I regularly write and present documentaries for the BBC. You can listen to the programmes by following the links below to the BBC iplayer.
Ronald Reagan’s Last Movie
BBC World News / BBC News Channel. First Broadcast July 30, 2017. Can be viewed on BBC iPlayer here.
Historian Adam Smith tells the extraordinary story of Reagan’s last movie. In The Killers (1964), Reagan played a criminal for the first time, and portrayed California businessmen as corrupt and violent – just months before real California businessmen launched him into national politics. But why did he do it? And what might have happened if The Killers had been shown on TV as planned?
From Out of Town
BBC World News / BBC News Channel. First Broadcast July 22, 2017. Can be viewed on BBC iPlayer here.
Trump’s election has sharpened one of the great American divides – between the small town and the big city. For BBC World News, historian Adam Smith explores this divide by going back to its modern origins in postwar America – as anatomised in classic film noir.
BBC Radio 3. First Broadcast August 13, 2017.
Adam Smith traces Ernest Hemingway’s brutal, brilliant short story – from its birth in gangster-era Chicago, through its Hollywood afterlife as a noir classic, to its strange status as Ronald Reagan’s last movie.
America Goes to War
BBC Radio 4. First Broadcast May 9, 2017. Featured on Pick of the Week on Sunday 14 May, 2017.
On April 6th 1917, America finally entered the Great War on the side of the Entente powers. It seemed a stunning volte face by the progressive intellectual President Woodrow Wilson, elected for a second term on the promise of the man who ‘kept us out of the war.’ What followed was an even more stunning transformation of American society and its role in world affairs. This programme explores the convulsions that carried America to war and placed it centre stage in world affairs.
Trump: The Presidential Precedents
BBC Radio 4. Five episodes, first broadcast Monday-Friday 16th-20th January, 2017.
Adam Smith compares Trump’s win to past Presidents who divided America even as they promised radical change. On at least five previous occasions, a candidate has been elected President who promised a crunching 180 degree turnabout in policy. Each man was swept into power by people who had felt themselves excluded or scorned by the previous administration – and each inspired similar fear and loathing. more
The Robber Barons
BBC Radio 4. Five episodes, first broadcast Monday-Friday 17th-21st October, 2016.
Historian Adam Smith tells the stories of the giants of American business, who seized the great new opportunities thrown up by the United States’ Industrial Revolution.
The Battle for the US Constitution
BBC Radio 4. First broadcast Tuesday 26 July, 2016.
How has an Amendment passed just after the US Civil War become the battleground on which modern America’s most ferocious issues are fought out? Historian of 19th century America Adam Smith travels to Washington DC and North Carolina to find out.
This is a 10-minute film version of the radio doc about the 14th Amendment, made by the UCL filmakers Know It Wall.
From Our Own Correspondent: Immigration Battles in California
BBC Radio 4. First broadcast Thursday 19 March, 2015.
Adam Smith finds out how the argument between states and the White House over immigration to the US is raising profound questions about what kind of a country the United States is.
California: Paradise Lost
BBC Radio 4. First broadcast Monday 23 March, 2015.
Historian Adam Smith discovers how the Golden State has long been shaped by conflicting visions of paradise – and what this can tell us about America.
Dorothy Mulkey: Witness
BBC World Service. Broadcast 26 May, 2015
In 1967, the US Supreme Court issued a ruling which effectively outlawed discrimination in the American housing market. The case was brought by Dorothy Mulkey, a Californian woman who had been preventing from renting an apartment in a white area. She talks to Adam Smith for Witness.
The Day of the Locust
BBC Radio 3. First broadcast Sunday 22 February, 2015.
Historian Adam Smith travels to Los Angeles to unearth the roots of the novel in the political turmoil of the time.
The War of the South
BBC Radio 3. First broadcast Sunday 20 April 2011.
Adam Smith travels to Richmond, the heart of the Southern Confederacy, to uncover the dramatic contradictions at the South’s heart and the war it waged.
The War of the North
BBC Radio 3. First broadcast Sunday 20 April 2011.
Adam Smith travels from Lincoln’s home town of Springfield, Illinois to Washington DC and the battlefields of Virginia as he asks why the North fought and what it won.
BBC Radio 3. First broadcast Sunday 27 April 2011.
Adam Smith visits contemporary America to trace how the dividing lines of the War are still visible beneath US politics 150 years on, in the era of Obama.
Over the years, I’ve also been a contributor to many other radio programmes, including In Our Time, The World At One, From Our Own Correspondent, Front Row, The Today Programme, Woman’s Hour, Making History, and Things We Forgot to Remember–all on Radio 4; and to Night Waves on Radio 3, and The History Hour on the BBC World Service. I was also interviewed for a BBC Radio 2 documentary on the music of the Civil War. I’ve contributed to various podcasts including The Spectator and History Extra.
My TV work includes a contribution to documentaries about the “lost ship” of the Mojave Desert and a blockade runner built on Clydeside that played an important role in the American Civil War. I’m the presenter of a forthcoming documentary for the BBC on Ronald Reagan’s last movie, The Killers. And I’ve made a short film for UCL about the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution.