CSER new Director: Professor Matthew Connelly

15 May 2023

We are pleased to announce that from July 2023, Professor Matthew Connelly will be director of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge. Matthew Connelly is a professor of international and global history at Columbia University, and for the last seven years has been co-director of its social science research centre, the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy.

Connelly comes with significant experience leading successful interdisciplinary initiatives focused on understanding and mitigating global catastrophic risk. From 2009-2013, Connelly directed the Hertog Global Strategy Initiative, a research program on the history and future of planetary threats, including nuclear war, pandemics, and climate change. Since then, Connelly has been the principal investigator of History Lab, a project that uses data science to analyse state secrecy, with a focus on intelligence, surveillance, and weapons of mass destruction. Connelly has taught courses on “The History and Future of Pandemic Threats and Global Public Health”, “The History of the End of the World”, and “The Future as History”. He has frequently co-taught and co-authored articles with leading experts on pandemics, nuclear weapons, climate change, and religious violence.

“His distinguished career--combining the perspective of an eminent historian with sustained and effective involvement in policy issues--should enable him to offer a major stimulus to CSER's wide-ranging work."

Martin Rees, co-founder of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, Astronomer Royal and Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics at the University of Cambridge.

Connelly has significant policy experience. He served as a consultant for the Gates Foundation, the World Bank, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). For DHS, he joined a multi-disciplinary team responsible for forecasting long-range threats to critical infrastructure. Connelly has also testified before Congress on population policy, and has advised Senate committees on policies to protect national security information. 

Connelly is currently working on a book about “the history of the end of the world”, which will analyse how big institutions have predicted and prepared for the most catastrophic threats. In February 2023, he published The Declassification Engine: What History Reveals about America’s Top Secrets, which narrates the rise and fall of America’s national secrecy complex, and explains how and why it cannot be trusted to protect truly dangerous information. Connelly’s 2008 Fatal Misconception is a critical account of the movement to stop the “population explosion”. It was an Economist and Financial Times book of the year, published at a time when experts were warning of Malthusian famines. Instead, fertility rates have fallen, and even China has abandoned its one-child policy.

His publications also include A Diplomatic Revolution: Algeria's Fight for Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era, which won five prizes. Connelly received his B.A. from Columbia in 1990 after spending a year reading history at Cambridge, and went on to earn his Ph.D. from Yale in 1997. Since then, he has been a professor at the University of Michigan and the London School of Economics, and has also held visiting positions at the University of Oslo, the University of Sydney, the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, and the Fundação Getulio Vargas in Rio de Janeiro. Connelly has written research articles in Nature-Human Behaviour, the Annals of Applied Statistics, Comparative Studies in Society and History, The International Journal of Middle East Studies, The American Historical Review, The Review française d'histoire d'Outre-mer, the Journal of Global History, and Past & Present. He has also provided commentary on international affairs for The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and Le Monde, and has hosted documentaries for BBC Radio.

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