Eugene Dominic Genovese
(born May 19, 1930) is an
American historian of the American South and American slavery.
been noted for bringing a Marxist
perspective to the study of power, class and relations between
and slaves in the South. His
work Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made
Early life and education
was born in Brooklyn.
Raised in a working-class ethnic
family in Brooklyn, he was active in the Communist
youth movement until he was expelled "for having zigged when I was
supposed to zag." 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.
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
He was an editor of Studies on the Left
. He was famous for his disputes with colleagues
left, right and center. Defeating Oscar
in 1978, he became the first Marxist president of the
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
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.
, a gubernatorial candidate
challenging Governor Richard J.
, used Genovese's statement
as a campaign issue. Rutgers President Mason
refused to re-examine the university's position, and
Dumont lost to Governor Hughes. President Gross's defense of
was honored by the
Association of University Professors
, who presented him and
Rutgers with its Alexander
Award in 1966. Genovese moved to Canada and taught at
Williams University in Montreal (1967-1969).
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
(1964) for a materialist alternative to the idealistic
framework of Frank Tannenbaum
, 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
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
(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
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
Religion was an important theme in Roll, Jordan, Roll
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
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
, 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
In his 1979 book From Rebellion to Revolution
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
, 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
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
examined the Southern Agrarians
In the 1930s, these critics and poets collectively wrote
I'll Take My Stand
their critique of Enlightenment
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
in December 1996. His wife Elizabeth Fox-Genovese
shifted her thinking and had already converted.
Marriage and family
In 1969, Genovese married the historian Elizabeth Fox
- 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
- 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,
- 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
- co-written with Elizabeth
Fox-Genovese, The Mind of the Master Class : History and
Faith in the Southern Slaveholders' Worldview, 2005
- Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The 'Objectivity Question'
and the American Historical Profession (1988), p. 412
- Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The 'Objectivity Question'
and the American Historical Profession (1988) p 412
-  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.
co-written with Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Slavery in White and
Black: Class and Race in the Southern Slaveholders' New World
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Stampp, Kenneth M. "Interpreting the Slaveholders' World: a
Review." Agricultural History 1970 44(4): 407-412. ISSN
- Steirer, William F. "Eugene D. Genovese: Marxist-Romantic
Historian of the South" pages 840-850 from the Southern
Review, Volume 10, 1974.