tags: Top Young Historians
Matthew Connelly, 39
Teaching Position: Associate Professor of History, Columbia University.
Director, Columbia University and London School of Economics MA Program in International and World History
Area of Research: International and Global history.
Education: Ph.D., Department of History, Yale University, 1997
Major Publications: Connelly is the author of A Diplomatic Revolution: Algeria’s Fight for Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era (OUP, 2002) which won the 2002 American Historical Association George Louis Beer Prize and the Paul Birdsall Prize in European military and strategic history, 2003 Bernath Prize of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, and was the co-winner of the 2003 Akira Iriye International History Book Award. His next book, “Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population,” will be published by Harvard University Press in 2008.
Connelly is also the author of numerous scholarly journal articles, book chapters and reviews that have appeared in Comparative Studies in Society and History, The International Journal of Middle East Studies, The American Historical Review, The Review fran çaise d’histoire d’ Outre-mer, and Past & Present. They include among others: "The Cold War and the Longue Durée: Global Migration, Public Health, and Population Control," Cambridge History of the Cold War, ed. Melvyn P. Leffler and Odd Arne Westad (New York: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming.); "AHR Conversation: On Transnational History," The American Historical Review 111 (December 2006): 1440-1464; "Seeing Beyond the State: The Population Control Movement and the Problem of Sovereignty," Past & Present 193 (December 2006); "Population Control in India: Prologue to the Emergency Period," Population and Development Review 32 (November 2006); "To Inherit the Earth: Imagining World Population, from the Yellow Peril to the Population Bomb," Journal of Global History 1 (November 2006); "Population Control is History: New Perspectives on the International Campaign to Limit Population Growth," Comparative Studies in Society and History 45 (Winter 2003): 122-147, and "Rethinking the Cold War and Decolonization: The Grand Strategy of the Algerian War for Independence," The International Journal of Middle East Studies 33 (May 2001): 221-245.
Awards: Connelly is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Sovern Fellowship, The American Academy in Rome, 2007;
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Fellowship, 2006-2007;
Akira Iriye International History Book Award, Foundation for Pacific Quest, 2004;
Edgar S. Furniss Book Award in National and International Security, The Mershon Center, Ohio State University, 2004;
Guggenheim Fellowship, Guggenheim Foundation, 2003-2004;
Stuart L. Bernath Book Prize, Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, 2003;
George Louis Beer Book Prize for European international history since 1895, American Historical Association, 2003;
Paul Birdsall Book Prize for European military and strategic history since 1870, American Historical Association, 2003;
Institute for the Humanities Faculty Fellowship, University of Michigan, 2000-2001;
Ludolph Junior Faculty Development Award, University of Michigan, 1999, 2001;
Rackham Summer Grant and Fellowship, University of Michigan, 1998, 2001;
Honorable Mention for Bernath Article Prize, Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, 2001;
Summer Stipend and Grant, Environmental Change and Security Project, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 2000;
Arthur and Mary Wright Prize, Yale University, 1998;
Whiting Fellowship in the Humanities, Yale University, 1996-1997;
Research Grant, MacArthur Foundation and International Security Studies (ISS), Yale University, 1996.
Connelly has also published commentary on international affairs in The Atlantic Monthly and The National Interest. He is formerly Assistant Professor, Department of History and Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan, 1997-2001.
Once, frustrated with a grant application, I turned to my roommate to complain that I could not possibly narrate in a thousand words how my "intellectual development" led me to my dissertation topic. I was living in France, in genteel poverty, convinced that I had just discovered that the Fifth Republic was the unintended consequence of a long-secret diplomatic crisis. But there had been a lot of false starts, digressions, and dead ends along the way. My friend sagely counseled that I should not be so literal-minded. After all, the night was young, and Paris beckoned. The readers did not expect introspection, even if their question appeared to demand it. The grant essay, he explained, was a "necessary fiction."
I've described my work many times since then, and I've often recalled that phrase. As historians, we are not supposed to traffic in fiction. And yet we can scarcely survive if our stories do not seem compelling, especially the stories we tell about ourselves. The topics we take up are often a matter of happenstance - in my case, the fact that my first graduate research seminar was on the end of empires, and I had just seen a film called The Battle of Algiers. But over the years, after countless grant applications, I learned to call my decision to study national liberation movements in North Africa "strategic." And rather than admit that I was as surprised as anyone at the way they foreshadowed contemporary "clashes of civilizations," I decided that, all along, I had been exploring the origins of the post-Cold War era.
Of course, many explorers discover things by accident, whether or not they admit it. When they return people want them to provide maps, and not send them on the same misadventures. But I wonder whether, as professors, we lead our students astray when we present our life's work as a series of "projects," as if our lives depended on them. Is it not our life stories that often lead us to a particular subject, and personal idiosyncrasies that make us feel passionate about it? Why then have we come to expect that even those applying to start a graduate program in history should already have a "project" of their own?
In my own case, I was almost finished with my book about the Algerian War for Independence before I realized why, all along, I had an abiding affinity for the rebels. I was interviewing one of them when he started to tell me about how he and his compatriots had learned from the history of Ireland's struggle against Britain. I recalled how, like many children of Irish immigrants, I had grown up listening to rebel songs and developed a romantic kind of nationalism, one that was uncomplicated by a deeper knowledge of the country and its history. If a student now came to me with a similar realization, I would be worried for them. But I have no doubt that my own inchoate and unacknowledged feelings helped me remain committed to pursuing my work wherever it led me - to Tunis, to Cairo, to Algiers - and making my readers care about it as much as I did.
These realizations seem self-evident in retrospect. But writing too many "necessary fictions" can make us forget our own life stories. When I set out to research my second book, a history of the population control movement, I was sure it was because it would help show how and why people divide the world between "us" and "them." By the time I was done with it, I could argue that international and nongovernmental organizations had taken up the unfinished work of empires and created new forms of unaccountable power - in this case, controlling populations rather than territory. But when I presented this conclusion to audiences people would ask me, unbelieving, why I was so passionate about population control. As the youngest of eight children, part of a generation Paul Ehrlich called The Population Bomb, it was obvious why I might feel a personal stake in this history, even if it took me years to realize it.
Perhaps there is already too much navel-gazing among the professoriate. Self-important professors sometimes forget that, if we have an audience beyond academia, it is not for our life stories - everybody's got one - it is because we claim to have something new and important to say. But for most of us, that is only because we have spent our lives thinking about it, driven in ways even we do not always understand. That is why those who would think to follow us really had better pursue their own passions.
By Matthew Connelly
(Reprinted electronically by permission of the publisher from the forthcoming title FATAL MISCONCEPTION: THE STRUGGLE TO CONTROL WORLD POPULATION by Matthew Connelly, Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 2008 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.) Matthew Connelly in "Fatal Misconception The Struggle to Control World Population"
About Matthew Connelly
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