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Michael Ignatieff

Director of Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard

Michael Ignatieff is an international scholar of human rights a novelist and from 2006––2011 had been a Canadian legislator rising to head of the Liberal Party in 2009. He lost his seat and resigned his leadership post in 2011 after the party’s wide election defeats. Before entering politics Ignatieff taught at the University of Toronto the University of British Columbia Cambridge University the London School of Economics the l’École des Hautes Études in Paris the University of California and finally at Harvard University.

Ignatieff was born in Toronto in 1947 the son of a diplomat. He graduated from the University of Toronto with a bachelor’s in history and then earned his doctorate at Harvard University. He eventually moved to England were he was elected a senior research fellow at King’s College Cambridge. While living in England he contributed popular programs to BBC television gaining praise for his series on nationalism in the twentieth century “Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism.” It aired in 1993 and later became a book (1994) that won the Lionel Gelber Award named for a Canadian diplomat and given for the best book on foreign policy.

Until 2005 Ignatieff had been the Carr Professor and Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. After resigning the Liberal Party in 2011 Ignatieff took a teaching position at Massey College a graduate school affiliated with the University of Toronto.

His seventeen books include works of nonfiction and fiction. His first work of fiction was Asya: A Novel (1991) followed by Scar Tissue (1993) which was short-listed for both the Booker Prize for Fiction and the Whitbread Novel Award both in England. His third novel is Charlie Johnson in the Flames (2003). Early in his career he wrote a memoir of his family’s migration A Russian Album (1987). His Massey Lectures for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation were published as The Rights Revolution (2000). Ignatieff’s several books on political topics include: American Exceptionalism and Human Rights editor (2005); Making States Work: State Failure and the Crisis of Governance editor (2005); Empire Lite: Nation-Building in Bosnia Kosovo and Afghanistan (2003); Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry (2001); Nationalism and Self-Determination: Is There an Alternative to Violence? (2000); Virtual War: Kosovo and Beyond (2000); Warrior’s Honor: Ethnic War and the Modern Conscience (1998); Isaiah Berlin: A Life (1998); Nineteen Nineteen (1985); Needs of Strangers (1984); Wealth and Virtue: The Shaping of Political Economy in the Scottish Enlightenment editor (1983); Just Measure of Pain: The Penitentiary in the Industrial Revolution 1750–1850 (1978); and Religion and International Affairs editor (1968).


  • —L. Witham