Eugene D. Genovese, 1930 — 2012

Dog-GENOVESE1-obit-articleLargeLeo Ribuffo in Jacobin Magazine:

The death of a favorite teacher in his or her late old age typically evokes strong emotions from former students in their early old age. In this case the emotions are mine and the teacher is Gene Genovese, one of my professors at Rutgers when I was an undergraduate from 1962 to 1966. We remained in contact off-and-on over the decades and I saw him last in Atlanta in July 2010. This piece is not another attempt to offer an instant analysis of the “real” Genovese, an enterprise now well underway in cyberspace. Rather, I want to add something to the story from the perspective of an undergraduate he taught who subsequently entered what Gene called the “history business.”

I first heard about Gene in the fall of 1963, the first semester of my sophomore year, from my friend Ken O’Brien (who also entered the history business). Ken was taking Gene’s course in American Negro history. As a naive 18-year-old from a white working class-lower middle class New Jersey family, I was surprised to hear that this subject existed. I soon learned in detail that it did from Genovese himself. During the spring semester of 1964, the Intro US history course since the 1870s, taught in lecture by the terrifying Richard P. McCormick, allowed some students to take tutorials in small groups. Three of us were assigned to Gene. Our first assignment was to make sense of the currency issue in the late 19th century via debates in the Congressional Record. No, I’m not making this up. During the rest of the semester Gene tamped down my enthusiasm for William Jennings Bryan (a racist), delighted in my discovery that Theodore Roosevelt posed no threat to the standing order, and chided me for still liking Woodrow Wilson (the worst racist of the lot).

During my junior and senior years I took three courses from Gene, a two semester sequence on the history of the American South and a seminar on comparative slavery in which I first heard the word “hegemony.” I was attracted by Gene the professor rather than by the subject matter.