Technology historian, interagency expert joins NPS-CHDS instruction staff

For Shannon Brown, one of the best ways to peer into the future use of technology is to examine its past.

Brown joined the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security instructional staff this past fall and brings expertise into intersections of technology, society and homeland security.

Shannon Brown

“Shannon is a true and rare polymath: his areas of knowledge run both wide and deep,” said Lauren Wollman, CHDS Managing Director of Academic Programs. “His first months at the Center have already proven him to be a fantastic asset as a colleague and a mentor to students.”

Just as the disciplines of medicine and science history have evolved to academic prominence, the history of technology is an equally important story.

“It’s a niche field but it is also very broad,” Brown said. “We look at how technology is developed: the story of the development of technological objects and artifacts, and how societies come to adopt and use technology.”

In an age in which homeland security practitioners and their adversaries embrace the latest drone, self-driving vehicle, or smart pill, there are innumerable implications for national safety. It also behooves students to consider how technology affects their duties.

“There have been innovations that have come into widespread use all over the world that have really changed the way information is distributed and processed,” Brown said. “I think people who work in public policy feel a lot of pressure to be responsive or reactive to technology like social media. We’re living in interesting times right now because the rules for social media are still being written. I think social media raises questions about where knowledge comes from, in other words ‘how do you know your information is verified or verifiable?’”

His interest is a natural extension of his affinity to history; he earned his doctoral degree in that field the University of California-Santa Cruz in 2000. His studies included modern world history but also allowed him to examine technology history, leading to his dissertation, “Annihilating Time and Space: The Electrification of the U.S. Army, 1875-1920.”

He joined the faculty of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, now known as the Dwight D. Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy, in 2004 and would eventually serve as the Dean of Faculty and Academic Programs. That school has a special mission among joint professional military education programs to promote students’ understanding of strategic resource management.

During his tenure there, he branched out into national security studies and public-private sector partnerships, especially within the context of arms and defense. Public-private partnerships have long been a topic in the emergency management profession. Brown sees emerging issues in that area to be addressed, such as accountability and what activities are inherently governmental or best left to private enterprise.

“I think that is an area where I can really make a contribution,” Brown said. “The private sector really has an important role to play in just about every homeland security and emergency management activity; the extent of that involvement is the subject of much debate. I think our students would benefit from understanding companies that operate in that space and the capabilities of those companies.”

For the past couple of months Brown has been observing CHDS courses and has jumped in as a thesis advisor, guiding a student who researching crypto-currencies and another who is looking in to how to maximize the social media narrative.

“Anything related to technology and society, that’s where I’m actively listening to everything and learning as much as I can about the program, the students, and I’m getting a feel for what the program’s academic demands are,” he said. “I would say in the past couple of months since coming on board I’ve been struck by the number of students interested in these technology and society questions, and I’m excited to make my own contribution to each CHDS cohort’s education.”