Wilson Center Experts

Matthew Connelly

Fellow
History and Public Policy Program

Expertise:
History
Affiliation:
Associate Professor of History, Columbia University
Wilson Center Project(s):
"The Problem of Prevision"
Term:
Sep 01, 2006
-
May 01, 2007

Over the last decade I have been seeking new ways to understand the historical origins of contemporary world politics. Most scholars, trained to focus on great power rivalries, assume that the challenges posed by religious nationalism, ethnic conflict, and environmental change mark the start of a new era. In fact, recent events merely revealed deeper continuities with the more distant past, though to see them requires a more global perspective. Long before the end of the Cold War, demographic trends, environmental scarcities, new media, and international and non-governmental organizations were combining to cause radical change of a recognizably new kind. Moreover, contemporaries could display an uncanny appreciation of the problems this would create in their future, and our present. Some understood the end of European empires as an episode in a continuing "clash of civilizations," and that specter still haunts North-South relations. Similarly, movements to control the fertility of poor people and poor countries were driven by concern over who would inherit the earth. Their opponents instead viewed contraception as empowering, especially for women, a power that Margaret Sanger called "the pivot of civilization." The present population of the world - its density and distribution, ethnic and religious composition, balance, or imbalance, between men and women - is the fruit of these struggles. The future, in other words, what people expect from it, and what they do about it, has a history that can help us understand our own time. During my year at the Woodrow Wilson Center, I will launch a new phase in my research. For my third book, I intend to focus squarely on the problem of prevision, trace its evolution over time, and determine how its many permutations have affected contemporary affairs. While historians do not claim to be able to predict the future, we may be able to help people think about the future in more sophisticated ways. The very attempt can help us become better historians and communicate our ideas to a broader public.
 

Education

B.A. (1990) History, Columbia University; Ph.D. (1997) History, Yale University
 

Subjects

Algeria,Counter-insurgency,History,Population and Demography
 

Experience

  • Associate Professor of History, Columbia University, 2002-present
  • Assistant Professor of History and Public Policy, University of Michigan, 1997-2001

Expertise

History of counter-insurgency, imperialism and occupation; international politics of population

Project Summary

This project explores the historical origins of contemporary world politics. Events of the "post-Cold War era" revealed continuities with the more distant past, though seeing them requires a more global perspective. After having written a case study of the impact of globalizing trends on particular countries during the Cold War, then a history of the global response to one of the most important among them - population growth and movement - I will now examine the very idea of historical trends, and the idea that they can be projected into the future. The book would broaden the historical study of prevision beyond the literature and popular culture of a handful of societies. It would seek to explain how and why a fascination with the future has become a global phenomenon with global impact.

Major Publications

  • "Seeing Beyond the State: The Population Control Movement and the Problem of Sovereignty," Past & Present, forthcoming.
  • A Diplomatic Revolution: Algeria's Fight for Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002; paperback edition 2003)
  • "Taking off the Cold War Lens: Visions of North-South Conflict During the Algerian War for Independence," The American Historical Review 105 (June 2000): 739-769

Related Content for this Expert

EMAIL UPDATES

Stay in Touch

Are you a Wilson Center alumnus? We want to hear about your latest move, award or project. Please send us your news at alumni@wilsoncenter.org.