My two AP sections are at the end of the day and on Mondays I teach all my classes. Today the two classes discussed a short selection from Eugene Genovese’s seminal work, Roll, Jordan, Roll. This is not the first time that I’ve used Genovese, but I am always surprised by how much the students actually enjoy reading it. Anyone familiar with it knows that Genovese’s interpretation is highly analytical and at times difficult to follow. Today was no exception, but we did manage to make some sense of it. A number of my students were deeply engaged in the discussion. I started off by asking what picture of slavery Genovese may have been responding to in the years leading up to the publication of the book in 1974. They nailed it by referring to both the "Moon and Magnolias" version of slavery as benign as well as the idea that slavery can simply be characterized as brutal along the lines of a Concentration Camp. One of my students actually referred to Concentration Camps and this allowed me to set up a bit of historiography between the work of Phillips and Dunning along with Stanley Elkins. They seem to think that Genovese was shooting for something in between which I think is quite impressive.
It was slow going at times, but they picked up on the broad interpretive structure that explains – according to Genovese – how the respective identities of slaves and slaveowners depended on one another. They thought that was kind of interesting though not all agreed that the paternalism of the slaveowner explained everything. A couple students argued that his explanation was too broad, that it did not do justice to time nor space. Though they didn’t couch it in these terms a couple students concluded that Genovese’s analysis did not do justice to the various regions of the South. Others thought that he was too broad and did not connect his analysis closely enough to shifts over time. I think they picked up on this from Foner’s textbook. Either way their teacher is very pleased that they are thinking critically.
As much as I enjoy talking about this stuff, two classes in a row of Genovese is incredibly draining.