Dr. Susan Brown, associate professor of History at UPEI, is a gem of the history department. She hustles into class, never late, but never too early, usually wearing something colorful and bright as if she were Spring itself. Her passion for history is obvious during any given lecture, and I can now confirm that it extends far beyond her classroom. For this semester’s final Professor Spotlight, The Cadre sat down with Dr. Brown, who obtained her BA from Dalhousie University, Masters from the University of Guelph, and Ph.D. from Oxford. The interview is as follows:
The Cadre (TC): Why did you choose to become a professor in Academia?
Dr. Brown (SB): I don’t know…choice is a strong word. At least when I was younger, I didn’t even take a history course until my second year of university. I did not take to history the way it was taught in high school, I found it really dull. I always liked old things but I never thought of that as History. I liked poking around in old places, but to me, History was this list of explorers and dates that were really boring. So I didn’t take my first history course until the second year, and I had this really engaging professor and I think that’s often the story, but I didn’t go in thinking ‘I’m going to be a professor.’
I liked poking around in old places, but to me, History was this list of explorers and dates that were really boring. So I didn’t take my first history course until the second year, and I had this really engaging professor and I think that’s often the story, but I didn’t go in thinking ‘I’m going to be a professor.’
Once you make the decision to do a Ph.D., though, you have to have some thoughts career wise. I just let things unfold, and took it a year at a time.
TC: What was the course that got you onto History?
SB: It was a European course, in early modern Europe. I really liked the renaissance. I was really fascinated by the way the teacher brought in examples of art and literature and architecture, it was very multidisciplinary, and I’d never had history taught to me that way. My undergraduate was very multidisciplinary. I studied English, philosophy and art history.
I was also able to travel and have a fairly lengthy stay in Britain, which got me onto it when I was 19 or 20. I stayed there and lived there, I didn’t just do the touristy things. I think whenever you get to travel, it really brings a culture and history to life.
TC: Are you working on anything currently?
SB: There are two areas of interest I’m pursuing right now. One is in the 18th century, British cultural history and I’m particularly interested in the history of the theatre. Not so much the plays and the playwrights, but more the people behind the scenes, the business of the theatre, how people made a living off the theatre and the way the theatre contributed to the local economy. So that’s a lot of fun!
I’m also interested in developing a course that looks at the history of “stuff!” It’s what we call Material History or Material Culture, how objects reflect people’s’ lives and cultures and beliefs and how they made a living, their everyday lives…the stories that are in the objects. I’d really like to create a course where students are able to work with artifacts.
TC: What keeps you passionate about your topic?
SB: Travel and going back to the archives. I think when you get to go back and work with the material first hand, and you are handling documents that people wrote on in the past that are YOUR people, you know, “I’m touching the same document!”
Also other historians. Talking to others, learning from other people, what they’re working on and how it gives you new insights. And my students, I’m always adding new material to my courses and from things that a learn or things that I’m curious about, which puts me in a similar position as my students, you know, you have that new curiosity too. The research and the teaching are not two separate boxes.
TC: What’s the most rewarding moment you’ve had as a professor?
SB: Every prof gets to teach students who are getting high marks, and who are doing really well, and that is great to see a student that committed. But where you feel like you’re really making a difference is when you have a student who might be struggling and who is uncertain about their abilities, and you’re able to work with them and give them feedback to help them see where they’re doing a good job and have strengths, and try to get them to find their voice so they can be stronger and more confident in their abilities.
That’s a nice thing about working at a small university, it’s getting to see students progress. You might meet them in a first or second-year course, then see them again in a third or fourth-year course with developed skills and confidence, and to know that you had some small part.
TC: Outside of school, what do you fill your time with?
SB: Marking!! Other interests! I have been playing flute in a community band, but I had to drop that this year because I was too busy, but I’m going to pick that up next year. I really enjoy the local arts, we’re lucky that Charlottetown has such a vibrant art scene. I really enjoy going to see local bands or classical music or theatre. I really enjoy the arts and creative people…I’m not especially artistic myself, but I really everyone else’s creativity! I’m a bit of a foodie, when I have time, I love to cook and try new restaurants. And when I’m able to, I love to travel!
I really enjoy the arts and creative people…I’m not especially artistic myself, but I really everyone else’s creativity! I’m a bit of a foodie, when I have time, I love to cook and try new restaurants. And when I’m able to, I love to travel!
By: Morin Mawhinney