Correction: An earlier version of this post said Gingrich earned a master’s degree at Emory. He earned a bachelor’s there and a master’s and PhD at Tulane University.
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich likes to use the word “elites” as a pejorative when he talks about things and people whom he considers liberal. But the former House speaker himself is in pretty elite company when it comes to his PhD.
For one thing, earning a doctorate is a pretty elite thing to do in the United States. Nearly 40 percent of Americans ages 25 and older had an associate and/or bachelor's degree in 2010, according to the Census Bureau, while less than 3 percent had a doctorate.
Only one American president in the entire history of the country has had a doctorate, Woodrow Wilson, who served from 1913 to 1921, and earned a PhD in history and political science from Johns Hopkins University. His doctorate was called “Congressional Government: A Study in American Politics.” (Wilson was also president of Princeton University.)
Gingrich studied history, but not America’s.
Gingrich earned a bachelor’s degree at Emory University and then a master’s degree at Tulane University, where he studied modern European history. After joining the faculty of West Georgia College, now the University of West Georgia, as an assistant professor of history, he earned a PhD from Tulane in 1971 with a thesis titled “ Belgian Education Policy in the Congo: 1945–1960 ,” by Newton Leroy Gingrich.
The biggest percentage of history degrees awarded in the United States are traditionally in American history. European history is a far second. In 2009, for example, U.S. history comprised 41.2 percent of the doctorates awarded, while European history accounted for 20.5 percent, according to this piece on the American Historical Association Web site.
History doctorates are themselves a sliver of the total number of doctorates awarded annually in the United States. According to the National Science Foundation, of the 42,562 doctorates awarded in 2009, only 1,045 were given in history. Of those, 214 were in European history.
Gingrich’s PhD, according to Garry Wills in this 1995 article in The New York Review of Books, “was partly critical of colonialism in the Belgian Congo, but was on the whole an apologia for it.”
An op-ed in The New York Times last year by Adam Hochschild, noted that the dissertation asks these questions:
“Did the colonial powers perform a painful but positive function in disrupting traditional society and so paving the way for more rapid modernization? Even if they did, was the price of colonial exploitation too high?”
But, Hochschild says, Gingrich doesn’t actually answer them.
Gingrich moved to West Georgia’s geography department in 1974, where he helped start an interdisciplinary environmental studies program, Kessler wrote. He left academia after being denied tenure and winning a seat in Congress in 1978.
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