Professor Spotlight: Peter Conolly-Smith from the History Department

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In the History Department, students may find an innumerable amount of professors willing to help at almost any time. One such faculty member is Professor Peter Conolly-Smith, who prides himself on not only educating students about the events that shaped their current reality but more importantly on making them engaged citizens who are willing to take a stand on such events. 

Conolly-Smith’s passion for history stemmed from his childhood growing up as the child of English immigrants in then West Berlin, a city with a rich history. 

Tracing one’s hand against the older, slightly battered buildings often made him wonder “What happened here?” The answer: World War II. In some instances, their walls were littered with the indentations of bullets that once rained down on the city. The modern buildings occasionally dotting between the others acted as silent reminders of the bombs that had dropped on Berlin only a few years prior. With such a rich past, Professor Conolly-Smith found it difficult not to become enamored with history in some way. 

Professor Conolly-Smith’s father only furthered this passion by maintaining a collection of New Yorker magazine volumes from when he was a bookseller. Professor Conolly-Smith was particularly fascinated with the political cartoons.

He remembered how he used to not understand these cartoons. “If I wanted to know, I needed to understand the time period that produced them. My love of American culture in particular made me want to understand these cartoons,” Professor Conolly-Smith said.

When asked about the importance of history, Professor Conolly-Smith explained in greater detail the importance of the field and how it is essential to, “Make sense of the world we inhabit. We have to know what brought us to this point, so knowing and analyzing the timeline is a good skill that we should all have.”

Professor Conolly-Smith’s book, “Translating America: An Ethnic Press and Popular Culture, 1890-1920” is about German immigrants living in New York City during World War I. It explores the struggles of immigrant’s divided loyalties between their German heritage and current home in America. 

In addition to his impressive academic achievements, Professor Conolly-Smith has also been a scriptwriter for TV shows and documentaries. Another lesser-known fact is that he also is a singer and guitarist, and has played in several bands, sometimes even as the lead singer. 

Besides his love for scriptwriting, Conolly-Smith also has a love of good films. A favorite of his is the King Kong movies, with his favorite version being the original 1933 movie. Another favorite is  the 1952 film “Singin’ in the Rain.” Professor Conolly-Smith also finds anything produced by Martin Scorsese or Spike Lee always a joy to watch.

 Like many professors on our campus, Professor Conolly-Smith has proved to be a valuable mentor to his students and will always eagerly await any student questions because, ultimately, creating informed citizens is what he truly hopes for all of his students. 

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