Jordan B. Smith

Jordan B. Smith, PhD

  • Assistant Professor of History
Media Expertise:
  • Arts & Culture

Programs I Teach


  • PhD, Early American and Atlantic History (2018)
    Georgetown University (DC)
  • MA, History (2013)
    Georgetown University (DC)
  • BA, Atlantic History (2010)
    Carleton College (MN)

About Me

I teach a variety of courses at Widener that situate the history of early America in global and Atlantic contexts. Motivating this perspective is my belief that we cannot begin to understand the Boston Tea party without understanding the global routes that brought the tea, sugar, and porcelain tea cups to North America; the history of slavery in the United States without considering dimensions of the trade in humans in western Africa, the Atlantic Ocean, and the West Indies; or westward expansion and Indian removal without tracking centuries of interactions between native peoples and British, French, and Spanish colonizers. Tracking the "vastness" of early American history also illuminates the diverse experiences of the people who lived in early America.

While learning about different dimensions of early American history in my classes, students also gain a greater understanding for how to "think like a historian." Students analyze contemporary newspapers, speeches, songs, essays, and fictional writings, as well as paintings, museum objects, and commodities. They conduct their own research by interpreting these primary sources alongside interactive databases and a variety of secondary sources. Over the course of each semester, students develop and hone skills in reading critically, constructing sound arguments, and writing and speaking persuasively.

Research Interests

I am interested in how people from Africa, the Americas, and Europe interacted following prolonged contact between these continents in the early modern period. Most broadly, my research considers how the exchange of people, objects, and ideas created new worlds for people throughout a burgeoning Atlantic world in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

I am currently working on a book that is tentatively entitled "The Invention of Rum." From Barbados to Boston to Bristol, England, the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century British Atlantic world was linked by the invention, commodification, and innovation of rum. This project explores how thousands of free and bonded workers in these and many other places turned the waste left over from sugar production into an alcoholic and highly-marketable commodity. Free and coerced workers did more than just follow an already established recipe, however. As they responded to environmental pressures, laws, and patterns of trade, rum distillers adjusted how they made rum and shared many of their innovations with other producers. My work argues that the invention of rum comprised an ongoing process that linked on-the-ground alcohol producers in the West Indies, Britain, and North America. Within a system marked both by extreme racialized violence and a remarkable level of cooperation, these producers created a commodity—and an industry—that unmistakably shaped local and transregional polities, economies, and societies.

Professional Affiliations & Memberships

McNeil Center for Early American Studies, Omohundro Institute


  • Barra Dissertation Fellow in Art and Material Culture, McNeil Center for Early American Studies (2017-18)
  • IHR Mellon Pre-Dissertation Fellowship, Institute of Historical Research (2014)
  • Dissertation Proposal Development Fellowship, Social Science Research Council (2013)


In the Media


  • Dr. Jordan Smith Awarded National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship

    Dr. Jordan Smith, assistant professor of history, has been awarded a prestigious $20,000 National Endowment for the Humanities Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the Library Company of Philadelphia. The nationally competitive, semester-long fellowship will support him as he writes the final chapter of his book “The Invention of Rum” based on his research into the invention and production of rum in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century British Atlantic world.

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  • Jordan Smith named Periclean Faculty Leader

    Project Pericles announced that Assistant Professor of History Jordan Smith was selected for the first cohort of faculty members for the Mellon Periclean Faculty Leadership Program in the Humanities. As a Periclean Faculty Leader, he joins a community of scholars, including Widener Associate Professors Marina Barnett and Bretton Alvaré, dedicated to incorporating civic engagement into the curriculum. This $4,000 grant will help with the development of the Fall 2020 course "HIST 388: Practices in Public History: History and Memory in Chester" that combines past experiences in the field of public history with more recent interests revolving around history and memory in Chester.

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