Photo courtesy of sewanee.edu.
By Klarke Stricklen
This fall, Sewanee welcomed Tiffany Momon, visiting professor of history, to the college. Momon comes to Sewanee as a native of Memphis, Tennessee and a recent graduate of Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU). She is one of two Mellon Fellows brought to the college as part of the developing Southern Studies program, as previously covered by The Purple.
Momon’s journey to public history begins on the campus of Tennessee State University (TSU), where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in political science. After graduation, she began to work for a professional services firm, but soon found that she could not continue the work for more than a short frame of time.
Momon soon returned to school for a degree in African and African American Studies at the University of Memphis while still working at the firm. In an interview The Purple, Momon explained, “I had a love for genealogy and I had been doing my family’s genealogy for a while.” She continued, saying, “but I realized that I needed to be able to put them into the context of history in order to understand what was going on in their lives for all of the different years I found them.”
Momon’s journey further led her to apply to MTSU’s Public History program on a “whim” and unsure of the circumstances of which she would attend or pay for it. Momon recalls receiving a call from MTSU soon after where the representative not only contacted her about her acceptance but offered her an assistantship with the University. “After the call, I immediately sat down and began to write my two weeks notice and turned it in,” said Momon.
At MTSU, Momon’s work led her to pursue a PhD in public history. She began to study material culture and how objects contribute to the creation of culture. Her studies led her to the archives at Spelman College, a historically black liberal arts college for women in Atlanta, Georgia. At Spelman, Momon began to match objects of value to a ledger found in the college’s archives.
The ledger provided the value of the object and where it was located on the campus. This prompted Momon to match the objects to primary source documents such as receipts and personal letters. The materials allowed Momon a glimpse into a larger narrative, one that recounted the story of “how the college’s early presidents created a culture of finer African American Womanhood.”
After her work with the Spelman College Archives, Momon’s research shifted to how historically black colleges and universities connected with their histories, especially those that were former plantations. This research led her to the Universities Studying Slavery Cohort, where she soon found Sewanee listed. She then began to look into how Universities looked at their history in regard to the institution of slavery.
After finding the University’s name on the list, she soon found the contact information for Dr. Woody Register, director of the Roberson Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation, and the rest was history.
Momon is currently offering a preliminary course in Public History and will offer a Public History Research Methods course in the spring, which she hopes students will sign up for. Being a Public Historian for Momon means “being a historian first.” She enjoys the understanding and connectedness to communities that her career allows her and hopes to continue this not only in the Sewanee community, but also communities around the Mountain.