Wilson Center Projects
"The Problem of Prevision"
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.
B.A. (1990) History, Columbia University; Ph.D. (1997) History, Yale University
Algeria,Counter-insurgency,History,Population and Demography
- Associate Professor of History, Columbia University, 2002-present
- Assistant Professor of History and Public Policy, University of Michigan, 1997-2001
History of counter-insurgency, imperialism and occupation; international politics of population
- "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