Faculty & Staff

Judith Smith, PhD

Professor of American Studies, College of Liberal Arts


Areas of Expertise

U.S. Social and Cultural History, Film and History of Media, Ethnicity and Immigration, Women’s History, Urban History


PhD, Brown University

Professional Publications & Contributions

Additional Information

Research and Teaching Interests:

Professor Smith teaches courses on American Studies method, history, and media in 19th and 20th century US, social history of US women, and US since 1945. All of her courses explore changing historical and social frameworks that shape how people experience racial, ethnic, and gendered boundaries, and recurring class-based contests over public and cultural authority.

Her earlier research in social history explores the cultures of solidarity growing out of immigrant work and family lives for southern Italian and eastern European Jewish immigrants in an East Coast commercial industrial city from 1900-1940.



visions of belongingHer recent research moves the study of families to cultural history, exploring how popular family stories circulating in literary, dramatic, and cinematic forms offered competing  frameworks for imagining citizenship and democracy during World War II and into the Cold War years, as multi-ethnic and white or as multi-ethnic and multi-racial.

Her most recent publication is a short book titled Becoming Belafonte: Black Artist, Public Radical, from the University of Texas Press (2014). Becoming Belafonte analyzes the emergence of Belafonte as a charismatic singer and the significance of his labor-based transnational folk musical performances between 1951 and 1970, on tour and in recordings, as well as of his television and film production, for audiences in the U.S. and around the world. Growing up black and working-class in New York City and Jamaica in the 1930s, discovering a political language about race and nation in the Navy during WWII, and absorbing the creative ferment associated with left-wing theater and music in New York City in the late 1940s, Belafonte fashioned a distinctive form of cultural expression foregrounding multiple forms of black artistry and multi-national hybridity. Belafonte distinguished himself from his cohort of black and white entertainers by his willingness to use his celebrity to speak in public on issues of civil rights and human rights, in spite of censorship in the Cold War years, and in dialogue with the circles around Martin Luther King, Jr. and the SNCC activists in the 1960s.

Works in Progress:

Her current research project, “Black and White in Color: Hollywood’s Civil Rights Imagination, 1949-1969,” analyzes the variety of film genres, from social problem films to color musical extravaganzas, commenting on the social possibilities for democratic citizenship no longer fundamentally structured by segregation.

Courses Taught:

AMST 100 American Identities
AMST 215 America on Screen
AMST L 393 Social History of American Women
AMST 410 Cultural History of the US Media
AMS 601 Introduction to the Literature of American Studies
AMST 604 History of Gender and Sexuality in US Society and Culture

Related websites:

Further information about Professor Smith's publications