Adam I. P. Smith

Historian | Writer | Broadcaster

The first time I visited the American South, sometime in the late 1990s, I took at tour around one of those elegant plantation houses–I think it was in South Carolina–with a Spanish moss-covered avenue of trees, a shaded veranda on which to sip one’s mint julep, and discretely placed slave quarters. The lady showing us […]

A few days ago President Trump’s Chief of Staff John Kelly told Fox News that the Civil War was caused by the “lack of an ability to compromise”, that it was “fought by men and women of good faith on both sides” and that General Robert E. Lee was an “honorable man.” Frankly, it would […]

This is an edited draft of a lecture I have been writing, which in time may grow into a little book about the concept of compromise in American political life from the Revolution to the present day. Compromise must surely be the most ambivalent concept in modern politics. It can be a virtue or a […]

This is a piece I wrote for BBC World History Magazine’s September 2017 issue. The whole point of a pedestal is to elevate whatever’s on it. That’s the thing about statues: they demand not just attention but reverence. And because they’re sited in prominent public places, the intention is always to make a statement. That […]

Inscribed above the dais in the wood-paneled Gustave Tuck Theatre in University College London is a quotation from Deuteronomy: “Remember the Days of Old; Consider the Years of Each Generation.” It’s a poetic and even rather inspiring injunction but if you think about it too much it’s not obvious how to live up to it. […]

The aim of historical writing is to convey complexity with clarity, isn’t it? We know that the world is an infinitely varied and confusing place. Yet we also know that without trying to impose some kind of schema, all we’re left with is anecdote. It can be hard enough, sometimes, to uncover the dots, but […]

A hundred years after the US declared war on Germany, I was at the main US military cemetery at Romagne-sous-Montfaucon and there was absolutely no one there at all other than me, the battlefield historian I was interviewing and my radio producer. This is a very empty part of France. You can drive for miles […]