Gelvin earned his B.A. from Columbia University in 1983, M.A. from the School of International and Public Affairs of Columbia University in 1985, and Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1992. Before joining the faculty at UCLA, Gelvin taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Boston College, and Harvard University. He has been a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (1999–2000) and the recipient of a U.C. President’s Fellowship in the Humanities (1999–2000). In 2002-3, he was Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Visiting Professor of History at the American University in Beirut.