McKee, Christopher 1935–

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McKee, Christopher 1935–

(Christopher Fulton McKee)


Born June 14, 1935, in Brooklyn, NY; son of William R. (a college professor) and Frances McKee; married Linda Maloney, October 12, 1957 (divorced October 15, 1971); married Olivia Frederick (an educator), April 26, 1974; children: Sharon Frances, David Bruce. Education: University of St. Thomas, Houston, TX, A.B., 1957; University of Michigan, A.M.L.S., 1960.


Home—Grinnell, IA. Office—Burling Library, Grinnel College, Grinnell, IA 50112. E-mail—[email protected].


Librarian, historian, writer, and educator. Washington & Lee University, Lexington, KY, catalog librarian, 1958-62; Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, social science librarian, 1962-66, book selection officer at Lovejoy Library, 1967-69, assistant director of Lovejoy Library, 1969-72, assistant professor, 1962-71, associate professor, 1971-72; Grinnell College, Grinnell, IA, college librarian, beginning 1972, associate professor, 1972-77, Samuel R. and Marie-Louise Rosenthal Professor, beginning 1977. Member of Iowa State Library advisory council, 1976-77; member of executive committee of Iowa OCLC Council, 1976-77; chair of Iowa Private Academic Librarians, 1977-78. Also held the Secretary of the Navy Research Chair in Naval History at the Naval History Center, 1990-91.


Organization of American Historians, Society for Nautical Research (fellow), American Military Institute, U.S. Naval Institute, Iowa Library Association, Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society (fellow).


Newberry Library fellow, summers, 1974 and 1976; National Endowment for the Humanities fellow, 1978; U.S. Naval History prize, 1985; John Lyman Book award, and the Samuel Eliot Morison Distinguished Service award.


Edward Preble: A Naval Biography, 1761-1807, Naval Institute Press, 1972, reprinted with a new introduction by the author, Arno Press (New York, NY), 1980.

A Gentlemanly and Honorable Profession: The Creation of the U.S. Naval Officer Corps, 1794-1815, Naval Institute Press (Annapolis, MD), 1991.

Sober Men and True: Sailor Lives in the Royal Navy, 1900-1945, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.

The author's papers and correspondence concerning naval history are housed at the Grinnell College Libraries.

Contributor of articles and reviews to history and military journals.


Christopher McKee once told CA: "In my writing on American naval history I am particularly concerned with the interaction between the individual human person and the institutions and larger movements of his or her times. To me that individual's story is endlessly fascinating and a valid way of looking at history. Moreover, my concern is always with the less-noticed persons whose role in the development of an institution may have been as significant as that of more famous historical figures."

In A Gentlemanly and Honorable Profession: The Creation of the U.S. Naval Officer Corps, 1794-1815, the author profiles U.S. Navy officers during the republic's early years. The author's 2002 book, Sober Men and True: Sailor Lives in the Royal Navy, 1900-1945, examines the lives of enlisted sailors and presents his case against the stereotypical view of these sailors as alcoholic and sexual deviants. McKee forgoes the typical military histories written by either military history scholars or officers. Instead, he writes a history using the enlisted sailors' diaries, letters, and memoirs, as well as questionnaires and taped interviews with the sailors. "These documents reveal a decidedly monotonous and often dangerous shipboard existence," wrote a contributor to Kirkus Reviews. John Childs noted in Biography: "Throughout he employs the sailors' own words, frequently ungrammatical and colloquial and replete with repetitions and contradictions, to provide an authentic feel and immediacy."

Focusing on sailors of the Royal Navy through nearly the first half of the twentieth century, McKee provides only glimpses of the officers and only through the eyes of the sailors or through official forms. In contrast, his insights into typical sailors lives includes an in-depth look at their typical length of service, their religious convictions, life on the mess deck, the harsh discipline they faced, and both their hetero- and homosexual relations. He also follows the sailors into their eventual retirement and life thereafter. "No sea legs needed for Sober Men and True," wrote Nina C. Ayoub in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Ayoub added: "There is much to lure even the novice in naval history." Writing in Albion, Colin F. Baxter commented that the author "once again breaks new ground with his superb study of the lives of British sailors."



Albion, winter, 2004, Colin F. Baxter, review of Sober Men and True: Sailor Lives in the Royal Navy, 1900-1945, p. 702.

Biography, summer, 2003, John Childs, review of Sober Men and True, p. 482.

Chronicle of Higher Education, June 7, 2002, Nina C. Ayoub, review of Sober Men and True.

ForeWord, July-August, 2002, Peter Skinner, review of Sober Men and True.

Historian, spring, 2004, John Beeler, review of Sober Men and True, p. 193.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2002, review of Sober Men and True, p. 314.

Library Journal, April 1, 2002, Michael F. Russo, review of Sober Men and True, p. 124.

London Review of Books, January 2, 2003, Ian Jack, "Cocoa Sir?," review of Sober Men and True.


Grinnell College Libraries, Grinnell College Web site, (June 4, 2008), "Christopher McKee Papers."