Alumna Unearths ‘White Man’s Burden’ as Seen by Gingrich

One alumna’s 2009 trip to UT’s microfiche collection has created a small scandal for Newt Gingrich, Republican presidential front-runner of the moment.

Laura Seay, PhD ’09, had just finished her government dissertation on the Belgian colonization of the Congo when she discovered that Gingrich had written his own dissertation—he earned a PhD in European history at Tulane in 1971—on a very similar topic.

Curious, Seay descended into the depths of UT’s Perry-Castañeda Library basement, where Gingrich’s dissertation is still available on microfiche. (It’s now online as well.) She skimmed “Belgian Education Policy in the Congo” before posting a lighthearted critical review on her blog, Texas in Africa.

Two and a half years later, Gingrich’s past is under the powerful media magnifying glass that no presidential candidate escapes—and that means Seay’s blog is getting a lot of attention.

Now an assistant professor at Morehouse College, Seay is clearly not Newt’s biggest fan: “The whole [dissertation] is kind of a glorified white man’s burden take on colonial policy that was almost certainly out of vogue in the early 1970s,” she writes on her blog.

Yet she credits Gingrich for having the “tenacity and sheer will” to write the dissertation, and praises his “fair analysis” of one aspect of the Belgian colonial government.

Gingrich’s writing is strong—the dissertation avoids the contorted sentences that often plague academic prose—and much of it is nonpartisan. He writes: “If the Congolese are to confront the future with realism they will need a solid understanding of their own past and an awareness of the good as well as the bad aspects of colonialism.”

Hard to argue with that.

Gingrich hasn’t publicly responded to recent criticism of the dissertation, though in a 2010 National Republic interview, he did say that President Obama’s “Kenyan, anti-colonial behaviors [are] the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.”

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons


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