Jonathan Zimmerman: Newt Gingrich, Pseudo-Historian
Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history and education at New York University. He is the author of "Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory."
Who knew my profession could be so lucrative?
That was my bemused first reaction to Newt Gingrich admitting that he took $300,000from the mortgage giant Freddie Mac in exchange for his "advice as a historian." Now sources are reporting that his total fee might have been as high as $1.8 million, which is more than some historians will make in a lifetime.
But here's what you need to know about Gingrich: He's not a real historian. Sure, he's got a Ph.D. in the field, and yes, Gingrich has written more than 20 books. But when he left academia for Congress in 1978, he also left behind the most basic canons of our discipline: rigor and humility. Put simply, we're supposed to know what we're talking about. And when we don't, we're supposed to say so.
That's what I learned on my very first day of graduate school, almost a quarter-century ago. The world is infinitely complicated, a professor told us, and we'll only be able to study a very small slice of it. And even when we think we understand that tiny piece, someone else will come along to prove us wrong....
comments powered by Disqus
- Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
- U.K. Released Hundreds of Nazis After the Holocaust, Says Leading Historian
- NYT History Book Reviews: Who Got Noticed this Week?
- Historians Against the War gathering signatures for new resolution to AHA on alleged violations of academic freedom in Israel
- Academic Seeks Death Certificate for Outlaw Billy the Kid