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The Unemancipated Country: Eugene Genovese’s Discovery of the Old South


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Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Unemancipated Country: Eugene Genovese’s Discovery of the Old South

On 26 September 2012, Eugene Dominic Genovese, one of the most influential and controversial historians of his generation, passed away at age eighty-two after a lengthy struggle with heart disease. His principal writings focused on the history of slavery and the Old South. Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (1974) stands as a masterpiece, one of the great works of nonfiction published in the twentieth century. Scholars have had trouble coming to grips with Genovese and his thinking when he was alive; they will have trouble coming to grips with him and his thinking after his death


Gene, as his friends called him, destroyed most of his personal papers. The thought of someone writing his biography, he once told me, horrified him. Stubborn, but not stuck in dogma, he was also a moving target. He began his academic career as a Marxist atheist; he ended it as an observant Catholic. Along the way, two ideas remained central to his scholarship: paternalism as the animating feature in the world that masters and slaves made together in the Old South and the necessity of a moral social authority to thwart the inexorable rise of nihilism born of radical individualism. l



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