Adam Smith

Adam Smith

Professorial Fellow; Edward Orsborn Professor of US Politics and Political History

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I am the Edward Orsborn Professor of US Politics & Political History and the Director of the Rothermere American Institute. I was born in the Northeast of England and went to Durham Johnston Comprehensive School and then to Oxford, Sheffield, Harvard and Cambridge universities. I taught for sixteen years at UCL before taking up my current position at Oxford.

My specialism is the American Civil War, its causes and consequences, but more broadly I am interested in democratic politics in various settings.

I regularly present documentaries on BBC Radio and write for various magazines and websites. (You can read some recent articles here.) I also have a close interest in school history teaching. I worked on education policy for the Royal Historical Society, and developed an undergraduate course at UCL in which students created and delivered a sequence of lessons to Key Stage 3 pupils.


I teach the United States history papers at undergraduate and masters level and supervise doctoral students working on various topics in nineteenth-century US history.


My principal area of research explores the relationship between ideas and political behaviour. My aim in recent books and articles has been to offer an analysis of political change grounded in how ‘ordinary’ people in the nineteenth century experienced and understood their world. My first book, No Party Now (Oxford University Press, 2006), analysed the tensions between wartime pressure for conformity and the practice of electoral politics. In 2017, the University of North Carolina Press published The Stormy Present: Conservatism and the Problem of Slavery in Northern Politics, 1846-1865, (2017). This book won the Jefferson Davis Prize, awarded by the American Civil War museum in Richmond for the best book on the Civil War era, and was a finalist for the Lincoln prize for the best book on Lincoln or the Civil War soldier, awarded by Gettysburg College and the Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History. It offers a new view of the northern path to war, focusing on the mass of northern voters who self-defined as ‘conservatives’ and whose shifting responses to the unfolding political crises shaped events more than is usually appreciated.

Another strand of my research focuses on the study of the image of the United States around the world. On this theme my most recent publication is an article about the ‘cult’ of Abraham Lincoln in interwar Britain, which appeared in the journal Twentieth Century British History. I am currently completing a book for OUP on the battle of Gettysburg in history and memory which, among other things, situates the meanings of that great battle in a transnational context. I also have academic interests in the history of theatre and in transatlantic liberalism and conservatism in the nineteenth century.

Selected Publications

The Stormy Present: Conservatism and the Problem of Slavery in Northern Politics, 1846-1865. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017.

No Party Now: Politics in the Civil War North. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Practicing Democracy: Re-thinking Popular Politics in the United States from the Revolution to the Civil War. Charlottesville: Virginia University Press, 2015, edited with Daniel Peart.

America Imagined: Explaining the United States in Nineteenth Century Europe and Latin America. New York: Palgrave, 2012, edited with Axel Korner and Nicola Miller.

The American Civil War. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2007. 275 pp.

“Beyond the Realignment Synthesis: The Election of 1860 Reconsidered” in America at the Ballot Box: Elections in American Political History, edited by Gareth Davies and Julian E. Zelizer. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015. 59-76

“The Fortunate Banner: Languages of Democracy in the United States, c1848,” in Joanna Innes and Mark Philp, eds, Re-Imagining Democracy in the Age of Revolutions: America, France, Britain, Ireland, 1750-1850. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. 28-39

“The Politics of Theatrical Reform in Victorian America,” American Nineteenth Century History 13:3 (2012): 321-346.

“The ‘Cult’ of Abraham Lincoln and the Strange Survival of Liberal England in the Era of the World Wars,” Twentieth Century British History 21: 4 (2010)

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