Melissa Byrnes

Associate Professor of History

Areas of expertise
  • Modern European History, 
  • France and the French Empire,
  • Migration,
  • Human Rights,
  • Humanitarianism




PhD, Georgetown University 2008
MSFS, Georgetown University 2003
BA, Amherst College 2000


ACLS Mellon Early Career Fellow
American Council of Learned Societies
June 01, 2009 - June 01, 2010

Visiting Assistant Professor
Southwestern University
August 01, 2008 - May 01, 2009

Teaching Philosophy

I believe strongly in a rigorous, interactive, and Socratic classroom environment. My courses confront issues that have been hotly debated for centuries; my goal, therefore, is to provide my students with a vocabulary and an analytical framework that allow them to grapple with these questions on their own. I expect them, in many cases, to leave my class with more open questions than they arrived with—my job is to complicate their understandings of the world, to break down preconceptions and easy assumptions. As I often remind my students, I care far more about how they think than what they know.

Previous Courses

I teach the following courses here at SU: Nations and Nationalism in World History; Modern European History: 1789 to the Present; Historiography; Eurabian Nights: A History of Europe's Muslims; History of Human Rights; History of Western Humanitarianism; The "Ins and Outs" of Modern French History; Transnational History (Capstone Research Seminar); Doing Good and Doing It Well: The Theory and Practice of Philanthropy (First-Year Seminar)


I'm finishing a book manuscript that addresses how and why local community actors in France began to advocate for North African migrant rights in the decades following the Second World War.

I'm also working on a project about Franco-Portuguese interactions in the 1960s, focusing on Franch activism against the human rights abuses of the Salazar regime, as well as diplomatic relations during decolonization.


Journal Articles

Popular Press

Book Reviews

  • Susan Palmer, The New Heretics of France: Minority Religions, la République, and the Government-Sponsored “War on Sects,” Journal of Religion, Vol. 94, No. 1 (January 2014), pp. 139-141.
  • Panikos Panayi and Pippa Virdee, eds., Refugees and the End of Empire: Imperial Collapse and Forced Migration in the Twentieth Century, Journal of World History, 24:3 (September 2013), pp. 733-735.
  • John R. Bowen, Why The French Don't Like Headscarves: Islam, the State, and Public Space, Nationalities Papers 36:3 (July 2008), pp. 586-588.


Digital Speakers Bureau (Center for European Studies at the University of Texas at Austin)

Seminars & Presentations

  • “Passing the Torch on the Civilizing Mission: French Hopes for the Portuguese Empire in the 1960s”; Colloquium: “Beyond Francafrique,” Institut d’Etudes Politiques, Paris, 20 Nov. 2015.
  • “Living with ‘Our Algerian Brothers’: The Historical Effects of Space and Proximity on Community Relations with North African Migrants in the Parisian Suburbs”; Conference: “Migrants in the City,” University of Sheffield, UK, 12-13 Oct. 2015.
  • “Harnessing Religion in the Service of Empire: French Laïcité v. British Laissez-Faire”; Colloquium: “Translating Secularism,” Institut Français de Londres, London, UK, 18-19 Sep. 2015.
  • “Diplomacy in the Twilight of Empire: Franco-Portuguese Relations during Decolonization”; Council for European Studies International Conference for Europeanists, Paris, France, 8-10 July 2015.
  • “Mediterranean Crossings: Over the Border or Along the Boulevard?”; Society for French Historical Studies Annual Conference, Colorado Springs, CO, 16-19 April 2015.
  • Discussant, “Contested Visions of Metropole and Colony: From France to French West Africa in the 20th Century,” at the Western Society for French History Conference, San Antonio, TX, 13-15 Nov. 2014 (H-France webcast).
  • “Ramadan on the Rhône: Muslims and Christians in Secular France,” at the Mediterranean Studies Association International Congress, Malaga, Spain, 28-31 May 2014.
  • Discussant, ““Reviving the Colonial Past in the Postcolonial Present in the Francophone World,” CES International Conference for Europeanists, Washington, DC, 14-16 Mar. 2014.
  • "A Cosmopolitan Approach to Community Policies: North African Migrants in the Suburbs of Paris and Lyon"; Society for the Study of French History Annual Conference, Cardiff, Wales, UK, 30 June-2 July 2013.
  • "Migration and Municipal Foreign Policy: North Africans in the Suburbs of Paris and Lyon"; Institute for Historical Studies Workshop Series on “Reinventing Diplomacy,” University of Texas at Austin, 15 Apr. 2013.
  • "Slumlord with a Heart of Gold: What the Controversy over the Oliviers de Serres 'Ghetto' in Villeurbanne Reveals about Migrants’ Rights in the Republic"; Society for French Historical Studies Annual Conference, Cambridge, MA, 4-7 April 2013.
  • “How Do We Deal with Good Intentions? Writing the History of Activism”; Feminist Studies Brown Bag, Southwestern University, 27 Feb. 2013.
  • "The Algerian War through Metropolitan Prisms: How Ideas of Empire Shaped Local Immigration Policies and Policing," for the panel "Late Empire and its Aftermaths in Africa"; French Colonial Historical Society Annual Conference, New Orleans, LA; June 2012.
  • "From Comrades-in-Arms to Community Burden: How Decolonization Reshaped Municipal Migration Policies in Saint-Denis," for the panel, "Coping with Decolonization: From Pondicherry to Paris"; SFHS Annual Conference, Charleston, SC; February 2011.
  • "La Comparaison et la vue d'en bas: L'immigration maghrébine à l'échelle locale," guest lecturer for Dr. Nancy Green's research seminar, "L'Histoire comparée et les migrations contemporaines," École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, 17 November 2009.
  • "La recherche de leur place: Deux communes et leurs populations nord-africaines," invited speaker for the ongoing program, "Histoire des migrations internationales et des luttes contre les discriminations en Europe"; Migrinter and the Espace Mendès France; Poitiers, France; 9 November 2009.
  • "'To All Our French Friends": Portuguese Immigrants and Public Conscience," for the panel, "Expecting the Unexpected: Unintended Consequences and Human Rights"; ISA Annual Convention, New York; 18 February 2009.
  • "'Terror Will Not Reign in Saint-Denis': A Showdown Between City Officials and 'Harki' Police," for the panel, "Decolonization and the Challenge to the Republican Order: Ethnic Violence in the Paris Region in the 1960s"; WSFH Annual Conference, Quebec City, Canada; 6 November 2008.
  •  "The 'Liberation' of the Bidonvilles: Urban Development in Saint-Denis and Asnières-sur-Seine," for the panel, "Ils venaient tous d'Algérie: Analyse comparative de l'accès aux logements publics des travailleurs algériens, des Pieds-Noirs, et des Harkis dans les années 1960"; SFHS Annual Conference, Rutgers University; 3-5 April 2008.
  • "France is a Woman: Feminine Allegory and the Late-Medieval Conception of Nation"; Duke University Department of Romance Studies conference on "Constructing Images of the Self"; 20-22 February, 2004.

Honors & Awards


ACLS/Mellon Recent Doctoral Recipient Fellowship, 2009-10.

ACLS/Mellon Dissertation Completion Fellowship, 2007-08.

Bourse Jeanne Marandon, Association des Professeurs Français et Francophones de l'Amérique, 2005-06.

Groups & Affiliations

  • American Historical Association
  • Council for European Studies
  • Society for French Historical Studies
  • Western Society for French History
  • French Colonial Historical Society
  • World History Association