Gwendolen M. Carter


Honorary Degree (1985)
Doctor of Laws
Location: Bloomington
Presenter: John W. Ryan


Long before African Studies came into its own as an area of academic concern, and before African politics assumed a significant place in American diplomacy, Gwendolen M. Carter was an eminent authority. Her scholarship in African studies and in the wider field of comparative politics has had an important impact on the development of these fields.

Both her curiosity and her humane interests have led Dr. Carter to ask basic questions about the role of leaders and the consequences of their policies in people's lives. Her many publications, spanning a period of nearly forty years, are an enduring and impressive scholarly resource. One of her earliest books, Major Foreign Powers: The Governments of Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union, with John H. Ranney, first published in 1949 and followed by five subsequent editions with John H. Herz through 1972, was for a long time used as the key textbook on comparative government by departments of political science throughout the country. Her book The Politics of Inequality: South Africa Since 1948 is the pioneering work in South African political studies. It was a landmark at the time of its publication in 1958 and from then onwards became a stimulus for the many studies that have followed it. Dr. Carter continues to write and do research about South Africa, and her observations and insights provide scholars, students, and policy-makers with a grasp of the changing realities of South Africa.

Gwendolen Carter has not only expanded our understanding of the political life of South Africa, but also has preserved many valuable materials that shed light on its development. Her monumental work, From Protest to Challenge: A Documentary History of African Politics in South Africa, 1882-1964, edited in four volumes with Thomas Karas, Sheridan Johns, and Gail Gerhart, contains many documents that would very likely have been lost without her efforts chronicling the struggle of generations of Africans for political, social, and economic rights. Dr. Carter has visited South Africa regularly since 1949, witnessing the changes that have taken place there. Her keen perceptions are demonstrated both in her writings and in the friends and professional contacts that she has in abundance, both inside and outside of Africa. To have established and maintained so great a network is testimony to her professional competence and a tribute to her personally. She has been an inspiration to her many friends of all races who have been caught in the tragic struggle in South Africa, and for many of them she has been a symbol of the concern of the outside world.

Gwendolen Carter has witnessed the African political scene at close hand from personal experience, with an intimacy that few other observers can equal. She was also a pioneer in the field of comparative study of African politics. Her extensive knowledge and understanding are a valuable resource in American foreign policy, and on many occasions she has been called to Washington to brief government leaders on issues relating to Africa.

Dr. Carter has had a distinguished academic career. She received the B.A. from the University of Toronto in 1929, then studied at Oxford University in England, receiving the B.A. in 1931. She was a member of the faculty of McMaster University at Hamilton, Ontario, from 1932 to 1935, before returning to Oxford to complete the M.A., which she received in 1936. In 1938 she was awarded the Ph.D. from Radcliffe College of Harvard University. She taught at Wellesley College from 1938 to 1941, and at Tufts College in 1942-43, before joining the faculty of Smith College. In the course of her career at Smith College, from 1943 to 1964, she attained the rank of professor and was named to the Sophia Smith Chair of Political Science in 1961. In 1964 Dr. Carter was invited to join the Department of Political Science at Northwestern University as the Melville J. Herskovits Professor of African Affairs and director of the Program of African Studies, the most prestigious program at that time. During her ten years at Northwestern, she taught many African scholars who are now at universities in their home countries, as well as others who are today prominent in the field.

Throughout a career rich in achievement, Gwendolen Carter has combined scholarship, teaching, and the diverse talents of the truly educated person. Her international stature in political science and African studies has been recognized by the conferral of honorary degrees by eleven universities in the United States and Canada. In 1962 she was awarded the Achievement Award of the American Association of University Women, and in 1978 the Distinguished Scholar Award of the national African Studies Association.

It has been the good fortune of Indiana University that, on her retirement from Northwestern University in 1974, Gwendolen Carter agreed to join the faculty as professor of political science and African studies. In the years she has spent here she has enlivened the intellectual life of her colleagues and students and brought to the University the advantages of her worldwide reputation. Among the many benefits of her stay have been the distinguished scholars and political leaders that she has attracted to the campus for lectures and seminars, and her fruitful collaboration in research and publication with Indiana University faculty members. She continues unabated her three-fold career as a teacher, scholar, and consultant, enriching the African Studies Program and the Department of Political Science and intellectually stimulating colleagues from these as well as a wide range of other disciplines.