Publication Date

October 16, 2018

Perspectives Section

Member Spotlight, Perspectives Daily


  • United States


African American

Arwin D. Smallwood is professor and chair of the Department of History and Political Science at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, North Carolina. Dr. Smallwood has been a member since 1988.


Arwin D. Smallwood

Alma Maters: BA (political science), North Carolina Central University, 1988; MA (history), cum laude, North Carolina Central University, 1990; PhD (history), The Ohio State University, 1997

Fields of Interest: I primarily focus on the relationships between African Americans, Native Americans, and Europeans in eastern North Carolina during the colonial and early antebellum periods.

Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today? My first teaching position was as a visiting lecturer at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, where I am now chair of the Department of History and Political Science. I then became the director of African American Studies at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, in 1995. I was recruited to the University of Memphis in 2003 to help build a PhD program in African American history. I returned to North Carolina A&T State University in 2013 to become the chair of the then Department of History. In January of 2018 I became chair of the new Department of History and Political Science.

What projects are you currently working on? I am currently participating in several projects, including an archiving project for the North Carolina A&T State University, College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. The goal of this project is to digitize and make available to scholars the records of the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences from 1891 to present. These records include photos, programs, student rosters and documents from Black agricultural extension offices and farming events from around the state. This collection of materials on Black agriculture is one of the largest of its kind in the nation. I am also working with the North Carolina Statewide “Slave Deeds” Digitization Project. The goal of this project to make available to scholars the state’s slave deeds from North Carolina’s 100 counties. Once complete, this collection will be a unique resource for scholars researching African American history before emancipation. Finally, I am an active member of the newly formed North Carolina Minority Serving Institutions Humanities Corridor, which has been developed to promote not only history but the humanities throughout the state of North Carolina.

What do you like the most about where you live and work? What I like most about where I live and work is the fact that I can impact not just my department and the community I live in but also the entire state of North Carolina. I like the diversity of the city of Greensboro and the fact that the state of North Carolina is a microcosm of our nation and world. I also like the fact that I can research, write, and present on the history of the entire state of North Carolina and all of its people.

Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how? My core interests have remained the same. I have a great interest in the intersections of African Americans, Native Americans, and Europeans in early American history. I have studied how these three groups together forged new creolized cultures and peoples in the Americas. My work has evolved since graduation in that I have developed a deeper appreciation and interest in Native American history and culture, particularly that of the Tuscarora of the Six Nations or Iroquois Confederacy.

What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research? The most fascinating thing I have found at the archives while conducting research is the historic book written by Benjamin Franklin titled Indian Treaties. I discovered this book while I was an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow at the Library Company of Philadelphia and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. This book documents a part of the history of the Six Nations or Iroquois Confederacy. The discovery of this book has been one of the most profound moments of my life. It has opened my eyes to the importance and power of Native Americans before the American Revolution and showed me that their contemporaries knew this very well and both feared and admired them.

Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members? I would recommend that members read Benjamin Franklin’s Indian Treaties.

What do you value most about the history discipline? Educating students and the public is what I value most about the discipline of history. I have found that each generation lacks a deep understanding of the complexity of history. I believe that even a general understanding of history has the potential to change lives, communities, nations, and the world we live in.

Why is membership in the AHA important to you? For all professions, it is important that members of that profession meet and exchange ideas. It is important that they learn from one another and share knowledge as well as support one other in learning and perfecting their craft. This above all is why the AHA is important to me.

Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share? I do not have a favorite anecdote from an annual meeting. I do however remember many from the special conference hosted by the AHA, National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the History Channel on “The Future of the African-American Past” held in Washington, DC, in May of 2016. Scholars from all over the nation pondered what the gaps were in the history of Black people in the United States and around the world. My students and I found the conference and the presentations fascinating and profound.

AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, Perspectives Daily features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.

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Matthew Keough
Matthew Keough

American Historical Association