AHA Member Spotlight: Blaine A. Brownell

AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, AHA Today features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.Brownell_Photo

Blaine A. Brownell is a retired historian. He lives outside of Charlottesville, Virginia, and has been a member since 1964.

Alma maters: BA, Washington & Lee University; MA, PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Fields of interest: US urban history, southern history, intellectual history

When did you first develop an interest in history?

In high school, reading biographies and Civil War military history.

What projects are you working on currently?

I am now working on the recent history of Washington & Lee University (1930 to 2000). After many years in academic administration, I am returning to what I started out to do.

Have your interests changed since graduate school? If so, how?

For better or worse, I made a major detour into academic administration fairly early in my career, though I continued to publish and to edit the Journal of Urban History until 1990. I have served as a department chair, dean, and graduate dean (University of Alabama at Birmingham); provost (University of North Texas); director of international programs (University of Memphis); president (Ball State University), and then—amazingly—as interim dean of business administration and interim provost (University of South Florida at St. Petersburg). I was also CEO of an international academic quality assurance company, headquartered at the University of Virginia, and later consultant to the minister of higher education and research, and two national universities, in the United Arab Emirates. I am proud to have held appointments as a tenured full professor at four different universities.

Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?

As government entities, and society generally, seek to measure the value of higher education by career preparation and starting salary, it is important to remember what education is. Andrew Delbanco’s College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be (2012) will help.

What do you value most about the history profession?

The opportunity to communicate with other historians, and to share the challenges of doing scholarly work both within and outside the academy, especially nowadays when those challenges are very great indeed.

Why did you join the AHA?

It is important to fully participate in and support the intellectual community of the discipline. I have belonged to the AHA, the Southern Historical Association, and the Organization of American Historians since the 1960s, even when I was mostly involved in academic administration rather than teaching.

Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share?

I recall attending an AHA session with two friends and contemporaries many years ago (sometime in the 1980s) and listening to a paper vigorously challenging the “established” interpretations of the “Old Guard”—and suddenly realizing, together, that WE were now the Old Guard. Cool, sort of.

Other than history, what are you passionate about?

Grandchildren, and a good martini.

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