Dr. Joshua Smith is a literary and American studies scholar. His primary research interests center on nineteenth-century American thought and the regional and conceptual influence of the American West. As a professor at the Torrey Honors Institute, he also teaches the classics, the knowledge of which he employs to explore the intellectual influences on important American thinkers, writers and historical developments. He is most interested in the ways that American territorial expansion and frontier mythology shape antebellum writing and national identity. Looking far beyond traditional frontier themes in literature, his research on the influence of the West on American narrative has forged links between such disparate subjects as Nat Turner, Herman Melville, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ralph Ellison, Quentin Tarantino and Toni Morrison. The relationship between the South and the West is of particular interest to him. He pays attention to the historical interdependence of these two regions of the country, but also to the curious western trek of minstrelsy and other lampoons of southern life and culture to Hollywood.
As an accomplished alto saxophonist, he explores the relationship between music and thought. In particular, he is interested in the ways that jazz exposes a rich intellectual tradition and both parallels and informs literary production. Understanding jazz to be a way of thinking and not merely an artistic style, he employs his creative acumen to exploit the inherent musical quality of oral communication. As a public speaker, he is attuned to the same performance dynamics as an artist. His saxophone sensibilities equip him as an orator to improvise and compose words in ways that mimic musical and theatrical nuances.
Through animated, humorous, thought-provoking and explosive on stage, Dr. Smith, like many academics, is an introvert in an extrovert’s world. He’s learned how to turn the social awkward into social empowerment. The life lessons he’s picked up along the way have translated into compelling talks on leadership and emotional intelligence. Dr. Smith is a highly requested campus and conference speaker who engages audiences with both a personable and inspirational style.