Dirlik was born in Mersin in 1940. Having graduated from Robert College, Department of Electrical Engineering in 1964, he went on to study nuclear physics in the United States with a Fulbright scholarship. He changed his department at the University of Rochester as a result of his interest in Chinese history and received his Ph.D. degree in history in 1973. Dirlik taught anthropology and history at Duke University until 2001 and retired from Oregon University in 2006. His four books and fifteen articles published in journals has been translated into Turkish. He passed away in 2017.

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