Charles “Chad” Ludington has been a professor at NC State since 2004, though his path to earning a Ph.D. in history has not been a typical one.
His experiences range from playing professional basketball in France, to working as a prep chef in a kitchen in Connecticut to writing a book about how wine influenced politics in Britain.
In the mid-1980s while attending Yale, Ludington came home to North Carolina for the summers to work at basketball camps at NC State and UNC-Chapel Hill. He decided after he graduated he wanted to play professionally, but said he wasn’t good enough for the NBA, so he set his sights on Europe.
“I was on a team in Paris for a year and then I was traded to a team in Spain,” Ludington said. “I decided I wanted to stay around in Paris because I loved [it] so much.”
Rather than play in Spain, Ludington searched for a way to get back to working in Paris. He did find a job that would bring him back, but not before he took the opportunity to travel to China.
“I traveled with the money I made from basketball to Spain with the goal to take the train from Seville to Hong Kong, which took a little over two months, around May and June,” Ludington said. “I traveled around Spain to Seville through France, then Germany and Poland, and through the Soviet Union using the Trans-Siberian Railway.”
Ludington had friends teaching in China and wanted to visit them and do some traveling on his own before briefly heading back to the United States, where he worked in a restaurant in Connecticut.
“There I learned to chop things at high speed,” Ludington said. “I became interested in food and wine while playing basketball, and travel and restaurant work really raised my interest.”
After working as a prep chef, Ludington was presented a new opportunity that could get him back to France: researching the genealogy of an American family. The research took him to Pittsburgh, Belfast, London and finally to Paris. The family’s ancestors had roots in the French Huguenots who moved to Ireland to escape persecution, then eventually to the U.S. as immigrants. The research for the book took two years, and following that he wrote the book for the family while living in Paris and then Chapel Hill.
After completing the genealogy for the family, Ludington returned to the U.S. to attend graduate school at Columbia University in New York. While attending Columbia, he found himself working at a wine store in Union Square.
“For my dissertation, I was advised to combine British and Irish history and my wine knowledge,” Ludington said. “There is a long and interesting political and fiscal history in Britain, especially concerning wine.”
The genealogy work lead Ludington to be interested in British and Irish history, and in graduate school he chose to apply in modern British and Irish history, a departure from his undergrad specialization of modern German history. The topic of his dissertation ended up as the politics of wine in Britain, which later turned into his book “The Politics of Wine in Britain: A New Cultural History,” which was published in 2012.
“I lived in New York for four years, and while I was there I played on a mostly Dominican [basketball] team,” Ludington said. “Everyone was Dominican except for me and one other American from Harlem. Through that [team] I was exposed to Dominican culture.”
After graduate school, Ludington and his wife moved to London, where he got a job coaching the JV high school basketball team for an American school in London, a job he absolutely loved. After two years coaching, Ludington and his wife moved back to the U.S. in 2000, where he finished his Ph.D. in 2003 and began teaching at NC State in 2004. Until 2009 he also taught classes at UNC-CH and Duke University.
Currently Ludington’s classes revolve around European history from about 1400 to 1800 and a class titled the Global History of American Food, which one of Ludington’s former students described as “food anthropology.” The former student, Ben Rachunok, a senior studying industrial engineering, had Ludington for an honors program section of the class, and remembers him fondly.
“I’d never had a professor who handled history quite the way he did,” Rachunok said. “I really liked the way he made us think about things, because that’s totally something that I’ve taken from that class and it has changed the way I look at a lot of different topics and a lot of different areas of study.”
Ludington attributes his love of history and teaching to his childhood when he loved history, books, reading and ideas. Growing up in an academic family in Chapel Hill had an influence on him, and he feels that academics has a nice lifestyle, one where he gets to read for a living.
“I love teaching about books and ideas, and it is so fulfilling to see that spark in a student during discussions,” Ludington said.
Ludington found that history helped ground his inherently philosophical nature; it combined thinking and empirical evidence. To him, history is a balance between thinking philosophically and theoretically. While that may be challenging to some, Ludington had a different set of challenges to overcome. In his late 20s he began to lose his hearing, and he found coping with that to be difficult but possible. Academically, he found getting his Ph.D. to be the most challenging experience.
“Getting a Ph.D. in history, if not other fields, toward the end can be a very lonely, difficult experience,” Ludington said. “You have to absolutely love your subject and persevere and find new abilities to persevere that you didn’t think you had.”
Though his journey to becoming a professor with a doctorate in history has been challenging and unusual, Ludington has found joy in many places.
Ludington said traveling, playing basketball, graduate school and being a newlywed were some of the most exciting times in his life.
“Since finishing my Ph.D., perhaps the most exciting thing has been the classroom and realizing how much I enjoy being in the classroom and trying to both provoke students, but mostly to turn lights on and get students excited about ideas and ask questions, some of which aren’t very comfortable, about their own beliefs,” Ludington said.
Ludington insists that he plans on continuing to teach permanently, adding that he enjoys it even if it means he has less time for his own research and writing. He finds time in the classroom to be a source of energy, excitement and encouraging feedback, and though he would like more time for his own work, he has decided that he would never want to forgo teaching altogether.
“Days when I have a full teaching day I’m exhausted in a really wonderful way, and that’s a feeling I wouldn’t want to give up,” Ludington said. “It’s a feeling I miss when I’m deeply involved in research and writing.”
Currently, Ludington is researching a global history of cheddar cheese, attempting to figure out why cheddar cheese became synonymous with cheese in the minds of so many people in the English-speaking world. As if that wasn’t enough, he is working on another project, for which he has applied for a grant from the European Union.