Matthew Connelly is an American professor of international and global history at Columbia University in the city of New York. His areas of expertise include the global Cold War, official secrecy, population control, and decolonization. He is the author of Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population, A Diplomatic Revolution: Algeria's Fight for Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era, and articles on international and domestic politics for The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times, and The National Interest. Connelly is also the founder and principal investigator of History Lab.
Matthew Connelly earned his BA in history from Columbia University in 1990, before earning his doctorate from Yale University in 1997. His dissertation, “The Algerian War for Independence: An International History”, written under the supervision of Gaddis Smith, Paul Kennedy, and William Quandt, formed the basis for A Diplomatic Revolution. Prior to his appointment at Columbia University, he taught in the Department of History and Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. He has also been a visiting professor at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po), the University of Oslo, and the University of Sydney.
Connelly's research predominantly focuses on the history of the 20th century. His work employs novel and innovative approaches to historical study, including examining the past through a global or transnational lens, and applying data-mining techniques to historical research.
Connelly's first book, A Diplomatic Revolution: Algeria's Fight for Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era, examines the international diplomacy of Algerian independence. It is a revisionist account that analyzes the transnational networks through which Algerian statesman struggled for liberation, rather than adopting a traditional focus on the national aspects of the movement. Foreign Affairs magazine observes that "Connelly weaves into his story the changing roles of the United States, Gamal Abdel Nasser's Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia; the ebb and flow of FLN relations with the soviet bloc; and much more". A Diplomatic Revolution is notable in locating fundamental shifts in international society as occurring during the Algerian independence movement, arguing that "population growth, environmental scarcities, international institutions, new media, and, not least, the conscious agency of colonized peoples were already combining to cause radical change— of a recognizably new kind— when some might assume the international system was frozen into an ideological contest between East and West". The book has also been revised and translated into French as L'arme secrète du FLN: Comment de Gaulle a Perdu la Guerre d'Algérie.
Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population charts the history of global efforts to control population growth. The book documents the diverse and often disturbing methods used by countries, foundations, and organizations to control populations, particularly in the Global South. Helen Epstein of the New York Review of Books notes that "Though painful to read, [Fatal Misconception] contain[s] many valuable lessons for anyone who cares about making development programs work, both technically and politically.” Some reviewers express concern that the book's arguments might be appropriated by contemporary pro-life advocates. Nicholas Kristof, in a review for the New York Times, argues that "the family planning movement has corrected itself, and today it saves the lives of women in poor countries and is central to efforts to reduce poverty worldwide. If we allow that past to tarnish today’s efforts by family planning organizations, women in poor countries will be doubly hurt." Connelly emphasizes the importance of freedom of choice and individual rights in how we justify family planning. In an interview documented in Salon, he asserts that: "it’s important that we make our stand on reproductive rights when we’re arguing for family planning services, and for safe and legal access to abortion." Mahmood Mamdani, a professor of Government at the School of International and Public Affairs, says of Fatal Misconception, “Connelly raises the most profound political, social, and moral questions. His history reveals that the difference between population control and birth control is indeed that between coercion and choice.”
Connelly is also the principal investigator at History Lab, a collective of Columbia University data scientists and historians that apply data-mining techniques to historical documents. History Lab has aggregated the largest online database of declassified documents anywhere in the world, while developing tools for researchers to explore these documents. The project is also attempting to find a solution to the growing crisis in government declassification. In an article for the New York Times, Connelly and Richard Immerman observe that "in the late 1990s more than 200 million pages of documents were being declassified each year. Today, that figure has stagnated at around 30 million, despite a huge increase in classified data." History Lab hopes to develop tools to machine-assist the declassification process. This would improve the efficiency and security of declassification, while also providing academics and researchers more data to understand government policy. The New Yorker, in an article on the initiative, states that the "researchers hope the project will help illuminate the space between necessary secrets and over-caution."