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Eugene D. Genovese

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Eugene Dominic Genovese (born May 19, 1930) is an American historian of the American South and American slavery. He has been noted for bringing a Marxist perspective to the study of power, class and relations between planters and slaves in the South. His work Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made won the Bancroft Prize.

Early life and education

Genovese was born in Brooklyn. Raised in a working-class ethnic Italian family in Brooklyn, he was active in the Communist youth movement until he was expelled "for having zigged when I was supposed to zag."[1] He earned his Bachelor of Arts from Brooklyn College in 1953 and his Master of Arts in 1955 and a Ph.D in history in 1959, both from Columbia University.

Career

Genovese first taught at the Polytechnic Institute in Brooklyn from 1958 to 1963. During the early years of the Vietnam War, when there were a growing range of opinions about the war and the Civil Rights Movement, he was a controversial figure as a history professor at Rutgers University (1963-1967), and at the University of Rochester (1969-1986), where he was elected chairman of the Department of History. From 1986, Genovese taught part-time at the College of William and Mary, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Georgia, Emory University and Georgia State University.

He was an editor of Studies on the Left and Marxist Perspectives. He was famous for his disputes with colleagues left, right and center.[2] Defeating Oscar Handlin in 1978, he became the first Marxist president of the Organization of American Historians.

In 1998, after moving to the right in his thinking, Genovese founded The Historical Society, with the goal of bringing together historians united by a traditional methodology.

Controversy during Vietnam war

At an April 23, 1965 teach-in at Rutgers University where he was teaching, Genovese stated, "Those of you who know me know that I am a Marxist and a Socialist. Therefore, unlike most of my distinguished colleagues here this morning, I do not fear or regret the impending Viet Cong victory in Vietnam. I welcome it." This comment was widely reported and generated a backlash of criticism. Politicians questioned Genovese's judgment and sensitivity to the responsibility inherent in being a Rutgers professor. No state laws or university regulations had been broken, and Genovese was supported by fellow faculty members on grounds of academic freedom. He was not dismissed from his teaching position.[3]

Wayne Dumont, a gubernatorial candidate challenging Governor Richard J. Hughes, used Genovese's statement as a campaign issue. Rutgers President Mason Gross refused to re-examine the university's position, and Dumont lost to Governor Hughes. President Gross's defense of academic freedom was honored by the American Association of University Professors, who presented him and Rutgers with its Alexander Meiklejohn Award in 1966. Genovese moved to Canada and taught at Sir George Williams University in Montreal (1967-1969).

Slavery studies

Genovese, in 1968, provided a critical historiography of the major studies of slavery in the Americas from a hemispheric perspective. He considered the demand by Marxist anthropologist Marvin Harris in The Nature of Cultural Things (1964) for a materialist alternative to the idealistic framework of Frank Tannenbaum, Stanley Elkins, Gilberto Freyre, and others. Tannenbaum had first introduced the hemispheric perspective by showing that the current status of blacks in various societies of the Western Hemisphere had roots in the attitude toward the black as a slave, which reflected the total religious, legal, and moral history of the enslaving whites. However, Tannenbaum ignored the material foundations of slave society, most particularly class relations. Later students have qualified his perspectives but have worked within the framework of an "idealistic" interpretation. Harris, on the other hand, insisted that material conditions determined social relations and necessarily prevailed over counter-tendencies in the historical tradition. Harris' work revealed him to be an economic determinist and, as such, ahistorical. By attempting to construct a materialism that bypassed ideological and psychological elements in the formation of social classes, he passed into a "variant of vulgar Marxism" and offered only soulless mechanism.

In the 1960s, Genovese in his Marxist stage depicted the masters of the slaves as part of a "seigneurial" society that was anti-modern, pre-bourgeois and pre-capitalist. In 1970, Stampp reviewing Genovese's The World the Slaveholders Made (1969) found fault with the quantity and quality of the evidence used to support the book's arguments. He also took issue with the attempt to apply a Marxian interpretation to the Southern slave system.

