Thomas V. O'Brien, Ph.D.


Research Interests:

My research emphasis is in the history of American education in the twentieth century. Using historical and ethnographic methods, and biography, I examine how practices and structures in basic and higher education have developed in social contexts to extend, limit, and mediate educational and social opportunities. I also attend to the politics of education and school law. If there is a region of the country I have studied more than others, it is the American south, and if there is a state I have concentrated most on, it is Georgia. My efforts have encouraged me to read broadly and draw from literature in law, philosophy, sociology, African-American studies, political science, multicultural studies, leadership studies, educational reform, and southern history. I am driven by a concern that American institutions and people pursue self interest without making a serious commitment to the collective good. For me, race has been the litmus test for this contention. Therefore my scholarship identifies the obstacles to racial equality and seeks ways to reduce them. Education at all levels factors into my analysis.

Selected Publications


Gordon, M. & O’Brien, T.V. eds. (2007). Bridging Theory and Practice in Teacher Education. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

O’Brien, T.V. (1999). The Politics of Race and Schooling: Public Education in Georgia, 1900-1961. Lanham, MD: Lexington.

Selected Publications in Peer-Reviewed Journals

O’Brien, T.V. & Roberson, T. (2012). Not quite "deja vu all over again: No Child Left Behind meets Effective Schools Research. The Educational Forum, 76(3), 356-71.

O’Brien, T.V .(2007). Perils of accommodation: The case of Joseph W. Holley. American Educational Research Journal, 44(4), 806-52.

O’Brien, T.V (2007). What happened to the promise of Brown? An organizational explanation and an outline for change. Teachers College Record, 109(8), 1875-1901.

O’Brien, M.T. & O’Brien, T.V. (2002). The white establishment and the character of change. History of Education Quarterly, 42(2), 583-599.

O’Brien, T.V. (1999). The dog that didn't bark: Aaron v. Cook and the NAACP in Georgia before Brown. Journal of Negro History, 84(1), 79-88.

Selected Book Chapters

O’Brien, T.V. (2008). Defiance, protest, and compromise: The struggle to implement Brown in Georgia, 1950-1973. In Daugherty, & Bolton, eds. With All Deliberate Speed: Implementing Brown v. Board of Education. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press.

O’Brien, T.V. (2007). Artifacts, reflection, and storytelling: Tools for bridging the sociological divide. In Gordon, & O’Brien, eds. Bridging the Gap Between Theory and Practice. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, 73-87.

O’Brien, T.V. (1998). Ellwood Patterson Cubberley. American National Biography. Oxford University Press.

O’Brien, T.V. (1994). Educational reform movements among the states in the last ten years. In Greenawalt, C.E. (Ed.) (1994) Educational Innovation: An Agenda to Frame the Future. Harrisburg PA: University Press of America, 31‑58.

Recent Book and Essay Reviews

O'Brien, T.V. (2012). Schools in the Landscape: Localism, Cultural Tradition, and the Development of Alabama's Public Education System, 1865-1915,  by Edith M. Zeigler, History of Education(UK),,  41(1), 128-30.

O’Brien, T.V. (2011). Schooling the Freed People: Teaching, Learning, and the Struggle for Black Freedom, 1861-1876,  by Ronald E. Butchart, History of Education(UK),40(5), 679-81.

O’Brien, T.V. (2010). Race and Education, 1954-2007, by Raymond Wolters, History of Education Quarterly (US),, 50 (2), 258-60.

O’Brien, T.V. (2009). Envisioning Black colleges: A history of the United Negro College Fund by Mary Beth Gasman; From Black Power to Black Studies: How a radical social movement became an academic discipline by Fabio Rojas. History of Education (UK), 38(5), 712-6.

Selected Activities and Honors

President, Society for the Study of Curriculum History, 2007-2009
The Ohio State University, Mansfield Campus Excellence in Teaching Award, 2007
Executive Council, American Educational Studies Association, 2005-2007
Certificate of Appreciation, Ohio Coalition For Equity and Adequacy, 2003
Innovative Excellence in Teaching, Learning & Technology Award, 1997
Middle States Council for Social Studies Gold Medal Award for Research and Publication, 1995
American Library Association's Library Instructional Round Table's (LIRT) Top Twenty Articles of 1994
Excellence in Graduate Teaching in the Social Sciences Award, Emory University, 1989

Selected Grants History

The Spencer Foundation for the Advancement of Education, 2002-3
Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, 1999
The Spencer Foundation for the Advancement of Education, 1994-5

Professional Affiliations

American Education Research Association, Division F        
American Education Studies Association      
International Conference on Institutional Evaluation Techniques in Education                                
History of Education Society
Midwest History of Education Society
Society for the Study of Curriculum History
Southern History of Education Society