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The Professor Is In: Matthew Bolton

News Story

This month, we sat down with Professor Matthew Bolton and learned a little bit about international treaty research, Amy Winehouse, the International Disarmament Institute, and surfing history.

Professors are the lifeblood of Pace. As such, we want the world to know what some of our faculty’s brightest minds are working on, thinking about, and of course, who they would have over for a dinner party. This month, we talked to Associate Professor of Political Science Matthew Bolton, PhD. A 2017 Jefferson Award winner, Bolton is heavily involved in both student life and research, and is among the world’s brightest minds when it comes to an increasingly relevant issue, nuclear disarmament.

You’re the Director of Pace’s International Disarmament Institute. Tell Us About Its Aims.

The Institute is intended to generate research and ideas to feed into global policy debates in New York City and beyond about disarmament, arms control, and non-proliferation. We’re close to the UN at Pace, so we’re well placed to have a role in multi-lateral policymaking conversations about mitigating the human and environmental harm of weapons.

The Institute plays a role in disarmament education—raising awareness of students, policymakers, and the public of the impact of weapons and efforts to control them. Finally, we have a convening role; given our location, we at Pace have a space that we can bring people together to have important conversations.

Those are the three key elements of the institute—research, education, and convening. 

What Are You Working On Now?

This year I have been involved in the negotiations of a treaty banning nuclear weapons at the United Nations. The agreement was achieved in the beginning of July and will open for signature this month.

I studied the treaty drafts, researched relevant precedents in other treaties and provided analysis to advocacy groups, international organizations and governments on the implications of the text as it evolved. I focused primarily on a part of the treaty that obligates countries to provide assistance for victims of nuclear weapons use and testing and remediate contaminated environments.  I’m now starting to do some research on how this would be implemented.

The treaty is a really interesting one. It’s the first international treaty on nuclear weapons that mentions human rights, gender and the particular impact on indigenous peoples. The negotiations started from the point of view that governments don’t stop using weapons until they are stigmatized, until officials think that’s not what good people do, that’s not the sort of thing good people engage in. There’s a tradition in international law of declaring certain kinds of weapons inhumane, because they cause unacceptable suffering or are incapable of discriminating between non-combatants and combatants. Chemical weapons, biological weapons, landmines have been placed in this category by international law. Nuclear weapons were the only weapons of mass destruction that have not been so banned. This treaty does that with nuclear weapons. Even if the nuclear-armed states don’t sign the treaty, the treaty is building a norm, establishing a nascent custom that there are no good hands for nuclear weapons.

What’s Your Favorite Thing about Pace University?

My favorite thing about Pace is the wide variety of different kinds of people that we have in our community. It’s an interesting and diverse and exciting place to teach. I really like the students and the expansive scope of their experiences in the world—they and their families come from all over the world, from many different types of backgrounds and cultures.

I enjoy the ferment of the classroom of all these different ideas and people and views of the world. It’s a great place to teach international politics. 

What Three Things Would You Bring to a Desert Island?

  • >> I get very bored if I don’t have books. I would need to have a book that would be fun, but have some depth to it so I can read it more than once. Maybe Don Quixote.
  • >> I’m trying to learn to surf. That’s going quite slowly, but maybe I’ll have a surfboard. That’ll make my island stay more enjoyable.
  • >> A pen. I love to write and maybe I would feel like I had some time and space to do it! I guess I would have to write on bark or something. Of course, you haven’t said there aren’t other people already living on the island...maybe I could borrow some paper from them or exchange it for some political science classes!  

If You Could Invite Any Four People to a Dinner Party, Living or Dead, Who Would They Be?

Duke Kahanamoku—A Hawaiian Olympic gold medalist in swimming who popularized surfing. I live in Rockaway, there’s actually a street named after him out here. I find it fascinating that there is this symbolic link between New York City’s surfing beach and Hawaii. Surf culture has so often been white-washed, I think it is important to consider its roots in indigenous culture.

Hannah Arendt—I find her a bracing thinker, and even though she was writing about political issues that are now in the past, she still seems fresh and relevant. Her foresight is quite chilling, about the dangers of nationalism, racism and prejudice, about politics based on exclusion and marginalization of people.

Amy Winehouse—I find her music really interesting. When I was in graduate school in London I lived in Camden, the neighborhood where she lived and often performed. She was very much in the airwaves while I was working my way through my master’s degree and PhD.

Ngugi Wa Thiong’o—I went to Kenya as a volunteer during a summer in college. It really reshaped my thinking about international politics. I’ve really been wrestling with trying to understand the impact of (I’m half-British, half-American) British colonialism in Kenya. Ngugi’s novels have forced me to think carefully about that legacy. He really ought to have the Nobel Prize in literature, I think it’s a scandal that he doesn’t.  

I think there would be a lot of very intense dynamics. I would be a little worried about how the dinner party would go, but it would be an engaging evening! 

If you would like to recommend a professor for next month's issue, please email Opportunitas@pace.edu.