In his best-known book Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (1974), Genovese examined the society of the slaves. This book won the national Bancroft Prize in History. Genovese viewed the antebellum South as a closed and organically united paternalist society that exploited and attempted to dehumanize the slaves. Genovese paid close attention to the role of religion as a form of resistance in the daily life of the slaves because slaves used it to give themselves a sense of humanity. He redefined resistance to slavery as all efforts by which slaves rejected their status as slaves, including their religion, music and the culture they built. Genovese applied Antonio Gramsci's theory of cultural hegemony to the slave South.

He placed paternalism at the center of the master-slave relationship. Both masters and slaves embraced paternalism, though for different reasons and with varying notions of what paternalism meant. For the slaveowners, paternalism allowed them to think of themselves as benevolent and to justify their appropriation of their slaves' labor. Paternalist ideology, they believed, also gave the institution of slavery a more benign face and helped deflate the increasingly strong abolitionist critique of the institution. Slaves, on the other hand, recognized that paternalist ideology could be twisted to suit their own ends, by providing them with improved living and working conditions. Slaves struggled mightily to convert the benevolent "gifts" or "privileges" bestowed upon them by their masters into customary rights which masters would not violate. The reciprocity of paternalism could work to the slaves' advantage by allowing them to demand more humane treatment from their masters.

Religion was an important theme in Roll, Jordan, Roll and other studies. Genovese noted that Evangelicals recognized slavery as the root of Southern ills and sought some reforms, but no substantial change of the system. Genovese's contention was that after 1830, southern Christianity became part of social control of the slaves. Furthermore, he argued that the slaves' religion was not conducive to millenarianism or a revolutionary political tradition. Rather, it helped them survive and resist.

King (1979) argued that Genovese incorporated the theoretical concepts of certain 20th-century revisionist Marxists, especially the ideas of Antonio Gramsci and his construct of hegemony. Genovese's analysis of slavery, the blacks, and the American South elicited criticisms of various portions of his work, but historians agreed on the importance of his contributions. Areas of criticism included Genovese's placing of the master-slave relationship at the center of his interpretation of the American South, his views on southern white guilt over slavery, his employment of Gramsci's construct of hegemony, and his interpretations of southern white class interests, slave religion, the strength of the slave family, the existence of slave culture, and theory of the generation of black nationalism in the antebellum years.

In his 1979 book From Rebellion to Revolution, Genovese depicted a change in slave rebellions, from attempts to win freedom to an effort to overthrow slavery as a social system. In the 1983 book he co-wrote with his wife, The Fruits of Merchant Capital, Genovese underscored what he regarded as tensions between bourgeois property and slavery. In the view of the Genoveses, slavery was a "hybrid system" that was both pre-capitalist and capitalist.

Shift to the right

Starting in the 1990s, Genovese turned his attention to the history of conservatism in the South, a tradition which Genovese came to celebrate and adopt. In his study, The Southern Tradition: the Achievements and Limitations of an American Conservatism, he examined the Southern Agrarians. In the 1930s, these critics and poets collectively wrote I'll Take My Stand, their critique of Enlightenment humanism.

Genovese concluded that by recognizing human sinfulness and limitation, the critics more accurately described human nature than did other thinkers. The Southern Agrarians, he noted, also posed a challenge to modern American conservatives, with their mistaken belief in market capitalism's compatibility with traditional social values and family structures. Genovese agreed with the Agrarians in concluding that capitalism destroyed those institutions.

In his personal views, Genovese has moved to the right. Where he once denounced liberalism from a radical left perspective, he now does so as a traditionalist conservative. His change in thinking included converting to Roman Catholicism in December 1996. His wife Elizabeth Fox-Genovese had also shifted her thinking and had already converted.

Marriage and family

In 1969, Genovese married the historian Elizabeth Fox.

