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Gingrich the historian


I realize that it’s factually true that Newt Gingrich has a doctorate in history and that this peculiar fact illuminates, in a weird way, many of the deeply silly ideas dispensed from the gumball machine that people generally mistake for an actual human head. But we should always remember that Gingrich is an “historian” in the same sense that someone who last played golf in 1978 is a “golfer.” Or, to rephrase slightly, Gingrich is an historian in the same sense that someone who lost his PGA tour card in 1978 is still a golfer. I usually read that Gingrich was denied tenure; the alternate version (which I think is technically correct) is that he never actually applied for it because he’d have been turned down anyway. Regardless, Gingrich’s history credentials — to the degree that anyone, anywhere takes them seriously — provide a great case study in the inflation of cultural capital.

And when we take the time to actually read Newt Gingrich’s dissertation, we’re reminded of what a terrible historian he actually was — unless, of course, one believes that it’s perfectly acceptable to write a history of education in the Congo based entirely on Belgian sources. In which case:

Gingrich argues that the Belgians prepared Congolese women for the challenges of modernity, by which he presumably means that learning to wash the dishes of wealthy white women with water from a faucet was a useful 20th century skill to have in place of, say, being able to critically reason or understand what the natural rights imply about subservience and racism.

The silver lining here for the historical profession is that Gingrich did not degrade it further by publishing anything during the eight years he spent as a faculty member at West Georgia.

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