A Virtual Perspective of the History of Auburn University

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I have not yet seen the Auburn University campus. However, through my own research and my time as a student in Public History (6810) I have constructed some historical sense of the university. During the summer of 2019, I was lucky enough to have a phone conversation with Drs. Roger Launius and Monique Laney about doctoral programs in the history of science and technology. Dr. Launius recommended several including Auburn’s Ph.D. program in the History of Technology. After conducting my own research, I applied to Auburn’s Ph.D. program because of its reputation in the concentration of US space and aerospace history. History faculty members are nationally (and in some cases internationally known) for their focus on the history of technology, their association with the National Air and Space Museum, and for their books. For example, Professor Emeritus James R. Hansen’s biography on Neil Armstrong First Man was recently turned into a movie starring Ryan Gosling. In addition, the History of Science Society and the Society of the History of Technology both rank Auburn University as the ‘number 2’ university to study the history of science and(or) technology. (If this ranking holds credence with you, it helps show the historical importance of the university as a place of study for historians.)
As a student in Public History, I have also learned that Auburn University also has a reputation as a center for the preservation of white supremacy and the memory of the Civil War Lost Cause. The landscape of the campus has been utilized to memorialize white supremacists and symbolize the South’s loss of the Civil War. Broun Hall is named after William Leroy Broun a lieutenant colonel in the Confederate army, Comer Hall is named after Braxton Bragg Comer who continued the practice of slave labor after through the use of convicts, and Graves Amphitheater was governor of Alabama and “almost certainly” the “Exalted Cyclops” of the Ku Klux Klan chapter in Montgomery. I also understand that there is a canon outside a fraternity building that is pointed north at the Union. I understand that this information is neither new nor original, yet, acknowledging this history will allow students, faculty, and staff to perhaps emphasize alternate dimensions of Auburn’s community history that relates to its past in a more positive light. A public historical acknowledgment of Auburn’s influence on space history, or civil rights may be necessary to replace this darker memorialization that characterizes the campus’s landscape. As a student of color who is from out-of-state, I am personally proud to be a new member of the Auburn community that appears to be intentionally focused on diversifying its student body.

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