By Chelsey Crabbe (History, ‘17)
This week, I wanted to spend some time getting to know our fellow a little better hoping that I could give some much-deserved publicity to a well-respected peer of mine to the rest of the Trinity community. Therefore, I decided to ask him a few history-related questions playing to the common theme of being a History major.
Chelsey Crabbe: Tell me about yourself? Where are you from? What’s your background, involvement on campus, etc.?
Seth Browner: I’m from Los Angeles, California. I went to high school at Westlake High School, which was my local public school. I’m Jewish, and I’m involved in Zachs Hillel House. I go there every Friday for Shabbat. I’m also involved in Eros, the LGBT group, on campus. I like music, and I can play the flute. I was in band all four years of high school, and I also did instrumental ensembles here for some of my time at Trinity. I speak French. My other major is French. So, I go to the French table almost every Wednesday in Mather to practice. I studied abroad in Paris, France my junior spring.
Chelsey Crabbe: When and why did your interest in and passion for History begin?
Seth Browner: I can’t exactly remember when my interest in history began. But, I remember being interested in it since elementary school. When I told family friends that I was a history major at Trinity, they were hardly surprised. As for why I’m interested in it, I can’t provide an exact answer to that either. It’s always been interesting to me. But, this is the best answer I can provide. I think history is to world politics and current events what Latin is to the romance languages. Understanding history unlocks your understanding of the contemporary world. Everything that exists in the world today was the result of some event, process, or action. History is trying to learn about those events, processes, and actions that have shaped the world we live in today. I think history is more than the study of the past, but it is the study of how the past shaped today. This is true whether you’re studying the history of the British Empire, for example, or the history of gardening in Connecticut.
Chelsey Crabbe: What’s your favorite time period, event, or individual?
Seth Browner: I’m very interested in First French Empire. To be honest, I developed my interest in that thanks to a video game. That was also the topic of my thesis. To be honest, my interests are changing all the time. It’s hard for me to zero in on one time period, event, or individual. Lately, though, some of the topics that have been of interest are the Pacific theater in World War II. The end of the Cold War and the reshaping of the global political order in the period in between World War II and the end of the Cold War are interesting to me too. Some people that have been of interest to me are Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense under Johnson, and Henry Kissinger, the Secretary of State under Nixon. Now that I’m graduating, and I know I want to go to graduate school, I want to expand my knowledge of non-western topics. Some topics that I’d love to learn more about are Latin American independence and the War on Drugs in Latin America, specifically in Colombia. The Cuban Revolution is of interest to me as well. I’d love to learn more about the Meiji Restoration and Japan’s westernization that led to its entry in World War II. I’d also like to learn more about the history of the State of Israel in more detail, but I’m not sure if that counts as non-western.
Chelsey Crabbe: What was your favorite History course?
Seth Browner: That’s a hard one. I can’t say that I have one favorite. But, the class I took when I was freshman, Eastern Europe since 1848, is special because that was the first class in the History Department I took. I’d say taking that class was what confirmed my decision to major in History.
Chelsey Crabbe: How did you react to becoming History Fellow?
Seth Browner: I was very proud and happy to know that I had been chosen. I felt quite accomplished, and it was so validating to see how my hard work paid off.
Chelsey Crabbe: Tell me about your Thesis. What’s your argument, why did you choose your topic, and did your abroad experience influence your Thesis?
Seth Browner: My thesis is called Visionaries in opposition: Napoleon, Talleyrand, and the Future of France. This thesis focuses on the relationship between Napoleon and Talleyrand, the French minister of foreign affairs from 1797-1807. The major argument I advance is that this relationship was a troubled one, and it ultimately deteriorated because the two had different goals for the future of France. Napoleon wanted to build an empire, and Talleyrand wanted to reintegrate France into the system of European powers. To demonstrate the deterioration of the relationship, I looked at three events. The first was the coup of 18 Brumaire that put Napoleon in power; the second was the writing of the Strasbourg memorandum; the third was Talleyrand’s resignation in 1807. I chose this topic after doing a final paper during my semester abroad in Paris, France about the Louisiana Purchase. The class I wrote the paper for was Founding Fathers in Paris: Franklin, Jefferson, and Adams. Talleyrand came up in some of the sources I was reading for the paper on the Louisiana Purchase. Since I knew I wanted to write on Napoleon anyway, I thought looking at him and Talleyrand together would be a good angle to take. So, I’d say study abroad was absolutely essential to helping me choose my topic.
Chelsey Crabbe: How has being a part of the History Department influenced your time at Trinity?
Seth Browner: Being part of the History Department has influenced my time at Trinity immensely. I’m very happy to say that forming close relationships with my professors has been the way in which being a history major has impacted my time at Trinity. I’ve met with professors outside of class, even when I was not taking a class they were teaching that semester. I’ve been over to some of their homes for dinners. They’ve given me valuable advice on my future plans after I graduate. It’s the close access to the great professors in the History Department that has made my education at Trinity so enriching.