Stanley Engerman, Revisionist Scholar of Slavery, Dies at 87


Stanley Engerman, one of many authors of a deeply researched ebook that, wading into the fraught historical past of American slavery, argued that it was a rational, viable financial system and that enslaved Black folks had been extra environment friendly staff than free white folks within the North, died on Might 11 in Watertown, Mass. He was 87.

His son David stated the trigger was myelodysplastic syndrome, a uncommon type of blood and bone marrow most cancers.

Of their two-volume “Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery” (1974), Professor Engerman and Professor Robert W. Fogel used knowledge evaluation to problem what they known as widespread characterizations of slavery, together with that it was unprofitable, inefficient and pervasively abusive.

They stated they weren’t defending slavery. “If any facet of the American previous evokes a way of disgrace,” they wrote, it’s the system of slavery.” However a lot of the accepted knowledge about it, they stated, was distorted, or simply plain fallacious.

“Slave agriculture was not inefficient in contrast with free agriculture,” they wrote. “Economies of large-scale operation, efficient administration and intensive utilization of labor made Southern slave agriculture 35 % extra environment friendly than the Northern system of household farming.”

They insisted that the everyday slave “was not lazy, inept and unproductive” however quite “was more durable working and extra environment friendly than his white counterpart.” They contended that the destruction of the Black household by slave breeding and sexual exploitation was a fable, and that it was within the financial curiosity of plantation homeowners to encourage the soundness of enslaved households.

Additionally they wrote that some slaves acquired optimistic incentives, corresponding to being elevated to overseers of labor gangs, to extend their productiveness.

The ebook attracted lots of consideration, together with a rave review by the economist Peter Passell in The New York Times. “If a extra vital ebook about American historical past has been revealed within the final decade, I don’t find out about it,” he wrote, describing the work as a corrective, “a jarring assault on the strategies and conclusions of conventional scholarship” on slavery.

Not each evaluation was as type. Thomas L. Haskell, writing in The New York Evaluation of Books in 1975 about three books that challenged its findings, called it “severely flawed.” Some historians criticized its comparatively benign portrayal of slave life.

“We thought there’d be lots of dialogue inside the historical past career for some time, however the public response is one thing else,” Professor Engerman advised The Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester in Might 1974.

When he and Professor Fogel, who would share the Nobel in economic sciences with Douglass C. North in 1993, appeared on the “At present” present, Kenneth Clark, the distinguished Black sociologist, accused them of portraying slavery “as a benign type of oppression.”

And in an article in The New York Occasions Journal, the novelist Toni Morrison seized on their finding that slaves were not lazy. “No Black one who ever regarded on the financial development of the Nineteenth-century American South,” she wrote, “ever doubted that slaves had been environment friendly. What’s attention-grabbing is that such a conclusion is now essential to persuade white folks.”

A number of months after “Time on the Cross” was revealed, about 100 historians, economists and sociologists gathered for a three-day convention to debate the ebook on the College of Rochester, the place Professor Engerman and Professor Fogel taught.

The talk was so contentious that The Democrat and Chronicle described it as “scholarly warfare.” A few of the criticism targeted on the 2 males’s emphasis on statistics over the brutal realities of slavery.

“They deny the slave his voice, his initiative and his humanity,” the historian Kenneth M. Stampp stated on the convention. “They reject the untidy world during which masters and slaves, with their rational and irrational perceptions, survived as greatest they may, and exchange it with a mannequin of a tidy, rational world that by no means was.”

However the Marxist historian Eugene D. Genovese, whose personal ebook about slavery, “Roll, Jordan Roll: The World the Slave Made,” was additionally revealed in 1974, known as “Time on the Cross” an “vital work” that had “damaged open lots of questions on points that had been swept underneath the rug earlier than.”

“Time on the Cross” was one of many winners of the celebrated Bancroft Prize for historical past from Columbia College in 1975, but not without controversy: A few of the college’s trustees disagreed with the selection as a result of, a college spokesman stated, the authors’ conclusions had been “primarily based on new strategies of information evaluation.”

In a 1989 version of their ebook, the authors acknowledged that that they had been remiss in not being clearer in regards to the evils of enslavement; they need to have, they wrote, offered a “new ethical indictment of slavery.”

“Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery” used knowledge evaluation to problem generally held concepts about slavery.Credit score…Little, Brown

Stanley Lewis Engerman was born on March 14, 1936, in Brooklyn. His father, Irving, was a wholesale furnishings salesman, and his mom, Edith (Kaplan) Engerman, was a homemaker.

He acquired bachelor’s and grasp’s levels in accounting from New York College in 1956 and 1958 earlier than incomes a Ph.D. in political financial system from Johns Hopkins College in 1962. After instructing economics for a yr at Yale, he joined the College of Rochester in 1963. He was a professor of economics there, and later additionally of historical past, till he retired in 2017.

In 1980, he acquired a Guggenheim fellowship to check free and unfree labor within the 18th and Nineteenth centuries.

Along with his son David, Professor Engerman is survived by two different sons, Mark and Jeff; a sister, Natalie Mayrsohn; and 6 grandchildren. His spouse Judith (Rader) Engerman, died in 2019.

Professor Engerman’s curiosity within the economics of slavery was stoked by an article he learn in a 1958 subject of The Journal of Political Economic system when he was in graduate college. The article, by Alfred Conrad and John Meyer, concluded, amongst different issues, that the slave financial system was worthwhile, and it forged doubt on the notion that the South had been compelled into an pointless warfare to guard an unsound financial system.

After finishing “Time on the Cross,” Professor Engerman continued to put in writing about slavery, in the USA and world wide, in addition to colonialism and financial development within the New World. His ebook “Slavery, Emancipation & Freedom” (2007) examined the rise of slavery, its world historical past and emancipation in the USA and in different nations.

John Joseph Wallis, who teaches American financial historical past on the College of Maryland, stated that “Time on the Cross” was important to a full understanding of slavery.

“It’s a special perspective on how we consider slavery,” he stated in a telephone interview. “Not that it was good, however if you wish to take into consideration the Black expertise underneath slavery, it’s a must to give it some thought differently.”


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