Massachusetts, Johns Hopkins University, and is currently on the faculty of George Mason University

Fulbright Fellowship, Dakar Senegal

Philip Burnham’s family moved to Batavia in 1955 when he was 3 years old.  He grew up in Batavia, along with 3 brothers and one sister, and graduated from Batavia High School in 1970.  His father, Joe, served for several years as the President of Marshall Field’s until suffering a fatal heart attack at the age of 57.  His mother, Ruth Burnham, and two siblings still live in the Fox Valley.  Currently a resident of Washington, D.C., Phil still considers Batavia his hometown because it played a key role in his formative years, and he returns for a visit ever year.


He has taught college-level writing, history, and literature at the University of New Mexico, the University of Massachusetts (Amherst), Sinte Gleska College, Johns Hopkins University, and as a Fulbright Fellow at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, Senegal.  He has performed archival research in public and private collections throughout the U.S. and in several countries abroad.


Burnham is a journalist/historian and an assistant professor of composition at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.  He is a former reporter for Indian Country Today.


Burnham earned a B.A. in English Composition from Beloit College in Wisconsin, a Master of Fine Arts in Writing from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, and a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of New Mexico.  His writing has appeared in American Heritage, Transition, and the Washington Post.


Phil Burnham has been writing professionally for almost 25 years.  His first full-length book, How the Other Half Lived: A People’s Guide to American Historic Sites, was published in 1995, and is an investigation of the public history of American minority groups.  This illustrated hardbound edition examines the representations of manual laborers, women, and people of color at historic sites from more than a dozen states.  Described as provocative and timely, the book reveals that a significant part of our population remains almost invisible at some of the most visited monuments in the country.  More importantly, the book discusses the ways many sites are trying to remedy this oversight.


Among the other important books he’s authored are:  So Far from Dixie: Confederates in Yankee Prisons (a narrative account of Civil War confinement) and Indian Country, God’s Country: Native Americans and the National Parks (an exposé of how public lands were wrested from North American tribes).


His latest book, Song of Dewey Beard: Last Survivor of the Little Bighorn, published by the University of Nebraska Press, is the biography of a Lakota who witnessed the Battle of Little Bighorn and survived the Wounded Knee Massacre.  The book chronicles a remarkable life that can be traced through major historical events from the late 19th into the mid-20th century.  The Western Writers of America awarded the 2015 Spur Award to the book for Best Biography from 2014.


The Batavia Public Library’s monthly book program, “Books Between Bites,” welcomed Burnham back to his hometown this past May 21, 2015, to discuss his new biography. It was a packed house.  A book signing at Town House Books in St. Charles followed on the weekend.  Without question, Philip Burnham is a much-admired “native son” of the Fox Valley who is a gifted researcher and storyteller.