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Taking the Measure of Eugene Genovese:
Exquisite (and Other) Ironies
By any measure, Eugene Genovese helped shape radical history in the United States in the second half of the twentieth century. His work on comparative slavery, the South as a nexus of the regional and international political economy, "the fruits of merchant capital" (with Elizabeth Fox-Genovese), and the cultural worlds of both master and slave has proven vastly influential—as marked by the continuing controversy surrounding it. His polemics as a historian and contentious personality have also resonated over decades and continue to do so as he moves ever deeper into the ranks of traditionalist conservatism.
In 2001, Radical History Review collective member Ian Fletcher proposed that we use our panel at the annual American Historical Association meeting in January 2002 to explore Genovese's career. A roundtable heard papers from James Livingston and Akinyele Umoja, as well as a paper read for Manisha Sinha, followed by an insightful commentary by Ronald J. Grele, who knew Genovese at Rutgers in the 1960s. Subsequently, we decided to turn this informal panel into a published forum. Professors Livingston and Sinha contributed major essays, and we gave a group of other scholars an opportunity to comment on those or to develop their own ideas. Ultimately, James Oakes focused on a particular crux of Jim Livingston's argument, Peter Kolchin wrote his own analysis of Genovese's long-term impact as a scholar, and Diane Sommerville exposed a central intuitive leap or lacuna in Genovese's work regarding the character of sexual exchange within the master-slave dialectic.
We hope this will be only the first RHR retrospective on a major historian, radical or otherwise.
Van Gosse is assistant professor of history at Franklin and Marshall College and a member of the Radical History Review editorial collective. He is the author of Where the Boys Are: Cuba, Cold War America, and the Making of a New Left (1993) and is working on a manuscript titled "Black Power in White America: Reconstructing African American Politics in the Twentieth Century."