Philip Whitaker was born in Poole, Dorset in 1927, to a Lancashire family. His father was an industrial chemist and moved the family to Newport, Gwent during the Second World War. Whitaker went to Trinity College, Dublin, initially to read Physics, but graduated with a degree in history. Following this, he went on to study for a PhD at Manchester University, writing his thesis on the 'Manchester Liberals'.
In the 1950s and into the 1960s, Whitaker spent time studying and lecturing at Makerere University, Uganda's largest university. His research largely concerned Nigerian elections but he also examined (and in many cases visited), the Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanganyika (Tanzania) and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa.
Whitaker's time in Uganda coincided with great political change as a result of growing nationalism and Britain's moves towards decolonisation. Nigeria became the autonomous Federation of Nigeria in 1954 and in October 1958, Britain agreed Nigeria would become an independent state on 1st October 1960. Tanganyika became independent in December 1961 and Uganda held its first elections in 1961, becoming independent in October 1962. In Uganda and Nigeria, early elections and politics were played out along tribal and ethnic lines leading to tension and unrest between the various peoples. It is in this context that Whitaker's work must be viewed.
Whitaker left Uganda in 1962, and went with his family to Chicago on a six month lecture tour, encompassing Minnesota and Canada. Following this, he spent time travelling between Africa and Britain, particularly Uganda and Manchester. After leaving Uganda for the final time, Whitaker spent some time in Zanzibar, leaving just before the 1964 uprising in which African revolutionaries overthrew the Arab-minority led government, murdering up to 20,000 Asian civilians.
Philip Whitaker took up a post as a lecturer in Political Science at the University of Dundee in 1964, where he remained as a respected lecturer until he semi-retired. He and his family lived in Letham, where he also became a local councillor. In the late 1970s and 1980s, he would spend winters lecturing in the USA and Canada, though he also pent some time in Thailand. Whitaker moved to Devon upon his partial retirement, before fully retiring in 1983. Whitaker died in 1988.
The Philip Whitaker collection relates largely to his work in central Africa in the 1950s and early 1960s.