Adam I. P. Smith

Historian | Writer | Broadcaster

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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 […]

Recently I made a series for BBC Radio 4 called “Trump: The Presidential Precedents”. It told the stories of six previous US presidents who had won elections by promising to shake up a corrupt establishment and restore government by, or at least for, the little guy. From Andrew Jackson, the first westerner to win, to […]

Among Donald Trump’s accomplishments is inadvertently stimulating popular interest in epistemology. “Post-truth” is the Oxford English Dictionary’s 2016 “word of the year”—a judgment based largely on the number of times it’s been invoked by journalists discussing the politics of the UK European referendum and the US presidential election. In a post-truth world, politics is conducted […]

I’ve been working on a radio series about previous presidential elections (to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 every day at 1.45pm in the week beginning January 16) with the aim of providing some historical context for our present political moment (Mr D. Trump, to remind you, if you’d forgotten, will be inaugurated on January […]

On election night last Tuesday, I was in New York. I watched Trump’s victory speech in a Sky News studio where I’d been offering some occasional undigested thoughts. A little later, when I emerged into Time Square in a dank pre-dawn hour, drunk Trump supporters were chanting “lock her up” and “build the wall”. One […]

A version of this blogpost appeared in the November 2016 edition of BBC History Magazine. It accompanies my BBC Radio 4 series, The Robber Barons. Railroad bosses were not supposed to order their own freight cars to be burned. In 1859, however, the superintendent of the western division of the Pennsylvania Railroad – a 24-year […]