Fact checker: Newt Gingrich -- historian?

  • Article by: GLENN KESSLER , Washington Post
  • Updated: January 2, 2012 - 2:44 PM
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Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich

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Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has repeatedly referred to himself as a historian during the 2012 election cycle.

He’s gone a step further at times, suggesting that his knowledge of the subject gives him superior qualifications for policy -- and decision-making.

 “What it does is, it gives you a really rich background to go to, to analyze things, to think about things, to put in context what you would do in a way that if you don’t know history, you can’t possibly reinvent it,” he told Iowa Public Radio this year.

So how did the GOP front-runner develop his supposed acumen?

We analyzed his résumé and his life in academia to find out just how much experience the former House speaker draws from, and whether he has any credibility as a self-proclaimed authority.

 

THE FACTS

Gingrich spent the great majority of his professional life in politics, serving as a member of Congress for 20 years. He devoted just eight fulltime years to academia and history -- 18 if you include his time as a student. 

After leaving the House, Gingrich worked on the fringes of politics, providing consulting services -- or quasi-lobbying efforts, depending on what you believe -- for special interests.

He also founded a number of for-profit groups, including communications companies and the Center for Health Transformation, a policy think tank.

As for history, Gingrich specialized in that subject throughout his academic life.

He received a B.A. and an M.A. from Emory University in 1965 and 1967, respectively; he earned a PhD from Tulane in 1971, with a doctoral focus on modern European history.

 In 1970, Gingrich joined the faculty of West Georgia College, now the University of West Georgia, as an assistant professor of history.

Gingrich wrote his doctoral thesis on "Belgian Education Policy in the Congo: 1945–1960.” The work, to a large extent, analyzed colonialism in the Central African nation.

 New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd noted recently that the dissertation reveals apparent contradictions in Gingrich’s thinking: He defended certain aspects of African colonialism, but disparaged the practice when it came to Britain’s long-ago occupation of America.

Left-leaning author Adam Hochschild also chimed in on Gingrich’s doctoral thesis in the New York Times, saying that the work showed a lack of academic rigor, especially since it offered little perspective from the Congolese -- he never interviewed any of them.

Hochschild did give a nod to Gingrich for being “clear-eyed about colonialism,” noting that the dissertation recognized the practice as commercially motivated.

Professor Gingrich moved to West Georgia’s geography department in 1974, helping to establish an interdisciplinary environmental studies program. (He joined then-House speaker Nancy Pelosi in a 2008 commercial urging action on combating global climate change.)

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