Thomas V. O'Brien, Ph.D.


Thomas V. O’Brien is Professor of Educational Studies at the University of Southern Mississippi. He earned his B.A. (in Human Biology) at Brown University and his Ph.D. (in Educational Studies) at Emory University. Prior to graduate school, he taught middle-school and high-school science and math in Massachusetts. After graduate school, he held positions at Millersville University and The Ohio State University before coming to USM.  Among other publications, O’Brien is the author of The Politics of Race and Schooling: Public Education in Georgia, 1900-1961.

O’Brien studies the history of American education in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Using historical and ethnographic methods, and biography, he examines how school practices and structures in basic and higher education developed in social contexts to both extend and limit educational and social opportunities. He also investigates the politics of education and school law. The American South figures most prominently in his research. He recently had the opportunity to expand his conception of “the South” when he won a Fulbright fellowship to study and teach in Talca, Chile. His experiences there led him to write, most recently, “Generations of Protest: Chile’s Students and the Fight for Democracy, 1975-2016.”

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

Anderson. J.P. & O'Brien T.V. (2016). Pork choppers, presidents, and perverts: The response of two university presidents to attacks on the privacy and academic freedom of professors by the Florida Legislative Investigative Committee, 1956 to 1965. American Education History Journal, 43(1), 75-92.

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 C.E. Greenawalt (Ed.) (1994). Educational Innovation: An Agenda to Frame the Future. Harrisburg PA: University Press of America, 31‑58.

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

Article of the Year, American Educational History Journal. Co-authored with Jennifer Anderson, 2017

Fulbright Visiting Scholar, Universidad Católica del Maule, Talca, Chile, 2016

Faculty Senate Excellence in Teaching Award, University of Southern Mississippi, 2014

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 (Current and Past)

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