Ask A Public Historian: Dr. Brown

Dr. Tommy Brown, an archivist at Auburn University Special Collections and Archives sat down and answered a couple questions about public history and his career as an archivist.


What led to the career that you have now?

I am an archivist now, but for eleven years I taught public high school. I enjoyed the teaching part of it and quite frankly I enjoyed most of the students, but teaching public school was becoming more and more challenging. I’d always wanted to work on a Masters and PhD in history, and so after teaching for about a decade. I decided it was time to work on my PhD here at Auburn after I received a Masters while I was teaching. While teaching was the usual route for most PhDs, I chose the archives. I came over to the Auburn Archives and did an internship. I was actually going to use the archives track as a fallback if I could not get a teaching position. I did my archive practicum and I enjoyed it so much. Then I got an assistantship here and that just kind of sealed the deal for me. I thought, “This is really cool and I like this.

Who is the “public” in your public history?

The public in my public history is Auburn University students, both undergraduates and graduates, professors, administrators, and finally the general public.

What advice would you give someone who would like a job in your field?

Specifically in archives, the old way of doing it was to get a PhD in history and you go into archives. A lot of historians in 50s, 60s, and 70s, when they couldn’t get teaching jobs then they would work in archives, But if you want to do it now, you would need a Masters of Library Science. There are very few jobs in archives that don’t require a Masters of Library Sciences, which I have mixed feelings about. I think a good historian makes a good archivist. Good librarians may or may not make good archivists. I mean, its not rocket science don’t get me wrong, but I’m biased.

What’s the relationship between any formal training you received and the job you have now?

My archives training at Auburn prepared me specifically for this job. Now again, I don’t have a Masters of Library Science degree but the people who are getting those degrees now have to concentrate. If you concentrate on archives, that in theory prepares you to be an archivist.

In many ways, it has the feel of a profession but also that of a trade, meaning that you can take all the classes you want but when you start doing it your say now that was not quite the way I was trained. I feel like the people who I took courses from here at auburn were archivist, or had formerly been archivist; I got really good training that was valuable for what I’m doing here.

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