Dr Tom Smith

Keasbey Research Fellow in American Studies, Selwyn College
Affiliated Lecturer, Faculty of History
Admissions Tutor (Arts and Social Sciences), Selwyn College
Dr Tom Smith
I became the Keasbey Research Fellow in American Studies at Selwyn College in October 2019. Prior to this, I completed my AHRC-funded PhD in history at Trinity Hall, Cambridge in 2019, which was supervised by Andrew Preston and won the 2020 Sara Norton Senior Prize. My PhD followed on from an MPhil in Historical Studies completed in 2013 and a BA in history in 2012, both undertaken at Selwyn. I have been a John W. Kluge Center fellow at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC (2017), and a fellow at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California (2016).
My forthcoming book, titled Word across the Water: American Protestant Missionaries, Pacific Worlds, and the Making of Imperial Histories, examines American Protestant missionaries in Hawai‘i and the Philippines in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, focusing on the ideas they produced about history for U.S. audiences. Superficially, missionaries shared in the U.S. imperialist rhetoric that American empire, which arrived in both Hawai‘i and the Philippines in 1898, was fulfilling God’s sweeping historical plan for the Pacific Ocean. A closer look at missionaries’ differing and evolving ideas about history, however, reveals that their thought was not solely shaped by U.S. empire, but by their specific experiences in Hawai‘i and the Philippines. The book therefore tells a story about the diverse and uncertain foundations upon which Americans generated knowledge about the world, the making and remaking of worldviews founded upon Christian belief, and the power of colonized peoples, environments, and histories to remould totalizing American visions of oceanic space.

Building on my previous work in considering how religion structures American perceptions of the world, I am also developing a new project exploring how, from the final decades of the nineteenth century, religious networks expanded the geographical scope of transatlantic relations, creating a new centre of gravity on the United States' Pacific coast in the burgeoning city of Los Angeles.
I offer supervisions for Part IA, Outline 9 (North America, Central America, and the Caribbean since 1775) and Part IB, Topic 15 (The United States since World War I) in the History Tripos, and am one of the lecturers for Outline 9. I supervise dissertations on modern U.S. history topics both for undergraduates and MPhil candidates.
Previously, I have supervised and lectured for Part I, Paper 24 (The United States since 1865) of the old History Tripos, taught both supervisions and seminars for some Pacific Ocean topics on Part II, Paper 30 ('Islands and Beaches': The Pacific and Indian Oceans in the Long-Nineteenth Century), and supervised for Part I, Paper 21 (Empires in World History), as well as POL 14 (U.S. Foreign Policy) in the Department of Politics and International Studies. Within Selwyn College, I have coordinated Historical Argument and Practice teaching for undergraduate cohorts, and have run HAP seminars on religion and oceans at Faculty level.
As Selwyn College's Admissions Tutor for the arts and social sciences, I read and assess applications to Selwyn across 21 different Cambridge undergraduate courses, as well as playing a role in the college's outreach and widening participation work. I am course director for Selwyn's pre-sessional bridging course for incoming students from Widening Participation backgrounds, which will run for the first time in September 2024.
I have been a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy since January 2022. I have also been a research associate of the Cambridge Institute on Religion and International Studies. As a graduate student, I was a convener of the Cambridge World History Workshop (2017-18), as part of which role I helped organize a one-day workshop on texts in motion in May 2018, and for three years was on the editorial team for the Cambridge graduate public history blog, Doing History in Public.


Tags & Themes


Selwyn College, Cambridge, CB3 9DQ


Key publications

Word across the Water: American Protestant Missionaries, Pacific Worlds, and the Making of Imperial Histories (Cornell University Press, forthcoming October 2024) https://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/book/9781501777448/word-across-the-water
Journal articles
'History, "Unwritten Literature," and U.S. Colonialism in Hawai'i, 1898-1915', Diplomatic History, Vol. 43, No. 5 (November 2019), pp. 813-839 https://doi.org/10.1093/dh/dhz038

'Hawaiian History and American History: Integration or Separation?', American Nineteenth Century History, Vol. 20, No. 2 (September 2019), pp. 161-182 https://doi.org/10.1080/14664658.2019.1656890

‘Islanders, Protestant Missionaries, and Traditions Regarding the Past in Nineteenth-Century Polynesia’, Historical Journal, Vol. 60, No. 1 (March 2017), pp. 71-94 https://doi.org/10.1017/S0018246X16000157
Chapters in edited collections
'American Protestant Missionaries, Native Hawaiian Authority, and Religious Freedom in Hawai'i, ca. 1827-50', in The Early Imperial Republic: From the American Revolution to the U.S.-Mexican War, ed. Michael A. Blaakman, Emily Conroy-Krutz, and Noelani Arista (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2023) https://doi.org/10.9783/9780812297751-008
'American Missionaries and the Boundaries of Evangelicalism in the Philippines', in Global Faith, Worldly Power: Evangelical Internationalism and U.S. Empire, ed. John Corrigan, Melani McAlister, and Axel Schäfer (University of North Carolina Press, 2022) https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5149/9781469670614_corrigan.7

Other publications

Book Reviews
'Nancy Shoemaker, Pursuing Respect in the Cannibal Isles: Americans in Nineteenth-Century Fiji', American Nineteenth Century History, Vol. 21, No. 2 (August 2020), pp. 191-193 https://doi.org/10.1080/14664658.2020.1789347
'Maile Arvin, Possessing Polynesians: The Science of Settler Colonial Whiteness in Hawai'i and Oceania', H-Diplo (May 2020) https://networks.h-net.org/node/28443/reviews/6167193/smith-arvin-possessing-polynesians-science-settler-colonial-whiteness
'Heather D. Curtis, Holy Humanitarians: American Evangelicals and Global Aid', Studies in World Christianity, Vol. 25, No. 2 (August 2019), pp. 241-243 https://doi.org/10.3366/swc.2019.0261

‘Joy Schulz, Hawaiian By Birth: Missionary Children, Bicultural Identity, and U.S. Colonialism in the Pacific’, American Nineteenth Century History, Vol. 19, No. 3 (September 2018), pp. 321-323 https://doi.org/10.1080/14664658.2018.1516374

‘Victor Román Mendoza, Metroimperial Intimacies: Fantasy, Racial-Sexual Governance, and the Philippines in U.S. Imperialism, 1899-1913’, History, Vol. 102, No. 350 (April 2017), pp. 340-342 https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-229X.12415