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Oral history interview with Alexander Cooley, 2017

Creator: Cooley, Alexander, 1972-
Project: Harriman Institute oral history collection.
(see all project interviews)
Phys. Desc. :Transcript: 75 pages
Location: Columbia Center for Oral History
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Biographical Note

Alexander Cooley is the Claire Tow Professor of Political Science at Barnard College and is Director of Columbia University's Harriman Institute (2016-). He has also served on Columbia University's Tenure Review Advisory Committee (2017-). Professor Cooley's research examines how external actors have shaped the development and sovereignty of the former Soviet states, with a focus on Central Asia and the Caucasus. He is author or editor of six academic books. In addition to his academic research, Cooley also serves in an advisory capacity to NGOs, including the Human Rights Watch. He has also contributed policy-related articles and opinion pieces to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy and The Washington Quarterly and he regularly provides commentary to international media outlets on Eurasia-related topics. Cooley earned both his M.A. (1995) and PhD (1999) in political science from Columbia University.

Scope and Contents

In the first session, Cooley explains how his father's career as a foreign correspondent inspired his own early interest in international affairs. He then describes his time at the Harriman Institute, gives an overview of his doctoral dissertation, details the academic atmosphere at Harriman, and discusses his interactions with former Institute Director Mark von Hagen. He discusses the various projects and research areas he has engaged over the course of his career and the complexities of policymaking influence in academia. He describes the impact on the Harriman Institute of former Institute Director Catherine Nepomnyashchy, the Directors since her death, and his own efforts and experiences in the role. In the second session, Cooley discusses the recent history and broad trends in attitudes towards human rights in the countries of the former Soviet Union, and the place of human rights studies at the Harriman Institute. He speaks to the rise of anti-Western and anti-liberal attitudes in Russia and many former Soviet republics, and the effect of the current climate of US-Russia relations on Harriman's work and function. Cooley outlines some projects and populations he would like to see taken up for study by Harriman in the future and discusses Harriman's partnership with the EurasiaNet blog. He then talks about continuing tension between functional studies and regional studies in Harriman's work, and Harriman's efforts to increase the relevance of its curriculum to the current institutional climate, such as including new methodologies in social sciences training. Cooley then reflects on his own experience as Harriman Institute director and the upcoming merger of the East Central Europe Center into Harriman.


Access Conditions

Copyright by the Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York, 2017.

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