082: Matthew Connelly, 39


Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

82: Matthew Connelly, 1-28-08

Basic Facts

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 andMatthew Connelly JPG 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.
Additional Info:
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.

Personal Anecdote

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

  • Some scientists argue that we should consider humanity like any other species, because natural selection and “selfish genes” provide the basis for human behavior, whether sexuality, or aggression, or altruism. History
    Fatal Misconception JPGwill eventually be revealed as nothing but a specialized branch of biology, explaining particular wars or sexual revolutions but not war or sexism as such. They even suggest that they might be able to apply their insights to mold human behavior for the better. In fact, such arguments only provide further proof that “sociobiologists” have it backwards: our biology is becoming a branch of history, subject to human will and human error. Whether we understand this history or choose to ignore it, especially eugenics and other attempts to improve human populations, will help determine how this happens. If humanity tries to remake itself once again, repeating the errors of the past will prove all the more unforgivable.
    (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

  • This is history written from the heart. The story it tells is of misplaced benevolence at best and biological totalitarianism at worst. Deeply researched and elegantly written, it is a disturbing, angry, combative, and important book, one which raises issues we ignore at our peril. — Jay Winter, Yale University reviewing “Fatal Misconception The Struggle to Control World Population”
  • Matthew Connelly bravely and eloquently explores the dark underside of world population policies. It is a clarion call to respect individuals’ freedom to make their own reproductive choices. — William Easterly, author of “The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good” reviewing “Fatal Misconception The Struggle to Control World Population”
  • One of the most gifted historians of his generation has given us an exciting and thought-provoking new way to understand the making of the ever-globalizing world of today. — Akira Iriye, author of “Global Community: The Role of International Organizations in the Making of the Contemporary World” reviewing “Fatal Misconception The Struggle to Control World Population”
  • Connelly raises the most profound political, social, and moral questions. His history reveals that the difference between population control and birth control is indeed that between coercion and choice. — Mahmood Mamdani, author of “Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror” reviewing “Fatal Misconception The Struggle to Control World Population”
  • This is a superb global history. By focusing on NGOs and transnational networks, the United Nations and nation states, Connelly has given us an important new way of seeing world politics. — Emily Rosenberg, University of California, Irvine reviewing “Fatal Misconception The Struggle to Control World Population”
  • “A brilliant volume of analysis, careful research, elegant writing, and the sensitive inclusion of multiple source materials ranging from demographic statistics to propaganda films.” — International Journal of African Historical Studies review of “A Diplomatic Revolution Algeria’s Fight for Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era”
  • “A Diplomatic Revolution offers a fascinating argument based on a variety of multilingual and multi-archival sources that reflect the national discourse of the nations involved.” — African Studies Review review of “A Diplomatic Revolution Algeria’s Fight for Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era”
  • “An ambitious book that succeeds admirably in its argument…. In scope, and persuasiveness, A Diplomatic Revolution is unlikely to be surpassed as the best book about the Algerian revolution for many years to come.” — Journal of Cold War Studies review of “A Diplomatic Revolution Algeria’s Fight for Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era”
  • “A. J.P. Taylor observed that historians ‘talk so much about profound forces in order to avoid doing the detailed A Diplomatic Revolution JPGwork’ (p 141) Connelly is not one of them. His multiarchival research is impressive, especially his pioneering work in the recently available Algerian records. Above all, he has taken an innovative analytical approach, an engaging alternative to traditional diplomatic historiography.” — The International History Review review of “A Diplomatic Revolution Algeria’s Fight for Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era”
  • “In concentrating on the international dimension, Connelly weaves into his story the changing roles of the United States, Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia; the ebb and flow of FLN relations with the soviet bloc; and much more.” — Foreign Affairs review of “A Diplomatic Revolution Algeria’s Fight for Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era”
  • “Connelly’s book is not a comprehensive history of the Algerian war, but a meticulous reconstruction of the global environment in which it occurred. By recasting the Algerian revolution as a contest between competeing ‘transnational systems’ he has shined a welcome new light on a struggle that has long been treated, for practical purposes, as an episode in the history of Fance and its empire, without suficient reference to the rest of the world, whose interests were most decidedly in play.” — Strategic Insights review of “A Diplomatic Revolution Algeria’s Fight for Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era”
  • “This extensively researched study will provide extremely valuable information to scholars of decolonization, and represents a major contribution to the history of what one of the belligerent parties, France, only officially recognized as a war in October 1999.” — Journal of Military History review of “A Diplomatic Revolution Algeria’s Fight for Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era”

Posted on Sunday, January 27, 2008 at 10:50 PM

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