Why Newt Gingrich's Ph.D. Thesis Doesn't Matter

Critics of the candidate's academic work are conjecturing in vain: a 40-year-old dissertation has little relevance in today's race

gingrich reuters-body.jpg

Reuters

Adam Hochschild, writing in the New York Times after reading Newt Gingrich's Ph.D. dissertation on postwar Belgian educational policy in Congo, takes the candidate to task not for racism or political bias, but for narrowness of vision -- failing to visit Congo or interview Congolese, even those resident in the U.S., about their experience, and tacitly accepting the legitimacy of colonial exploitation while blaming the Belgians only for not being more enlightened about it.

Hochschild contrasts Gingrich with the last (and only) president with a Ph.D., Woodrow Wilson, whose dissertation on congressional government made his reputation and became a standard reference in its own right, still in print. But as Wilson's biographer John Milton Cooper, Jr., points out, Woodrow Wilson never made the short train ride from Johns Hopkins in Baltimore to Washington to see Congress for himself, and visited the Capitol for the first time only in 1898, twelve years after finishing his doctorate. So it's hard to fault Gingrich's dissertation for lack of field research. And Wilson's own views on race -- for example, his enthusiasm for Birth of a Nation -- along with his abysmal wartime civil liberties record, make him a flawed role model for today's candidates. 

What Hochschild deplores in Gingrich is actually what makes him alarming to some Democratic strategists: a capacity for apparently endless self-reinvention beyond his academic roots. He may not be invited to address the American Historical Association, but in 2007 he was a keynote speaker of the Society for Neuroscience. Whatever one thinks of Gingrich and his proposals today, his 40-year-old Ph.D. dissertation should share the well-deserved obscurity of Barack Obama's senior paper
Presented by

Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture, and an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Politics

From This Author

Just In