Q&A with Kate Brown

The department of history officially hired Kate Brown as professor of political science. She will fill the vacancy left after Paul Michelson, Ph.D., retires in May. Brown will begin teaching in fall 2015.

Kate Brown (Photo provided)
Kate Brown (Photo provided)

The department of history officially hired Kate Brown as professor of political science. She will fill the vacancy left after Paul Michelson, Ph.D., retires in May. Brown will begin teaching in fall 2015.

1. What is your educational background?

It was a curvy road that led me here to Huntington, as academia is my second career.   When I was an undergrad, I had a narrow focus on my first career path:  I wanted to be either an investment banker or in management.  To this end, I pursued a “business” degree and studied corporate finance, investments, and accounting, and I ended up working in corporate management for four years after I graduated.  I found the corporate environment to be intellectually unfulfilling, however, and so I decided to go to graduate school and completely change my profession.

I chose American history, and more specifically legal history, as my specialty for two reasons.  First, I had considered becoming a lawyer, and though I did not think I would enjoy being a practicing attorney, I found the law to be fascinating (as I still do).  Second, ever since high school, I developed a regard for, and an intense intellectual curiosity about, Alexander Hamilton.  Hamilton was a lawyer and a central figure in America’s early republic period and so it felt right for me to begin my second career by studying early republic history with a specialty in American legal history.  Before applying to a Ph.D. program I did a “test run” by earning a Master of Arts in American History at the University at Buffalo, and while at U.B., I was accepted to the history Ph.D. program at the University of Virginia.  When I graduate in May 2015 and head off to Huntington, my completed dissertation will be titled, “Alexander Hamilton and the Development of American Law.”

2. What degrees and academic honors have you earned?

The following are a complete list of my degrees, and then a select list of the academic fellowships that I have earned:

Bachelor of Science in Applied Economics and Management (from Cornell University; 2004)
Master of Arts in American History (from SUNY University at Buffalo; 2010)
Master of Arts in American History (from the University of Virginia; 2012)
Doctor of Philosophy in American History (from the University of Virginia; May 2015)
Fellowships and Honors
I’m very proud to be a long-term fellow at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon, and I have won fellowships and grants from the Gilder-Lehrman Institute, the David Library of the American Revolution, and the Institute for Humane Studies.  Also, I won the University at Buffalo History Department’s Best Master’s Thesis award in 2010.

3. What classes will you be teaching?

In the Fall of 2015, I will be teaching Introduction to Law (PS 105), History of the United States 1 (HS 211), and my specialty, American Constitutional History (HS 466).  In the future, I will teach political science and government courses, including civil rights and civil liberties, an introduction to American government, and seminars on current events.  I would also like to teach more in-depth legal history classes, such as Law and Capitalism in U.S. History and even English legal history.

4. Why is history so important for college students?

I think that history is critically important for college students to learn for two reasons.  First, my undergraduate studies focused on applied economics, corporate finance, and management classes—I never studied history formally before graduate school.  And so, I can compare/contrast the lessons-learned and skills acquired through studying history versus studying a more “practically-oriented” major.  Here’s what I’ve found:  history provided me with critical reading, critical thinking (building arguments, presenting them persuasively), and clear, analytical writing skills that far surpassed the analytical and intellectual skills I learned while studying business.  In my experience, history honed my analytical thinking and writing skills—both highly transferrable and desirable career and life skills—to make me a smarter, more discerning, and more confident person.  It is not primarily the facts you learn about history that makes the discipline valuable for future career paths and for personal enrichment; instead, it is the way you learn to think about the past that provides you with these lucrative skills.

And second, I agree with William Faulkner’s pithy observation that, “The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.”  Learning about the ideas, law, cultures, political events, people, and societies that existed before us, cannot help but enhance our understanding of the problems and achievements of our world today.

5. What was so appealing about Huntington University?

A number of things.  First, I love to teach!  And so of course I found Huntington’s teaching focus and small, intimate classes appealing.  The current faculty in the history and political science department also impressed me with their collegiality, their rigorous curriculum, and their mentorship of students.  I like the fact that Huntington has a culture that encourages close, working relationships between faculty and students; I want to know my students, know their work, and take pride in their academic development over the course of four years.  Finally, Huntington seems like a cozy enclave for both students and faculty to experience intellectual curiosity, faith, and fellowship simultaneously.

6. What is your teaching style?

I like a mixture of lecture and class discussion, I aim to develop students’ critical writing skills throughout the semester, and I tend to assign a variety of primary sources, monographs, and scholarly articles (which we then discuss).  I always want my students to understand the “big picture” arguments or points that arise from my lessons.  I try to begin each lesson by presenting or reviewing the smallest details of a topic—perhaps the facts and outcomes from a string of U.S. court cases—but I like to end by asking and answering, “so what?”  I want my students to understand the significance of, and the macro-level changes over time, underpinning the topics we cover—as well as to connect bigger themes and ideas across the semester.  Also, I want students to stop me to say, “Whoa, can you go over that again?  I don’t understand…,” because I want them to leave my classes feeling enriched, engaged, and hopefully even excited about learning more.

7. Outside of your profession, what are some of your hobbies?

I love lounging with a cup of tea and reading The New Yorker—a hobby I’ve had for over two decades!  But also, since I began researching and writing my dissertation, I’ve become a bit of a work-out nut.  I run, and I have completed a few half marathons and even one full marathon.  In addition, I enjoy taking classes like spinning, body pump, and occasionally, a good vinyasa yoga class.

Most importantly, I love interacting with and caring for my rescue animals, including walking my sweet, blind dog, a lab-mix named Hamilton, and hanging out at home with my three prickly, but loving cats. I am also close to my mom and dad, who still live in my hometown outside of Buffalo New York, and I enjoy visiting them.

8. What impact do you hope to have on students after they take your classes?

As I mentioned above, I think that that history equips students with tremendous analytical thinking and writing skills; therefore I hope that my students develop these skills through my classes, just as I did by studying under my extraordinary mentor and advisor at UVa.  Also, I hope my students learn to find the law exciting, intriguing, and less opaque or intimidating than it oftentimes seems.  Law, government, and politics can seem confusing or esoteric; but I hope that in my classes students can learn to love, like, or simply to appreciate what law and government have done and can do in American society.

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