Professor Smith offers courses on Chinese, East Asian, and comparative history, with a special focus on the social and cultural history of China from the tenth through the twentieth century. Recent courses include surveys of China in the mid-imperial (10th through 16th century) and late-imperial (17th through 20th century) eras, as well as seminars on warrior and outlaw sagas in China and Japan, modern Chinese political culture, and China’s place in global history.
Smith's scholarship is centered on the institutional, social, and cultural history of mid-imperial China, spanning the Song (960-1279), Yuan (1271-1368), and Ming (1368-1644) dynasties. He has written books and articles on state intervention in the Song economy, Chinese culture and society under Mongol rule, war and the northern frontier as a factor in political culture, and — most recently — on the great 16th century novel Shuihu zhuan (Water Margin) as a window onto the military subculture of North China from the 10th century onwards. In addition to co-editing Volume 5A of The Cambridge History of China, he is currently at work on a book project provisionally entitled "War and Political Culture in Mid-Imperial China: The Song Military and the Literati State."
- The Cambridge History of China Volume 5, Part 2: The Sung Dynasty and its Precursors, 907-1279, eds. Denis Twitchett and Paul Jakov Smith. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (In press)
- "Irredentism as Political Capital: The New Policies and the Annexation of Tibetan Domains in Hehuang (the Qinghai-Gansu Highlands) under Shenzong and his Sons, 1068 – 1126," in Patricia Ebrey and Maggie Bickford, eds., Emperor Huizong and Late Northern Song China (Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center, 2006), pp. 78-130.
- "Shuihu zhuan and the Military Subculture of the Northern Song, 960-1127," Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 66.2 (December 2006): 363-422.
- "The Eurasian Transformation of the 10th to 13th centuries: The View from the Song," in Johann Arneson and Bjorn Wittrock, eds., "Eurasian transformations, tenth to thirteenth centuries: Crystallizations, divergences, renaissances," a special edition of the journal Medieval Encounters (December 2004).
- The Song-Yuan-Ming Transition in Chinese History, eds. Paul Jakov Smith and Richard von Glahn (Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center, 2003).