Charles Tilly: 78, Writer and a Social Scientist, Is Dead

Historians in the News

Charles Tilly, a social scientist who combined historical interpretation and quantitative analysis in a voluminous outpouring of work to forge often novel intellectual interpretations — as when he compared nation states to protection rackets — died on Tuesday in the Bronx. He was 78

The cause was lymphoma, said John H. Tucker, a spokesman for Columbia University, where Dr. Tilly was the Joseph L. Buttenwieser Professor of Social Science.

Dr. Tilly mined immense piles of original documents for raw data and contemporary accounts — including municipal archives, unpublished letters and diaries — that he used to develop theories applicable to many contexts. A particular interest was the development of the nation state in Europe, which he suggested was partly a military innovation. In his 1990 book “Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 990-1990” (Blackwell), he argued that the increasingly large costs of gunpowder and large armies required big, powerful nation states with the power to tax.
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