OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Gregory D. Smithers

Portrait of Gregory D. Smithers

Gregory Smithers is professor of History at Virginia Commonwealth University and a British Academy Global Professor. He specializes in Native American history and culture from the eighteenth century to the present, with an emphasis on the Cherokee people and their Indigenous and non-Indigenous neighbors in the Native South. Smithers' research also explores the history of climate change through the lens of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and tackles questions about how and why people form individual and collective identities. He is the author of numerous books, the most recent being Native Southerners: Indigenous History from Origins to Removal (2019) and The Cherokee Diaspora: An Indigenous History of Migration, Resettlement, and Identity (2015).

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

Indigenous people in the Americas and throughout the Pacific have long histories of adapting to sudden changes in climate. This lecture explores some of the most important aspects of that history. Guiding this lecture is a simple yet profound question: Can Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) save the world from the worst effects of global warming? The evidence suggests we can learn a great deal from the deep history of TEK and pausing to reflect on how Indigenous people successfully wove scientific, spiritual, medicinal, and engineering knowledge into oral traditions and practices.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Cherokee people led an environmental movement. Their objective was to stop the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) from constructing the Tellico Dam along a sleepy section of the Little Tennessee River. This lecture explores the forgotten history of Cherokee resistance to dam construction. As the lecture reveals, that resistance focused not only on efforts to "save the Little T" but inspired a generation of Cherokee people and their allies to work together in a bid to prevent the TVA from flooding thousands of years of Cherokee history and culture.
Colonial invasion caused centuries of physical and emotional trauma throughout Indian Country. This proved especially true for people who today use the umbrella term two-spirit, a term that denotes the existence of masculine and feminine qualities residing within a single Native person. This lecture reveals the searing levels of violence that European colonizers brought to Native communities from the early sixteenth century and considers the consequences of that violence on Native people whose gender and sexual identities did not conform with prevailing European norms. Significantly, the lecture highlights how two-spirit people are today talking back to, undermining, and cutting through that history to reclaim their place in Indigenous communities and undermine homophobia and transphobia by demanding the protection of their civil rights throughout the United States.
Long before the Indigenous people of southeastern North America encountered Europeans and Africans, they established communities with clear social and political hierarchies and rich cultural traditions. This lecture brings the world of Native Southerners to life in this sweeping narrative of American Indian history in the Southeast from the time before European colonialism to the Trail of Tears and beyond. Spanning territory reaching from modern-day Louisiana and Arkansas to the Atlantic coast, Native Southerners focuses on the stories of the Cherokees, Creeks, Seminoles, Creeks, Chickasaws, and Choctaws, as well as smaller Native communities like the Nottoways, Occaneechis, Haliwa-Saponis, Catawbas, and Caddos.
Donald Trump's rise to the presidency has seen anti-Indian prejudice and racial caricaturing becoming part of the cultural and political mainstream again. How do we explain this? This lecture explores the anti-Indian prejudices that Donald Trump's candidacy, and now presidency, has unleashed in the United States.