Maine native pursues his passion for history and applauds the College’s faculty and leadership

College historian Earl H. Smith loves Colby and all the opportunities it bestows upon the students who attend. Smith has been an involved member of the Colby community for forty years.

Smith is a Waterville native who attended the University of Maine at Orono and majored in journalism. After graduating, Smith took a job at Colby as an assistant news photographer. After years of working in the College’s News Department, he became the first Director of Student Activities on the Hill in 1968. Smith continued to hold many different administrative positions, including Dean of the College, Secretary of the Corporation and Executive Assistant to three different Presidents.

Smith shows his love for the College when talking about the distinguishing factors of the school, especially how the quality of the teachers at was “out of this world.” For example, he cited the John J. and Cornelia V. Gibson Professor of History and current Head of the Colby History Department Elizabeth D. Leonard as one of the best historians he has ever met: “I will tell you what makes Colby special: it’s people like Elizabeth Leonard….She’s a real scholar and historian….She is a very well respected Civil War historian. She’s a star,” Smith said. He also called Audrey Wade Hittinger Katz and Sheldon Toby Katz Professor of History Raffael M. Scheck one of the best lecturers the College has had. He called Scheck a “first-rate…historian,” and said, “I love to hear him talk. I just love his mannerisms. He’s got a real sense of humor.”

Smith also discussed the stability of the institution and the many ways in which the Presidents from the past 80 years have impacted the school. He credited Bob Strider with “[putting] Colby on the map” and Bill Cotter with “[building] twenty buildings in twenty years.” During Cotter’s time at Colby, “The place grew and the academic program grew,” said Smith. “And then Bro Adams…carried it forward,” Smith added.

Before his many administrative positions at Colby, Smith was a reporter for the Bangor Daily News. Smith’s passion for studying and learning about history stemmed from his fascination and belief that in order to move forward in this world, one must know about history. Smith feels that “one should know something about the person whose name is above the door of your dormitory.”

Smith’s love for history and writing eventually led him to write two different historical books about the College. The first, titled Mayflower Hill, gives an overview of the history of the College from its humble beginning in downtown Waterville to the early 2000s. After publishing Mayflower Hill in 2004, Smith went on to write a history about the Colby College Museum of Art, titled With the Help of Friends, in 2009.

Smith used many different sources for his two histories of the College. He used everything from old documents and previous Colby President’s files to phone interviews with a variety of people related to the College, such as alumni, faculty and peers. “Sort of like the Presidents of the United States, when they left, the [College Presidents] didn’t take their files with them. Therefore, they were removed from the office and stored. So, the files from [Presidents] Bixler and Strider and Cotter were in file cabinets,” Smith said.

“The problem is they had been improperly stored, so some of them were kind of shaky….I’ve spent six months going through those files one by one….[It was a] little bit like digging for gold. A lot of them were crap. You know, budgets from 1964. But, the correspondents in those files shed light on what I was going to write about,” Smith said.

Smith is now enjoying retirement. However, he continues to be involved with the College as its official historian. Smith also recently wrote two works of fiction, the first titled The Dam Committee with a sequel called More Dam Trouble.

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