Works

  • The Political Economy of Slavery: Studies in the Economy and the Society of the Slave South, 1965.
  • "Materialism and Idealism in the History of Black Slavery in the Americas", Journal of Social History, 1968 1(4): 371-394. ISSN 0022-4529
  • In Red and Black: Marxian Explorations in Southern and Afro-American History, 1968.
  • The World the Slaveholders Made: Two Essays in Interpretation, 1969.
  • Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made, 1974. Winner of the Bancroft Prize in History.
  • with Elizabeth Fox Genovese, "The Political Crisis of Social History: A Marxian Perspective", Journal of Social History, 10 (1976), pp. 205–20.
  • From Rebellion to Revolution: Afro-American Slave Revolts in the Making of the Modern World, 1979.
  • co-written with Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Fruits of Merchant Capital: Slavery and Bourgeois Property in the Rise and Expansion of Capitalism, 1983.
  • The Slaveholders' Dilemma: Freedom and Progress in Southern Conservative Thought, 1820-1860, 1992.
  • The Southern Tradition: The Achievement and Limitations of an American Conservatism, 1994.
  • The Southern Front: History and Politics in the Cultural War, 1995.
  • co-written with Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, The Mind of the Master Class : History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders' Worldview, 2005

Notes

  1. Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The 'Objectivity Question' and the American Historical Profession (1988), p. 412
  2. Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The 'Objectivity Question' and the American Historical Profession (1988) p 412
  3. [1] Ansart, Dorothy and Judith Grier, "Inventory to the Records of the Office of Public Information on the Vietnam War Teach-Ins, 1965-1966"], Rutgers University, accessed visited Nov. 24, 2005

co-written with Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Slavery in White and Black: Class and Race in the Southern Slaveholders' New World Order, 2008

References

  • Boles, John & Nolen, Elelyn Thomas (editors) Interpreting Southern History: Historiographical Essays in Honour of Sanford W. Higginbotham, Louisiana State University Press, 1987.
  • Davis, David Brion "Southern Comfort" New York Review of Books, October 5, 1995. pages 43–46
  • Davis, David Brion. In the Image of God: Religion, Moral Values, and Our Heritage of Slavery (2001) 110-120.
  • King, Richard H. "Marxism and the Slave South: a Review Essay." American Quarterly 1977 29(1): 117-131. ISSN 0003-0678 Fulltext in Jstor
  • Kolchin, Peter. "Eugene D. Genovese: Historian of Slavery." Radical History Review (2004) no. 88, 52-67.
  • Linden, Adrianus Arnoldus Maria van der. A Revolt Against Liberalism: American Radical Historians, 1959-1976 (1994) pp 167–220.
  • Livingston, James. "'Marxism' and the Politics of History: Reflections on the Work of Eugene D. Genovese." Radical History Review (2004), no. 88 pp 133–53.
  • Meier, August & Elliott, Rudwirck Black History and the Historical Profession, 1915-1980, University of Illinois Press, 1986.
  • Parish, Peter Slavery: History and Historians, New York: Harper, 1989.
  • Radosh, Ronald. "An Interview with Eugene Genovese: the Rise of a Marxist Historian." Change 1978 10(10): 31-35. ISSN 0009-1383 Abstract: Genovese, the first Marxist to be elected President of the Organization of American Historians, discusses Marxism's changing status on American campuses, and traces his career from his membership in the Communist youth movement to his becoming History Department Chairman at the University of Rochester.
  • Roper, John Herbert "Marxing through Georgia: Eugene Genovese and Radical Historiography for the Region" pages 77–92 from the Georgia Historical Quarterly, Volume 80, 1996.
  • Shalhope, Robert E. "Eugene Genovese, the Missouri Elite and Civil War Historiography" pages 271-282 from Bulletin of the Missouri Historical Society, Volume 26, July 1970.
  • Shapiro, Herbert. "Eugene Genovese, Marxism, and the Study of Slavery." Journal of Ethnic Studies (1982_ 9(4): 87-100. ISSN 0091-3219. Abstract: The work of Eugene Genovese is widely perceived within and beyond the historical profession as a product of creative Marxist scholarship, especially now that his Roll, Jordan, Roll has become for many reviewers "a definitive benchmark in the historiography of slavery." A close analysis of works such as The Political Economy of Slavery shows his greatest lacunae: the minimizing of the significance of black struggle and the magnifying of whatever elements of passivity can be found among blacks insofar as they actively participated in the Civil War. Accommodation and the plantation as community are overdone themes.
  • Stampp, Kenneth M. "Interpreting the Slaveholders' World: a Review." Agricultural History 1970 44(4): 407-412. ISSN 0002-1482
  • Steirer, William F. "Eugene D. Genovese: Marxist-Romantic Historian of the South" pages 840-850 from the Southern Review, Volume 10, 1974.

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