Dr. Timothy J. Smith, Latin American scholar

Faculty Member of Distinction
College of Arts and Sciences – Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Anthropology

“A teacher who doesn’t engage in research, I think, is half of a teacher. And likewise a research scholar who doesn’t teach is half of a scholar.” This is how Dr. Timothy J. Smith, associate professor and chair of anthropology, describes his educational approach at Appalachian State University, where he has taught since 2008.

A scholar of indigenous representation and politics in Latin America, Smith has conducted considerable research. A study abroad field school while an undergraduate anthropology student at Tulane University allowed him to begin a long-term relationship with the predominantly indigenous town of Sololá, Guatemala. He became fluent in the local language, Kaqchikel Mayan, and since then the relationship has included:

  • a 2001 Fulbright grant to conduct dissertation field work that studied the customs, traditions and practices of the town’s indigenous government
  • assistance in translating 16th and 17th century documents written in Kaqchikel Mayan by the town’s leaders, collectively known as The Kaqchikel Chronicles (University of Texas Press, 2006), through a research project at Tulane
  • a 2011 project by Appalachian to publish the first social science textbook written in Kaqchikel Mayan, which is being distributed to indigenous leaders, school officials, teachers and students in Sololá
  • the honor of addressing nearly 5,000 citizens attending the inauguration of Sololá’s new indigenous mayor and local government representatives in 2014

He has authored numerous articles and chapters on indigenous representation and politics in Latin America. He is co-editor of “Mayas in Postwar Guatemala: Harvest of Violence Revisited,” published by University of Alabama Press, and “After the Coup: An Ethnographic Reframing of Guatemala 1954,” published by University of Illinois. His piece, “Confronting Violence in Postwar Guatemala,” was the most downloaded article of 2010 for the Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology.

Smith has led Appalachian students in overseas ethnographic field studies in Ecuador, teaching interviewing techniques and other skills so students can construct their own research. He also taught an Introduction to Kichwa course, the Ecuadorian variant of Quechua, spoken throughout western South America. Through his study abroad programs, Appalachian students have worked with a women’s cooperative promoting community tourism and studied local development models, while learning more about indigenous culture.

In fall 2012, he was selected to be a visiting research scholar in Princeton University’s Program in Latin America, the first U.S. scholar to be selected at that rank in a decade. While there, he worked on a comparative ethnography on indigenous mobilization related to environmental issues in Guatemala and Ecuador. In addition to holding joint appointments in the Department of Anthropology and Office of Population Research, he taught a seminar called Politics of Ethnicity in Latin America.

“I am so grateful that Appalachian supports faculty who pursue fellowships such as this. It shows that we value not only teaching, but research as well,” he said.

Prior to joining Appalachian, Smith taught at University of Illinois and University of South Florida and had visiting appointments at Harvard University and Columbia University. In 2012, he received Appalachian’s William Strickland Outstanding Young Scholar Award and in 2015 he was inducted into Appalachian’s College of Arts and Sciences Academy of Outstanding Teachers.

“That’s one of the wonderful things about Appalachian. We have a teacher/scholar model born out of the belief that teaching is lacking if one doesn’t have those research experiences.”

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