British Association for American Studies


60 Seconds With Alvin Smith

The U.S. Studies Online 60 Seconds interview feature offers a short and informal introduction to a postgraduate, academic or non-academic specialist working in the American and Canadian Studies field or a related American and Canadian Studies association. 

Last month you spent 60 seconds with the Executive Committee of the British Association for American Studies, our parent organisation, and before that the lovely (ahem) U. S. Studies Online Editorial team. For the remainder of the summer we have invited our first contributors to tell us a little bit more about themselves, the moment they decided “this is the path for me,” and what keeps them going all these years –or months– later. 


Where are you right now?

In my home office, in front of my computer, writing and researching.

If you could time-travel to observe one moment in the history of America, where would you go?

Oh I would say Harlem, New York circa 1930 so I could experience the vibe of the Harlem Renaissance.  I always felt I was born in the wrong era.  I can just smell the cigar smoke and hear ‘Fats’ Waller riffing some Harlem stride piano.

Who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?

That’s easy: Malcolm X, Hannibal Barca, Alexander the Great, Jesus the Nazarene, and Kanye West.  I have sooo many questions.

You’re stranded on a desert island, but luckily you pre-empted it. Which book do you take with you?

If I’m stranded it best be a long one so I’d take Romance of the 3 Kingdoms by Guanzhong, English translation.

What has been your most memorable career moment so far?

Having an article published on US Studies Online of course.

What advice would you give to early career academics?

Find a topic you love and master it.  Then learn to teach it as a narrative.  I firmly believe that teaching history as a narrative is a sure fire way to innervate student’s minds so they can fall in love with history as I have.

What is the most exciting thing you have planned in the next six months?

Traveling to Athens and Crete.  Breaking 90 on the golf course.

How did you come to your current area of research?

I am currently researching Gangsta’ Rap music, the oligarchic control of the music industry, and their relationship to institutional racism in the United States.  This is an offshoot of the research I’ve conducted on the history of African-American rhetorical tropes and their relationship to West African oral traditions.  My Supervisor advised me to research the things that I love and a thesis would easily flow from it.

What profession other than academia would you like to attempt?

Been there, done that.  I was a police detective for 25 years in another life.  Researching history is a lot like detective work with less danger involved… and no late nights.  I’m also a certified computer technician. I design and build my own computer systems.

What book is currently on your bedside table?

I no longer do analog reading if I can help it. However, currently on my Kindle I have: Dog Whistle Politics by Ian Haney Lopez a book about how politicians in the U.S. communicate racism with coded language. For example “undocumented immigrant” equals Latin American or “urban poor” equals African-American. It’s research for my thesis.  Also, for pleasure I’m reading Black Gun, Silver Star a biography of Bass Reeves, a black U.S. Marshal on the U.S. western frontier. I’m interested in lesser known African-American historical figures.  Many people have heard of Wyatt Earp but few have heard of Bass Reeves.  I find that troubling.

Be honest; how long has it been there?

Oh, not very long, 2 weeks maybe.  I make sure I devote at least an hour a day for book reading.

What’s in your fridge right now?

Ha Ha, lots of stuff.  Most importantly, the steaks I plan on grilling this weekend.