Timothy Nunan is a scholar of international and global history. Combining international history methods with the toolkit of area studies, his work looks at how actors from the former Soviet Union, Iran, and Afghanistan have sought to challenge the Western-dominated world order. Since October 2016, he works as an Assistant Professor (Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter) at the Center for Global History at the Free University of Berlin. His position and current research is funded by a Freigeist Fellowship from the Volkswagen Foundation. In 2020, he was awarded with the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize, the major prize for early-career researchers of the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft).
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 & Afghanistan. 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. A Russian-language translation of this book was published with Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie in 2022 thanks to the generous support of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG).
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 provisionally titled Islamist Internationalism Between the Cold War and Decolonization. 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 the emergence of political Islam on the world stage. This is all the more surprising, since Islamism (in all of its diverse forms) represented the most potent ideological challenge to American liberalism or Soviet Marxism-Leninism to emerge from the Third World. Drawing on materials in Persian, Arabic, and Russian, Nunan’s project explores how Islamist intellectuals understood the Cold War and sought to overcome it through alternative visions of internationalism. Focusing on Shi’a Islamist actors, Nunan’s research explores how clerics and activists articulated visions for “global Islam” or “the globalization of Islam”—and how these clashed with other visions of Islamist internationalism. The project thus helps us see religious internationalisms alongside other projects of “South-South” integration, such as socialist internationalism, Afro-Asianism or Pan-Arabism. Nunan continued work on this project during a subsequent year at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies in 2015-2016 prior to his current appointment at the Free University of Berlin.
As these projects at the intersection of area studies and global history demonstrate, Timothy 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.
From 2014–2017, Timothy was the Executive Director of the Toynbee Prize Foundation, where he ran the Global History Forum, interviewing other historians on global and international history. An archive of his interviews from his tenure at the Toynbee Prize Foundation is available at the Writings page. Since 2017, he is a co-editor of the Columbia Series in Global and International History along with Dominic Sachsenmaier and Cemil Aydin; since 2018, he is a member of the Editorial Collective of the journal Humanity along with Ayça Çubukçu, Tobias Kelly, Angela Naimou, Vasuki Nesiah, and Jessica Whyte.