Meet VCU's Authors: Ryan Smith, Ph.D

September 13, 2021

"Death and Rebirth in a Southern City: Richmond's Historic Cemeteries"

Richmond, Virginia, holds one of the most dramatic landscapes of death in the nation. In "Death and Rebirth in a Southern City," Ryan K. Smith offers the first comparative study of its cemeteries, ranging from the city's founding to the present with a focus on the various efforts made toward their preservation. Using a range of archival sources, interviews, and analysis of the sites themselves, Smith traces the disparities between those grounds that have preserved the legacies of privileged whites and those that have been worn away, dug up, and built over, undermining the memories of African Americans, indigenous tribes, and other challengers to the city's order. The book showcases the latest efforts to restore such threatened sites, pointing toward similar reclamation efforts underway across the South that promise to recast the memorial landscape. In this talk, Smith will give an overview of this changing landscape and highlight the role of community members and students in its rebirth.

Ryan K. Smith, Ph.D.

Ryan K. Smith, Ph.D., is a professor of history at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he has taught since 2004. He specializes in American religious history and material culture. He is the author of three books, the most recent of which is "Death and Rebirth in a Southern City: Richmond's Historic Cemeteries," published in 2020 by the Johns Hopkins University Press.

He received his M.A. in history at the College of William and Mary and his Ph.D. in American civilization at the University of Delaware. He is also the coordinator of two digital initiatives involving cemetery work—Richmond Cemeteries and The Judah Will.