John Gillis (historian)

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John R. Gillis is Professor Emeritus of History at Rutgers University. He holds a B.A. from Amherst College and a Ph.D. from Stanford University.

Academic work[edit]

Until recently his work was largely been in social and cultural historys. He began as a German historian, moved to British history, and then began to be interested in age relations, marriage, memory, and the cultures of European and American family life. Now he has turned to global history, with an emphasis on cultural geography and environmental history.

In 2004 he published Islands of the Mind, an exploration of the prominent place islands have had in the western imaginary since the Ancients. In it he blends cultural history and geography, treating islands and continents as parts of an interactive whole. The book is concerned both with the role played by islands in the economic, political, and social dimensions of Atlantic world and the way the myths, images, and narratives of islands function for mainland cultures.

In recent years, Gillis has turned to the study of coasts and coastal peoples, a neglected subject in both history and geography. In a book titled The Human Shore: Seacoasts in History, he begins with the first humans to approach the shore, tracing coastal migrations around the world before turning to the ways that coasts and coastal people have figured in globalization over several centuries. The book concludes with an assessment of the current crisis of coasts when faced with the effects of climate change, treating coasts as an ecotone that encompasses both land and water. The book was published by the University of Chicago Press in November, 2012. [1]

Gillis retired from Rutgers University in 2005 and since that time has lived in Berkeley, California while spending summers on Great Gott Island, off Acadia National Park in Maine. There he is actively involved with the Island Institute, located in Rockland, Maine.

He has published six books and edited four others. Gillis is a current member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Family History and Young: Nordic Journal of Youth Research, and a past editorial board member of the Journal of Modern History. He has taught at Princeton and the University of California at Berkeley, has been a visiting fellow of St. Antony's College, Oxford, and is a Life Member of Clare Hall, Cambridge University.

Books published[edit]

  • "The Human Shore:Seacoasts in History" (2012)
  • Islands of the Mind: How the Human Imagination Created the Atlantic World (2004)
  • The Prussian Bureaucracy in Crisis, 1840-60 (Stanford, 1971)
  • Youth and History: Tradition and Change in European Age Relations, 1750-Present (Academic, 1975); Japanese Edition 日本語版 ギリス著(北本正章訳)『若者の社会史――ヨーロッパにおける家族と年齢集団の変貌』(新曜社,1985 )
  • Development of European Society, 1770-1870 (Houghton Mifflin, 1977)
  • For Better, For Worse: British Marriages, 1600 to the present (Oxford, 1985); Japanese Edition 日本語版 ギリス著(北本正章訳)『結婚観の歴史人類学――近代イギリスの・1600年~現代』(勁草書房,2006)
  • A World of Their Own Making: Myth, Ritual, and the Quest for Family Values (Basic, 1996)

Books edited[edit]

  • The Militarization of the Western World (Rutgers 1989)
  • The European Experience of Declining Fertility, with D. Levine and L. Tilly (Blackwell, 1992)
  • Commemorations: The Politics of National Identity (Princeton, 1996)
  • Becoming Historians, with James M. Banner, Jr. (University of Chicago, 2009) ISBN 978-0-226-03658-8


  • Fellow, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 1988
  • Fellow, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, 1993-4
  • Fellow, Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study in the Social Sciences, 2001

Professional affiliations[edit]

  • American Association of University Professors
  • American Historical Association
  • World History Association
  • Council on Contemporary Families (former national co-chair)


  1. ^ Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, "The Coastal Consciousness of John Gillis" The Chronicle of Higher Education July 29, 2013 The Chronicle Review