Phillip received a BA (Hons) in History and English from the University of Sydney before going on to the MPhil in Early Modern History at the University of Cambridge. In both degrees he worked on the career and life of the English poet and diplomat Matthew Prior (1664-1721). Phillip was a scholar of St John's College, Cambridge, where Prior had been a fellow for most of his life and to which he left part of his personal library. Following this Phillip had a six year career as an art handler at two international auction houses, which allowed him to develop his interest in art and material culture.
His dissertation research is into books and libraries as sources of information and misinformation for people interacting with the Atlantic world in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. In particular, he studies the ways that this knowledge and ignorance of that world shaped debates over sovereignty and imperial administration. He is also interested in the material culture of administrative spaces and the households of those who worked in them and what the study of this can add to our understanding of the cultural history of running an empire.