Dr. Joshua Smith is a literary scholar with a primary interest in both the nineteenth century and 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 and Quentin Tarantino. 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.
Though 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 socially 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.
2014 Outstanding Dedicated Service, Western Regional Council on Black American Affairs
2004—2005 English Department Fellowship, University of Southern California
2004 Louis Owens Minority Travel Grant, Western Literature Association
1998—2003 Teaching Fellowship, University of Southern California
1996—1998 Academic Advancement Program Scholarship, University of California, Los Angeles
1995—1997 University of California Regents Scholar, University of California, Los Angeles