Timothy Nunan

Timothy Nunan is a scholar of international and global history. His work focuses on the history of Russia and Eurasia–Central Asia, Iran, and Afghanistan–in an international context. He has received language and thematic training in both European, Russian, and Eurasian history; material and intellectual encounters across this space form one of his main areas of interest and expertise.   

Timothy received his intellectual training to this point at Princeton (A.B., 2008), the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen and the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, where he was a Fulbright Scholar from 2008-2009, and Corpus Christi College of the University of Oxford (M.Phil., 2011), where he was a Rhodes Scholar. After receiving a D.Phil. in History at Oxford, he began as a Harvard Academy Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies.

While at Harvard in 2013-2014, he re-wrote his dissertation into an academic monograph, entitled Humanitarian Invasion: Global Development in Cold War Afghanistan. The book examines the history of international development and humanitarianism in Afghanistan from roughly the beginning of the Cold War through to the rise of the Taliban. Based on archival research in several languages and dozens of interviews, Humanitarian Invasion follows the American hydrologists, German foresters, Soviet gas engineers, French doctors, and Swedish NGO activists who contested the transformation of the Afghan state from the mid-1950s to the early 1990s. The book seeks, in other words, to write the global history of development and humanitarianism through the prisms of the Soviet Union & Central Asia. Humanitarian Invasion is currently scheduled to appear in December 2015 as a monograph in the Global and International History Series of Cambridge University Press, edited by Erez Manela, John McNeill, and Aviel Roshwald.

During the 2014-2015 academic year, Timothy is a visiting scholar at the Zentralasien-Seminar of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. There, with the support of a fellowship from the Alexander-von-Humboldt Foundation, he is conducting research for a second book project titled Eurasian Crossings: The Soviet Union, the Left, and the Cold War’s Clash of Civilizations. Today, observers may be likely to associate the region imprecisely defined as “Eurasia” – roughly, the former Soviet Union plus Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan – more with religious fundamentalism, messianic foreign policy, and anti-Westernism than they are with socialism. Yet for much of the twentieth century, the region’s future seemed to tilt towards the Left. Iran once boasted one of the largest Communist Parties anywhere outside of Europe, while Afghanistan, disastrously, underwent one of the few socialist revolutions in the Muslim World. Since the 1980s, however, revisionists opposed to the Left in all of these countries staged a surprising comeback using discourses of civilizational clashes and authenticity. Eurasian Crossings seeks to reconstruct the processes binding the fall of the Left with the rise of counter-discourses of religious identitarianism in the region, situating the story in the global context of the shifting meanings of anti-imperialist politics. In 2015-2016, he will return to Harvard to resume the second year of his fellowship at the Harvard Academy.

In addition to working on these projects at the intersection of area studies and global history, Timothy also has a strong interest in the history of international thought. While supported by the Fulbright Scholarship in 2008-2009, he completed translations of several of Carl Schmitt’s most important inter-war works on war and international order. A collection of these works–complete with a critical introduction to Schmitt’s inter-war writings and an extensive scholarly apparatus–was published by Polity Press in 2011 as Writings on War.

Beyond his primary academic activities, Timothy is the Executive Director of the Toynbee Prize Foundation, where he runs the Global History Forum, interviewing other historians on global and international history.