Judith Smith, Professor of American Studies at University of Massachusetts Boston, has published and spoken widely on American social and cultural history, and on ethnicity and race in popular culture. Becoming Belafonte grows out of her research on filmmaking efforts to purvey new representations of multiracial citizenship that might challenge white supremacy after WWII. Her previous books have explored the everyday understandings of citizenship and national belonging shaped by popular family stories circulating in fiction, on stage, and on screen, during WWII and into the Cold War years of the 1950s, and the family and work-based cultures of solidarity created within two Providence, Rhode Island immigrant neighborhoods through the Depression years.
Born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1948, she moved east to attend Radcliffe College (BA magna cum laude in history, 1970). Her education included various forms of protest, including building takeovers, in the service of antiwar and black activism, and later, women’s liberation. After graduating, she worked as a peer counselor in a drop-in center for young people living on the streets in Cambridge, MA, and joined a women’s group “borrowing” some of Boston’s medical resources to set up a women’s clinic offering free care in an underserved neighborhood. She earned her PhD in American Civilization at Brown University in 1980. She taught part-time at University of Rhode Island and University of Massachusetts Boston before joining the history department at Boston College, teaching urban, cultural, and film history and American Studies from 1981 to 1993, with brief visiting positions in Women’s Studies at Harvard in 1989 and in History and Urban Studies at Stanford in 1990. Since 1993 she has worked in the American Studies program at University of Massachusetts Boston, teaching film and media history and women’s history, and directing the American Studies MA program from 1993 to 2011, receiving awards for excellence in graduate teaching and mentoring. She held a Charles Warren Center Fellowship in Film and History at Harvard in 2002-2003.
Seizing any invitation to ”talk history,” Smith has welcomed opportunities to participate in professional development with high school history teachers, and to be involved in Boston-based historical documentary film productions. She worked as a researcher and producer on Love Stories: Women, Men and Romance (1987), a social history of heterosexual romance in the twentieth century; as historical consultant on Brownsville: Black and White (2001), an urban history of interracial contact, collaboration, and social conflict in a Brooklyn, NY neighborhood, from the 1930s to the present; as humanities scholar and historical consultant for two films on women’s liberation in the 1970s, A Moment in Her Story: Stories from the Boston Women’s Movement (2012) and Left On Pearl: Women Take Over 888 Memorial Drive, Cambridge (2017), and for an NEH-funded documentary about the left-wing black playwright Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart (2018).
Other projects have included co-authoring a textbook in urban history, The Evolution of American Urban Society (five editions between 1988 and 2014) and an introductory American Studies reader, American Identities (2006), widely taught in undergraduate classes.
Published essays on radio, television, and film include:
- “The Marrying Kind: Working-Class Courtship and Marriage in 1950s Hollywood,” in Multiple Voices in Feminist Film Criticism (1994)
- “Radio’s ‘Cultural Front,’ 1938-1948,” in Radio Reader: Essays in the Cultural History of Radio (2002)
- “Television Drama of the Golden Age,” in Jews and American Popular Culture (2007)
- “Judy Holliday’s Urban Working Girl Characters in 1950s Hollywood Film,” in A Jewish Feminine Mystique: Jewish Women in Postwar America (2010)
- “Civil Rights, Labor, and Sexual Politics in Nothing But a Man (1964),” Black Camera 3:2 (2012); also in The Politics and Poetics of Black Film: Nothing But a Man (2015)
- “Talking Back to Hollywood; Ordinary Love Stories on Film, 1946-1964,” in Understanding Love, Philosophy, Film and Fiction (2014)
- “Literary Radicals in Radio’s Public Sphere,” in American Literature in Transition, 1940-1950 (2018)
- “ ‘It Is Time for Artists to Be Heard’: Artists and Writers for Freedom, 1963-1964,” Kalfou: A Journal of Comparative and Relational Ethnic Studies 5:1 (Summer, 2018)
- “Hollywood Imagines Revolutionary Haiti: The Forgotten Film Lydia Bailey (1952),” Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television 41:4 (2021)
- Co-winner, 2021 David H. Culbert International Association for Media and History-Routledge Prize for Best Article by an Established Scholar