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Bob Neer

What I Learned Teaching Contemporary Civilization to 194 Columbia Undergraduates

2017-18 CUSP Distinguished Speaker Series - Core Connections

Wednesday, November 8, 2017
6:15–8:15 p.m.
Davis Auditorium

Bob Neer guided 194 Columbia undergraduates along Contemporary Civilization’s (CC) arduous intellectual path during a five-year span in which he taught 16 sections of the legendary course. Along the way, he graded hundreds of essays and thousands of midterm and final examination questions, and spent about 800 classroom hours discussing the texts with his students. In this talk he will share what he learned about how to read for the course, engage in classroom discussions, write CC essays, and answer examination questions.


Bob Neer is a historian, attorney, and entrepreneur. His historical research examines the intersection of U.S. military power, economic and cultural globalization, and international law in the 20th and 21st centuries. His book, Napalm: An American Biography, the first comprehensive history of the incendiary weapon, was published in 2013 by the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press to overwhelmingly positive reviews. He has been interviewed in many newspapers and magazines, NPR affiliates WBUR and WGBH Radio, Irish Radio, Russian television network RT Global, CNBC Asia, and numerous other media outlets.
He has taught a summer course for the Columbia University History Department, Empire of Liberty: A Global History of the U.S. Military, multiple times since 2012. He was a Core Lecturer in History and taught Contemporary Civilization at Columbia from 2011-2014. He taught at Columbia as a Preceptor, a John Jay Graduate Fellow for the Columbia Undergraduate Scholars Program, and a Teaching Assistant for the History Department, between 2006 and 2011. He was nominated by the History Department for the Columbia Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching by a Graduate Student, and received the TOMS Core Faculty Fellow award for excellence in teaching in 2013-2014.

Neer received his U.S. History Ph.D. in 2011, his M.Phil in 2007, and his J.D. and M.A. degrees in 1991, all from Columbia. The History Department awarded him the Helen Lehman Buttenwieser Fellowship. The Parker School of Foreign and Comparative Law at Columbia Law School granted him a Recognition of Achievement with Honors in International and Foreign Law.

Between 1991 and 2005, he founded, developed and sold media businesses in London, Los Angeles, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Boston, worked for the Howard Dean and John Kerry presidential campaigns, and served as Campaign Manager for Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti’s successful first run for the office. He is a member of the State Bar of California. 

Between college and graduate school, he studied Southeast Asian politics at the National University of Singapore as a Fulbright Scholar, worked as a fund manager for the Lazard Asia investment firm in Hong Kong, wrote freelance news and travel articles for a variety of periodicals including The Boston Globe and The Asian Wall Street Journal, and traveled to all seven continents. Neer graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1986 with a major in U.S. History.

Neer is a co-founder, co-editor and frequent contributor to, the most widely read independent political blog in New England, with about 1.25 million unique annual readers. In 2007, he wrote Barack Obama for Beginners: An Essential Guide, distributed by Random House: the best-selling title in the 23-year history of its publisher For Beginners books. An expanded and revised second edition followed in 2009. A licensee published a translation of the book in Russian.

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