Eugene Genovese, 1930-2012



Updated 9-30-12

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Obituary released by the Genovese family

Eugene Dominick Genovese, preeminent scholar of slavery and the master class in the American South, died on the morning of September 26th, 2012, after a long illness. Born in 1930, he graduated from Brooklyn College (1953) and Columbia University (1955, 1959) and taught at Rutgers University; Sir George Williams University in Montreal, Canada; the University of Rochester; the College of William and Mary, and a coalition of Georgia universities—Emory, Georgia Tech, Georgia State, and the University of Georgia. Ranking with the most influential historians of his generation, he also had appointments at Cambridge (as Pitt Professor), Princeton, Yale, and Columbia, was recipient of an honorary doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and served as president both of the Organization of American Historians and of The Historical Society, which he helped found.

Genovese began his career as a Marxist and ended it as a Roman Catholic, having returned to the faith of his Sicilian American family. This spiritual and intellectual shift did not affect his, and his late wife’s, continuing, collaborative study of slavery and the views of slave owners. Their last volumes, a trilogy—*The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders’ Worldview *(2005), *Slavery in White and Black: Class and Race in the Southern Slaveholders’ New World Order *(2008), and *Fatal Self-Deception: Slaveholding Paternalism in the Old South*(2011)—published by Cambridge University Press, continued the analysis of Genovese’s Bancroft Prize-winning study, *Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made *(1974).

Undergirding Genovese’s analysis of slavery in the United States was the concept of paternalism, which, for Genovese, centrally described a historically unique system of social relations, shaped by slaves as well as masters, in the slave society that was the Old South. From the masters' point of view, paternalism was not about kindness, but control, the need of the slaveholding class to translate power into authority. Slaves accommodated themselves to planter paternalism, but turned it to meet their own needs, to assert their humanity, to hold masters accountable, and to make gains toward the ultimate goal of release from bondage. The theoretical inspiration of Genovese’s analysis came from Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci articulated the view that the ruling class, if effective, maintains its position through cultural hegemony—that is, by getting those they rule to accept their values even when resisting their sway. That essential insight informed Genovese’s work throughout.

“Aside from probing slaveholder ideology,” Professor Peter Kolchin observes, Genovese “also was instrumental in shaping our understanding of slave life and consciousness, slave resistance, the economics of slavery, and comparative approaches to slavery.” Pressured to leave Rutgers for his political views, he insisted on respecting the views of those with whom he sharply disagreed. This did not keep him from being a brilliant and engaging controversialist. On the other hand, as Professor Mark Smith remarks, “his kindness as a gentleman scholar … was in many ways his signature as a man and as an historian.”

The funeral mass will be at the Cathedral of Christ the King, 2699 Peachtree Rd. NE, Atlanta, GA on Tuesday, October 2nd, at 10 a.m. The private burial will be later in New York. At that time, Professor Genovese will be interred beside his beloved Betsey—Elizabeth Fox-Genovese—his wife of a third of a century and noted scholar of southern women, who died in 2007. He is survived by a niece, Ann Marie Fasulo; two nephews, John Genovese and Robert Genovese; Robert’s wife, Candi; two great nieces, Katherine Fasulo and Lily Genovese; sisters-in-law Josephine Genovese and Rebecca MacMillan Fox, and brother-in-law Edward W. Fox, Jr.. Memorial gifts may be sent to St. Vincent de Paul Chapter, Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, 2855 Briarcliff Road NE, Atlanta, GA 30329.

New York Times

...Praised for his meticulous research, Mr. Genovese argued that slave life in the pre-Civil War South was not one of continuous cruelty and degradation. Rather, he described a system of “paternalism” in which slaves had compelled their owners to recognize their humanity. This, he said, allowed the slaves to preserve their self-respect as well as their aspirations for freedom while enabling their owners to continue to profit from their labor.

The book in which he articulated this view most completely was “Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made,” which in 1975 won the Bancroft Prize for American history writing. The historian Edward L. Ayers, writing in The New Republic in 1994, called it “the best book ever written about American slavery.”

But others criticized the book as being weak in its analysis of the economics of the period and took issue with its view that a paternalistic relationship was peculiar to slavery in the United States. Some said that the buying and selling of slaves could hardly be considered paternalistic; parents do not normally sell their children, the historian Eric Foner wrote in 1982.

More broadly, Mr. Genovese was accused of playing down the truth that slavery, by definition, demonstrates the cruelest kind of racism. Mr. Genovese repeatedly felt compelled to assert that his books were not an apology for slavery. In subsequent books, Mr. Genovese praised intellectual life in the antebellum South, particularly its tradition of cooperative conservatism, which he saw as kinder than capitalism in the North. He cited statistics showing Southern whites, even those from disadvantaged families, were more apt to go to college than Northern whites. He argued Southerners preferred broader ownership on property and more constraints on the marketplace....

Marc Bauerlein

Eugene Genovese died Wednesday morning, passing away in his hospital bed at home after a long battle with heart disease. When I sat with him the night before and clasped his hand, he blinked his eyes for a moment, then sank back into darkness. He was ready for months, and he anticipated, with God’s blessing, reunification with his wife, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, who died five years ago. (Both of them embraced Roman Catholicism late in life—Betsey’s perceptive account of her conversion can be found in an essay that appeared in First Things in April 2000.)

Genovese will be remembered for two things that don’t often coexist in figures in our time. First, he was a scrupulous, diligent, and discerning scholar; his work on the antebellum South will stand as a monumental corpus for years to come. Second, outside the classroom and the archive, he was a vigorous partisan, sometimes confrontational, identifying political adversaries and hurling broadsides with Homeric force.

Remarkably, though, the one characteristic didn’t compromise the other. To understand why, consider Genovese’s explanation for choosing Southern slaveholders as his first subject.

“Well,” he told me, “at Columbia when I asked my adviser how to pick a dissertation topic, he told me to choose the things most opposed to my own point of view. You know, I was a leader in the Communist Youth, and the farthest I could get from that was the master on the plantation.”...

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Eugene D. Genovese, an American historian known for his writings on the Civil War and slavery, died Wednesday. He was 82.

Dr. Genovese taught and guest-lectured at several colleges and universities across the country, including Emory University, Georgia State University, Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia, Rutgers University, the University of Rochester and the College of William & Mary.

The historian Eugene Genovese has died at age 82, leaving a legacy that will be confounding ideologues for decades to come. His scholarly focus was the antebellum South, and his most famous book was Roll, Jordan, Roll, a study of slavery that broke important ground by presenting slaves as more than just victims and investigating the rich culture they built for themselves. It was the sort of book you might expect to be written by a leftist, and sure enough, Genovese came out of the left. He wasn't some mild-mannered liberal, either: His first major public controversy came when he announced that he welcomed a Viet Cong victory in Vietnam.

But Genovese was also a cultural conservative, a sympathetic interpreter of southern traditionalists, and a fierce critic of the academic left....

Robert P. George: Tribute to Eugene Genovese [VIDEO]

Tribute to Eugene Genovese, by Robert P. George from Alexander Hamilton Institute on Vimeo.

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