Dr. Smith is a visiting Assistant Professor of History at Hillsdale College. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
If you could bring one restaurant to Hillsdale what would it be?
I’m from North Carolina so I would bring in Bojangles. I love getting their Cajun filet sandwich.
What is your theory on why God created mosquitoes?
Well, you have to have some reason why places like coastal South Carolina and North Carolina are not perfect. So, mosquitoes are a way of keeping us humble.
What is one of your favorite readings from the Western Heritage reader?
Either Polybius or Einhard’s biography of Charlemagne.
If you could get rid of one animal what would it be?
I would get rid of cats.
Who is your favorite artist?
I have always loved Monet and Sir Thomas Lawrence.
What is your favorite dessert?
My favorite dessert is key lime pie.
If you were a freshman in Western Heritage, would you pass your own class?
Yeah, I think I would pass. I don’t know if I would do great, but I’d probably get a C at least.
If you were a superhero, what superhero would you be?
Batman, because he was just a guy I sort of saw myself in a lot and he is the only superhero I ever really cared about.
How do you feel about this year’s freshman class?
They’re great. Their morale is really high, and everybody’s working hard. I feel like there’s this kind of courage about this year’s freshman class, and we live in this society where everybody’s afraid to go outside because we’re getting sneezed on. With all the COVID stuff, I love that my students are more courageous than 95% of society. There’s no Karens in the Hillsdale student body, and I would much rather be ruled by the freshman class at Hillsdale than the actual Congress right now.
Do you have a favorite place on campus to read and study?
My favorite spot on campus is either my classroom, wherever that is in the moment, or the roundtable right beside the fireplace in the Union.
What is your favorite book?
I think the book that shaped me the most was a novel by Tomasi di Lampedusa called “The Leopard,” and it was a book that opened the door for me to see that the world was a bigger place. It was great for me to see that my life wasn’t just this reductionistic American experience and my story wasn’t just this American thing, and that there’s these ideas that are bigger than where I was from in North Carolina.
What is your favorite movie?
The answer that jumps out at me is “You’ve Got Mail.” I love “You’ve Got Mail,” because I think it was my freshman year of high school when it came out. New York City was kind of at its height and one of the things I tell people is, New York City in the late ’90s, was magnificent. It wasn’t the kind of place it is today. I remember thinking there was something really fine about the United States for all of its problems being represented in the world that was late 90s New York, and so it’s almost a time capsule for me now.
What is your favorite movie genre?
I like period dramas, because I’m a historian.
If you could wake up one day and be an expert at any instrument, what would you choose?
I would probably choose bass guitar.
What is your favorite cuisine?
I love Asian food and I just adore sushi. I like it because there’s so much flavor and it’s such a creative way of having so many things in one.
Who is your celebrity crush?
Rachel Brosnahan. I’ve actually thought about an active daydream where I’m somehow famous, and I get to ask her out on a talk show or something. So I’m just unbelievably in love with Rachel Brosnahan.
What is your best relationship advice?
I would say my best relationship advice is don’t ask a 37 year old bachelor for relationship advice. But actually I would say making courtesy a pretty big part of what you do. I think the way we interact, and learning how to be frustrated and still interact without being discourteous to your romantic partner, seems like a pretty long lasting attribute.
Who do you consider to be the most influential person in your life?
Aside from my parents when I was growing up there were three physicians at what was called the Children’s Clinic in my hometown of Salisbury, North Carolina. They were blue-blooded Southern men, but they were the idea of what a man should be to me as a boy in the way they spoke, moved, and interacted with people. They modeled civility and courtesy and politeness, and they were the best of what society had to offer. It wasn’t about their status. It wasn’t about how much money they had. They acted a certain way, that was so completely taken with as a child I remember. And I’m using them as an example of a broader class of men that I knew, but those three ones were the ones I interacted with most.