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OLD WINE IN NEW BOTTLES: A Review of Time on the Cross August Meier The economic historians Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman have made an important contribution1 to the cresting tide of scholarship on slavery in the United States, and to the new perspectives on that institution which have flowed from the work of students of the subject like David Brion Davis, Eugene D. Genovese, John W. Blassingame, George P. Rawick, Philip Curtin, and Herbert Gutman. Employing the quantitative techniques of the new school of "cliometricians" Fogel and Engerman conclude 1) that American Negro slavery was a highly profitable economic system which, on the eve of the Civil War, was still thriving in both town and country, and in the older Atlantic slave states and in the newer Southwestern ones alike; 2) that large-scale plantation organization utilizing slave labor actually proved more productive and efficient than free white farm labor, North or South; 3) that slaves enjoyed a standard of living that compared favorably with that of free white industrial workers, and was considerably higher than that enjoyed by the freedmen after emancipation; and 4) that far from being a repressive system which struck at the slave's basic humanity, destroyed the black family, and drove the bondsmen either into supine passivity or into constant rebelliousness, the system actually provided considerable opportunity for the development of the bondsmen's human personality , the acquisition of skills, the exercise of managerial talents, and the development of "prudish" forms of sexual behavior and a stable, patriarchal family life. All this is told in a breathless and polemical style, and in a format that seems designed to intimidate historians not expert in quantitative techniques. If the claims of the authors are to be taken literally it would appear that cliometricians, superlatively funded, armed with enormous masses of data, and possessed of sophisticated mathematical techniques , have produced a series of highly original conclusions that decisively disprove what is referred to as the "traditional" interpretation of slavery. Purveyors of this "traditional" interpretation would appear to include historians as different as Ulrich B. Phillips, Kenneth Stampp, 1 Time on the Cross. Vol. I, The Economics of American Negro Shvery. Vol. II, Evidence and Methods—A Supplement. By William Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman . (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1974. Pp. 286; 267. Vol. I, $8.95; Vol. II, $12.50.) 251 252civil war history Richard Hofstadter, Eugene Genovese and Richard Wade—and all of these rather strange bedfellows are lumped together and roundly criticized . So successful have Fogel and Engerman been in putting such distinguished scholars on the defense that in his review of Time on the Cross in the Washington Post, Genovese—of all people—went out of his way to defend Stampp from their criticisms. Although Fogel and Engerman frequently distort the views of "the traditional historians" by virtually caricaturing their positions, the brilliant effect produced by the book is largely a result of the way in which it turns upside down the conclusions of so diverse a collection of scholars. Yet, at the same time, ignoring the general drift of scholarship in the last several years, they fail to inform the reader that to a remarkable extent their conclusions actually converge with the findings of other recent research. Although they cite this scholarship in their bibliography, in effect they virtually write as if, except for themselves and their fellow "cliometricians " nothing of consequence has been going on in the study of American slavery since the publication of Genovese's first book in 1965. Not only are Fogel and Engerman scarcely modest in their claims to originality, but, despite disclaimers about the limitations of their method, they write with a certainty of tone that is frequently unwarranted by their data. This fault is exacerbated by the unfortunate decision to relegate most of the historiographical and methodological materials , as well as footnotes to sources cited, to a separate volume—available only in an expensive hardback edition. Throughout, the book's tone seems to be saying that given the enormous quantity of their data and the sophistication of their mathematical analysis historians who are not "cliometricians" can scarcely dare to challenge them. Yet paradoxically , as if...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 251-260
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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