Tilly, Charles 1929–2008

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Tilly, Charles 1929–2008


See index for CA sketch: Born May 27, 1929, in Lombard, IL; died of lymphoma, April 29, 2008, in Bronx, NY. Historian, political scientist, sociologist, educator, administrator, editor, and author. Tilly was the champion of the startling theory that the evolution of the nation-state was the result of a circular and predictable set of events: namely, a leader/warlord/monarch exaggerates or even invents an external threat in order to declare war on it in order to extract tax revenues from the populace to fight the war to win the peace from the artificially induced threat. The part of the theory that raised the most eyebrows was the comparison of this practice among nation-states to a gangland protection racket. It was only one of many original and novel conclusions that Tilly reached by combining his expertise as a social scientist, historian, and political analyst into a single research project. He was a highly productive and apparently restless individual who taught for brief periods at many prestigious institutions, including Princeton and Harvard Universities in the 1960s and the New School for Social Research in the 1980s. His career ended at Columbia University, where he was the Joseph L. Buttenweiser Professor of Social Science at the time of his death. Tilly chaired prominent research facilities around the world, and he wrote fifty or more books in a forty-year career. Much of his research was concerned less with the "who, what, where, and when" of a topic than with the question central to several of his books: "why?" That, in fact, is the subject of his 2006 book of the same title, in which he explores why people answer that question in the ways that they do. Tilly based his hypotheses on far-ranging interdisciplinary research: sources could range from original accounts, diaries, and local archives to literary references and overheard conversations. Subject matter could encompass national and global events or personal incidents as individual as how people defend themselves and criticize others, as in Credit and Blame (2008). Tilly received many awards for his originality and his scholarship, including the Albert O. Hirschman Award of the Social Science Research Council in 2000. Tilly's work has been difficult to compartmentalize because of its breadth. Examples can be found in the books The Contentious French (1986), Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 990-1990 (1990), The Dynamics of Contention (2001), and Regimes and Repertoires (2006).



Chicago Tribune, May 4, 2008, sec. 4, p. 8.

New York Times, May 2, 2008, p. A19.