Engaging Minds, Transforming Lives

Faculty Experts

Melissa Byrnes

Associate Professor of History


Areas of expertise
  • Modern European History, 
  • France and the French Empire,
  • Migration,
  • Muslims and the Islamic World,
  • 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


I'm finishing a book on 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

  • Eric T. Jennings, Free French Africa in World War II: The African Resistance, Journal of Military History, (forthcoming).
  • 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

  • “From ‘Ghetto’ to ‘Apartheid’: Education Policy as Housing Discrimination in the 1970s”; Society for French Historical Studies (SFHS) Annual Conference, Washington, DC, 20-22 April 2017.
  • Roundtable, “Human Rights in the Modern Francophone World”; SFHS Annual Conference, Washington, DC, 20-22 April 2017.
  • “Passing the Torch on the Civilizing Mission: French Hopes for the Portuguese Empire in the 1960s”; Beyond Francafrique Workshop, University of Portsmouth (UK), 22 Feb. 2017.   
  • “The View From Below: What We Learn From Local Migrant Histories”; Council for European Studies (CES) International Conference for Europeanists, Philadelphia, TN, 14-16 Apr. 2016.
  • Roundtable, “Teaching Decolonization”; Society for French Historical Studies (SFHS) Annual Conference, Nashville, TN, 3-5 March 2016.
  • “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

Social Justice Fellowship (Southwestern University), 2016-17.

Travel Grant (University of Portsmouth), Beyond Francafrique workshop, Feb. 2017.

Competitive Development Funding (Southwestern University), 2011-12, 2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16.

Sam Taylor Fellowship, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church, 2013.

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.

Specific subjects or issues you can knowledgeably discuss:

Muslims in Europe

Immigration in Europe

Race/Minorities in Europe

Human Rights

French History

French Politics

French Empire

I am willing to talk to the media: yes

I am willing to talk to community groups about my area of expertise: yes

Can you do interviews in Spanish? no

Other languages you are fluent in: French, some German, some Hungarian

Experience with the news media (especially electronic media):

Contributions to blogs, newspapers (opinion pieces and expert analysis)

Video lectures and interviews

Contact Details:
(512) 863-1501(office)
Office: Mood-Bridwell 215