The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Charles Tilly, 1929-2008

May 1, 2008

Some of our readers may have been wondering about the small flurry of Chuck Tilly posts in the last few weeks. Not long before then, many of his friends, colleagues, and former advisees learned for the first time that he was, once again, facing severe medical problems related to his lymphoma. Chuck subsequently moved to a hospice so as to maximize his comfort. He died yesterday morning.

A few academic bloggers have begun to write memorial posts. Kieran has a nice summary of the breadth of Chuck’s work at Crooked Timber,and more detail on his methodological writings can be found at Johann Peter Murman’s weblog (via Mary L. Dudziak). Kieran’s post also reminded me to put up a picture.

We are still waiting for Columbia’s official announcement Lee Bolinger issued a statement on Chuck’s passing; the official Columbia obituary has circulated on amsoc, but I can’t find it online yet appeared (thanks Laleh); a number of those whose lives he attended conducted a vigil outside his office yesterday evening, and word just went out over the contentious politics listerv that the vigil will continue tonight.

Please do not extend condolences to me in comments; I only knew him for a brief time, and, in my view, such remarks should only really be directed towards his family and closest friends. He had literally hundreds of advisees.

I’m not quite ready to write an in memoriam post, and I’m not yet sure I will. So in lieu of that, I’m going to post an excerpt from the acknowledgments section of my forthcoming book. It is written in the present tense; obviously, that will have to change.

I find it difficult to express the scope of my gratitude to the Ira Katznelson, Jack Snyder, Wayne te Brake, and Chuck Tilly. Each, as the phrase goes, is a real mensch.


What can I possibly say about Chuck Tilly that an endless number of his students and peers have not already written in their prefaces? I hope the others I thank will take no offense if I describe him as the most powerful intellect I have ever encountered in the social sciences. I expect that people will still be reading and debating his enormous and varied corpus of work for decades to come. Yet Chuck treats all of his students as members of an intellectual community of equals. He seeks out their opinions; he discusses his own views with humility and an open mind.

Chuck carefully and quickly read everything I sent him—his rapid turnaround of others’ work, like Jack’s, is legendary—and never imposed his views upon me. Instead, Chuck would make subtle suggestions that, once I worked through them, had profound implications for my research. If he sensed a contradiction or tension in my arguments, he would never tell me how to resolve it. Instead, he’d alert me to it and explain that I needed to make a decision about which interpretation I wanted to pursue. I know that my penchant for endless discussion—of ideas, of personal challenges, and just about everything else—must have repeatedly strained his tolerance, but he never turned me away. I could not have hoped for a better mentor.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.