Biography

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 was published in February 2016 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 was 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 began conducting research for a second book project titled The Cold War’s Clash of Civilizations: The Soviet Union, the Left, and the Islamic World. The conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union has long been understood in an international context, but little is known about the ways in which the Cold War shaped and transformed the superpowers’ relationship to political Islam. This is all the more surprising, since whether in its Shi’a revolutionary form in Iran, or its Sunni national and global iterations pioneered, respectively, by Afghan and Arab Islamists in Afghanistan, political Islam represented the most potent ideological challenge to American liberalism, Soviet Marxism-Leninism, and Maoism to emerge from the Third World. The Cold War’s Clash of Civilizations examines the relationship of the Soviet Union and its allied left-wing and secularist allies toward political Islam in the twentieth century, engaging in present-day debates about concepts like “Europe,” secularism,” and “the Islamic world” through the unexpected lens of the Soviet Union, an officially atheistic superpower that ruled over more Muslims than all but five other countries. The Cold War’s Clash of Civilizations explores this hidden pre-history of our present moment, exploring how many Islamist groups that we today recognize as primarily anti-American began their ideological careers as anti-socialist and anti-Soviet. They had good reason to do so, since Soviet allies  crushed Sunni Islamists in Syria and Iraq, Soviet military deployments to the region outnumbered American ones until 1991, and Soviet-backed Marxists ruled South Yemen and Afghanistan.

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.