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Robert Eldon Brown papers

 Record Group
Identifier: UA-17.83

Scope and Contents

Robert E. Brown's papers include research notes from the American colonial period, and professional correspondence from his career as a historian.

The research notes series are divided into three groups, (Massachusetts, New York City, and Virginia) which correspond to three of his books: Middle Class Democracy and the Revolution in Massachusetts, 1691-1780, Carl Becker on History and the American Revolution, and Virginia, 1705-1786: Democracy or Aristocracy? The bulk of the notes were taken in longhand by Brown from approximately 1950 to 1970; some were written by his wife, B. Katherine Brown. At the end of each entry the source, related sources to be checked, and personal observations are recorded.

Brown's notes on Massachusetts cover the years 1643 to 1894 but emphasize the revolutionary period. Entries are arranged alphabetically by subject. They discuss colonial government, society, regulations, prominent individuals and the common man. Notes in the addendum relate to his research methodology. Brown used these notes in writing his book Middle Class Democracy and the Revolution in Massachusetts, 1691-1780, which expounds on the theory that the colonists were primarily middle-class property owners who went to war against England to preserve the status quo rather than to establish new institutions and increase individual rights.

The research notes on New York City are divided into three sub-series: Freemen Admitted Prior to 1783, Freemen Admitted after 1783, and a Summary of Occupations. Entries are filed alphabetically by the individuals' last name in the first two series, and alphabetically by occupation in the last. Brown used the data included in these notes in his book Carl Becker on History and the American Revolution, in which he concluded that freemanship was not exclusive, as Becker implied, but rather was required for anyone engaged in a manual or professional occupation.

The notes on Virginia are grouped into four sub-series: Subject Entries, Geographical Entries, Chronological Entries and an addendum on his research methodology. They contain information relating to Virginia's people, laws, government and religion from 1645-1856. The election process, particularly in the late 1700s, is covered extensively. Plantation life, the role and living conditions of overseers, military records, plays and comments by colonists on gaming, and land acquisitions by George Washington are also noted. On these notes Brown based his book Virginia, 1725-1786: Democracy or Aristocracy?, in which he extended his thesis on middle-class democracy to Virginia.

The Correspondence series documents Brown's professional career from his graduate assistantship at the University of Wisconsin through his retirement from Michigan State. In addition to correspondence, these files contain reviews, articles, speeches, publishing contracts and other papers relating to his professional life as a historian. The papers have been annotated by Brown in some instances, and also include works and correspondence of his wife, B. Katherine Brown. The series is arranged chronologically starting with September 1940 and concluding with December 1989.


  • Creation: 1940 - 1989


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to publish material from this collection must be obtained from University Archives & Historical Collections, Michigan State University.

Biographical Note

Robert Eldon Brown was born 12 January 1907 in Hamilton, Kansas to John Edwin and Pearl Frye Brown. He married Bessie Katherine Taylor in 1937. The following year he received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Washington. He began his graduate work at Washington, then transferred to the University of Wisconsin. During World War II, he took a teaching job at the University of Washington. Following the war, he resumed his graduate program at Wisconsin, completing his Ph.D. there. Following his graduation, he served for a short time with the Army Corps of Engineers before accepting a permanent academic position with the Department of History at Michigan State in 1947. He retired from Michigan State University in 1977.

Brown is the author of numerous books on colonial American history, including Middle-Class Democracy and the Revolution in Massachusetts, 1691-1780 (1955), Charles Beard and the Constitution (1956), Reinterpretation of the Formation of the American Constitution (1963), Virginia, 1705-1786: Democracy or Aristocracy (1964), Carl Becker on History and the American Revolution (1970). His writings have also been included in several compendiums on American history, and he has contributed articles to the New England Quarterly, William and Mary Quarterly, Mississippi Valley Historical Review, American Quarterly, The Centennial Review, and Social Education.

In 1954, Brown was the recipient of the University of Virginia's first Thomas Jefferson Fellowship and the American Historical Society's Beveridge Award. He was selected Boston University's Gaspar G. Bacon Lecturer on the Constitution in 1961. Brown also received the Distinguished Faculty Awards from MSU in 1961.


9.5 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials


Legal Status

Copyright: Michigan State University.

Property Rights: Michigan State University.

Robert Eldon Brown Papers
4 Published And Cataloged
M. Zdunic
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the University Archives and Historical Collections Repository

Conrad Hall
943 Conrad Road, Room 101
East Lansing MI 48824 US