My first year of graduate school included a seminar with Gary Nash who pointedly informed us that none of us were getting out of UCLA without a firm grasp of the role of slavery in American history. We studied slave culture, slave families, slave women, slave religion. Those lessons have proved invaluable as I’ve become both a generalist in the classroom and something of a historian of the historical profession itself.
Genovese along with Gutman represented two axes along which much of slave historiography ran in the early 90s. Gutman’s shift to the right was viewed with considerable disgust, but his work was still respected.
I recently revisited the more personal connections between Genovese and The Politics of Women’s Culture
In 1967, as Jon Wiener recounts in his article Radical History and Radical America, a young Joan Wallach Scott, along with her then husband Daniel, took on Jesse Lemisch, coiner of that well-worn phrase history from “the bottom up,” in the pages of Radical America, about precisely what sort of history served the left best. In this debate, embedded in the dissent between (the two Gs as I forever think of them), Eugene Genovese’s critiques of Herbert Gutman’s “celebratory” histories of slave culture, the Scotts sided with Genovese. In lieu of the “myth of the people as glorious revolutionaries” they preferred the “new ways of looking at history” found in the methodologies of historians (exemplified by Thompson and Thernstrom) that “involved looking at the relationship of ideology to actuality” in the lives of people of all classes.
In the long run, Gutman’s line probably proved more influential for the development of women’s history in its earliest phase, but I can definitely see echoes of Roll, Jordan, Roll as well.