RIT’s Michael Brown has a passion for his students, and teaching history

Eisenhart winner says we should learn from our past
Back of student in foreground as professor speaks in background.

Gabrielle Plucknette-DeVito

Michael Brown, assistant professor in the Department of History, College of Liberal Arts, is the recipient of RIT's 2018-19 Richard and Virginia Eisenhart Provost’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. Here, he teaches in his Museums and History class.

Michael Brown thinks his interest in history began at the dinner table as a child, where his family would often talk about Rochester’s heyday.

“I got the sense growing up in Rochester that it always had a rich history, but it was beyond the reach of my experience,” he said. “I felt that I grew up after the Golden Age. My parents always spoke so glowingly about it, but it also seemed distant. Local history became this item of curiosity to me – this Golden Age that everybody was talking about and that I was too young to have experienced.”

Brown, 38, an assistant professor in Rochester Institute of Technology’s Department of History, is the 2018-19 recipient of the Richard and Virginia Eisenhart Provost’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, recognizing exceptional performance in the classroom and a commitment to student learning.

He will be recognized with a dinner on April 16, and participate as a member of the platform party for the university’s academic convocation on May 10.

“I think I’m the beneficiary of a culture in the history department and museum studies program and the liberal arts college that honors teaching,” Brown said. “I’m very pleased to be one among many devoted teachers here. It’s particularly gratifying to be recognized for teaching by colleagues who place such importance on what we do in the classroom.”

Brown said the teachers he had were always very important to him, so the decision for him to become a teacher came easily.

“I loved school,” he said. “Having loved being a student, I found that I wanted to stay in the classroom. I also thought that teaching was a really important calling and something where I could make a meaningful contribution to the community. I’ve also always been interested in public service, and it occurred to me that the public servants who have meant the most to me in my life have been in education.”

After graduating from Irondequoit High School, Brown received a bachelor’s degree in government from Cornell University, a master’s degree in philosophy, politics and social value from the London School of Economics in England, and a doctorate in history from the University of Rochester, where he was a Dean’s Fellow, a Dean’s Dissertation Fellow, and the recipient of a Commendation for Outstanding Dissertation Award.

He spent three years as a teacher at The Harley School before starting his doctoral studies, coming to RIT four years ago as a visiting assistant professor.

He teaches public history classes, exploring the way in which history is made with, by, and for the public, and he focuses on locations where that happens. He takes his students to Rochester to visit the Susan B. Anthony House, explore the Broad Street Aqueduct which used to carry the Erie Canal over the Genesee River, and visit the Rundel Library to talk with the Rochester city historian.

James Winebrake, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, calls Brown “an exceptional teacher who has a passion for the subject he teaches, and an amazing commitment to his students. His teaching goes well beyond the classroom, and he regularly has his students engage with the Rochester community to enhance their learning of history, policy and museum studies.”

Brown also is an advisor for two student clubs: aMuse, for students interested in Museum Studies; and the Fantasy Club, where students debate the boundaries of that popular genre.

He also is advising two students who are writing their theses.

“Being a teacher is one of the best ways to learn,” Brown said. “I’ve learned a great deal from students. The kinds of questions we investigate in the classroom are complex and complicated and without obvious answers. I and the students together face this complexity; we explore these challenging questions together. One of the things I get from being a teacher is that I’m constantly presented with new perspectives from students that constantly enrich my own thinking.”

He carries that theme beyond his teaching role at RIT. For the past 15 years, Brown has been facilitator of Flower City Philosophy, a group that gathers each Wednesday evening, alternating at pubs on Alexander Street and University Avenue to talk about ideas and bring people together from many different walks of life.

“Discussing ideas is not unlike what I do in the classroom,” he says. “The better we are at discussing questions of importance, the healthier we will be as a democracy.”

For more about the Eisenhart Awards and a list of this year’s recipients, go to rit.edu/academicaffairs/celebration-teaching-and-scholarship.

Faculty Friday

Each Friday, we’re highlighting an RIT faculty member on Instagram Stories with our Faculty Friday series. For the next three weeks, we’re highlighting the three Eisenhart Award Winners. See Michael Brown's Instagram Story.

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