Thomas Ruys Smith


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Personal profile


Thomas Ruys Smith is Professor of American Literature and Culture and Deputy Director of the New Area Studies Research Centre.

His primary field of research and teaching expertise is nineteenth century literature and culture, both American and Transatlantic. Frequently, his interdisciplinary research is focused around the life and culture of the Mississippi River. His first book, River of Dreams: Imagining the Mississippi Before Mark Twain (Louisiana State University Press, 2007) was an interdisciplinary examination of the different roles played by the Mississippi in antebellum American culture. His second book, Southern Queen: New Orleans in the Nineteenth Century (Continuum, 2011), was an exploration of the life and culture of one of America's most fascinating cities during a crucible period in its history. His latest monograph, Deep Water: The Mississippi River in the Age of Mark Twain (LSUP: 2019), is the first book to provide a comprehensive narrative account of Twain's intimate and long-lasting creative engagement with the Mississippi. Deep Water also details the thriving cultural life of the river in this period, from roustabouts to canoeists, from books for boys to blues songs, and highlights a diverse collection of voices each telling their own story of the Mississippi and its place in American life. He is also the editor of a variety of collections and anthologies, detailed below, which range widely over American and British cultural history.

He is the co-editor, with Rachael McLennan, of the journal Comparative American Studies. He is also the co-editor and co-founder of the online journal New Area Studies with Susan Hodgett. 

In 2023, he published The Last Gift: The Christmas Stories of Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, a pioneering collection of festive stories by one of America's most popular authors in the nineteenth-century, described as "a revelation" by Alfred Bendixen, executive director of the American Literature Association. He also published a new edition of Black Beauty in collaboration with Redwings Horse Sanctuary, part of an ongoing collaboration with the charity to explore the local and global significance of Anna Sewell's extraordinary book. In 2024, he will follow that publication with a groundbreaking collection of the poetry of Mary Sewell, now best remembered as Anna Sewell's mother, but in her time an enormously popular Victorian poet. 

At present, he is working on a new book about Mark Twain's relationship to London and expatriate life in the late nineteenth century and an ongoing project about the local and global histories of circus at the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome.

He is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.


Twitter: @thomasruyssmith

Areas of Expertise

American literature, history and culture (with an emphasis on the 19th century); Mississippi River, history and culture; New Orleans, past and present; American music; children's literature; popular fiction; Transatlantic popular culture; the social and cultural history of Christmas; the social and cultural history of circus.

Key Responsibilities

Professor Thomas Ruys Smith is Deputy Director of the New Area Studies Research Centre and one of the Unit of Assessment Co-Ordinators for Area Studies.

He is the co-editor, with Rachael McLennan, of the journal Comparative American Studies. He is also the co-editor and co-founder of the online journal New Area Studies with Susan Hodgett. 

Key Research Interests

Professor Thomas Ruys Smith has a wide range of interests in literary history and popular culture on both sides of the Atlantic. He has published a rich array of monographs, edited collections, anthologies, edited editions and journal articles as well as appearing in print and on television, radio and podcasts to discuss his research for a broad international audience. A selection of his major publications, listed below, reflect the depth and breadth of his interests and expertise:

The Last Gift: The Christmas Stories of Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

  • Praise from Professor Alfred Bendixen, Executive Director of the American Literature Association: "A revelation! [...] This collection transforms our understanding of the season and enhances the literary reputation of this remarkable author.” 

Black Beauty: Redwings Horse Sanctuary Edition

  • Praise from Martin Clunes, President of the British Horse Society: "Anna Sewell’s book is a beautiful, gripping and moving tale that highlights exactly why we need a charity like Redwings. It’s as relevant now as it was when she wrote it."

Christmas Past: An Anthology of Seasonal Stories from Nineteenth -Century America

  • Praise from Gerry Bowler, author of Santa Claus: A Biography: "Christmas Past is an invaluable contribution to not just to the study of Christmas stories but to the history of nineteenth-century American literature."

Deep Water: The Mississippi River in the Age of Mark Twain

  • Praise from Professor Sarah Churchwell: “An exemplary work of American literary history [...] Smith's book is an authoritative - likely definitive - primer for understanding what the deep waters of 'The Mississippi' meant to Twain, and still means to American culture.”

Southern Queen: New Orleans in the Nineteenth Century

  • Praise from Professor Thomas C Buchanan: "A major contribution to the history of the Queen City."

River of Dreams: Imagining the Mississippi River Before Mark Twain

  • Praise from Professor Scott Romine: "a rich study, splendidly researched and elegantly written [...] archivally and synthetically rich—indeed, it is quite dazzling."

Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music: America Changed Through Music (with Ross Hair)

  • Praise from Rob Young, author of Electric Eden: "This valuable essay collection offers invigorating and learned perspectives on the Anthology and its connections with folklore, magic, and hidden histories of America."

Must Read: Rediscovering American Bestsellers

  • Praise from American Book Review: "Churchwell’s and Smith’s 'Introduction' is masterful, and it, alone, makes the volume worth reading."

Blacklegs, Card Sharps and Confidence Men: Nineteenth Century Mississippi River Gambling Stories

  • Praise from Professor Thomas C. Buchanan: "Blacklegs, Card Sharps, and Confidence Men is the most significant collection of riverlore published in decades."

Teaching Interests

A Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, Professor Thomas Ruys Smith's teaching has been characterised by a commitment to innovation across a wide range of subjects and approaches. He has developed and taught modules in nineteenth century American literature, the American Civil War, American Music, American Journalism, American Sports Popular Fiction, the American South, Children's Literature, and more besides.

An example of his innovative pedagogy can be found in his children's literature project, developed in collaboration with colleague Dr Hilary Emmett and the UEA Publishing Project. Students enrolled on their final year children's literature module help to produce a new edition of a classic piece of writing for children, gaining practical insight to the world of publishing. More infomation is available here

Academic Background

Professor Thomas Ruys Smith studied English Literature at St John's College, Cambridge, before completing his PhD at UEA.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 6 - Clean Water and Sanitation
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land


  • Children's literature
  • English literature
  • Literary History
  • American Studies
  • Area Studies (General)

Media Expertise

  • American Studies
  • Literature
  • History