Flying High: Auburn Graduate Student Lands Prestigious NASM Fellowship
The 100 foot white wings of the Voyager airplane hover ominously overhead as visitors enter the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) in Washington, D.C.. Further into the building’s lobby, Voyager is accompanied by Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis; a Bell XP-59A Airacomet; the Bell X-1 in which Chuck Yeager first broke the sound barrier; and the North American X-15, the fastest aircraft ever flown, all of which delicately and elegantly dangle from wires, suspended in mid-air. Jutting upward towards the ceiling on the East and West walls are two large murals symbolizing the themes of “air” and “space.” Every year the NASM offers a small number of fellowships to scholars conducting research on aviation history. Auburn’s history department is home to some of the top scholars in the field of flight technology, who offer exceptional training to graduate students in the history of technology. Sean Seyer, a recent Auburn Ph.D., carried on this proud tradition in his position as a Smithsonian Institute Postdoctoral Fellow during the summer of 2014.
The Smithsonian Institute Fellowship Program is the Smithsonian’s flagship fellowship program, awarded annually to scholars wishing to conduct independent research at one or more of the Smithsonian’s nineteen units. With thousands of applicants each year and only a hundred fellowships available, Seyer’s was a major accomplishment. During his time at the Smithsonian, Seyer continued his research on the 1919 International Convention Relating to the Regulation of Aerial Navigation. Seyer’s dissertation, defended with distinction in the spring of 2014, explored the reasons behind the United States' failure to ratify the Convention, despite its support for the principles behind it. In the process, he described the links between United States domestic and foreign policy, society, and technology and brought a novel and nuanced perspective to studies of the post-World War I period. For Seyer, the fellowship at the Air and Space Museum offered “a wealth of primary source material,” while conversations and guidance from scholars-in-residence at the NASM shed new light on his topic and pushed his research in new directions.
These new ideas and perspectives added to the strong training Seyer had received at Auburn. Research seminars by professors such as Angela Lakwete, advice from mentors including Alan Meyer, Ralph Kingston, and David Luscko, and especially the collegial guidance of his advisor, William Trimble, provided him with crucial foundations for his research and writing. This thorough background, combined with Seyer's own hard work, gave him the preparation he needed to succeed at the NASM and beyond.
Seyer now resides in Lawrence, Kansas where he holds a position as an Academic Program Associate in the interdisciplinary Humanities and Western Civilization Program at the University of Kansas. He teaches innovative courses on a variety of subjects related to his fields of expertise, using skills honed through his participation in Auburn's Graduate Certificate in University Teaching. His courses employ science fiction and graphic novels as well as textbooks and non-fiction literature to probe the depths of the relationships between humanity, technology, and culture.
Last Updated: August 19, 2015