Wednesday, July 26, 2006

I Can't Leave You People Alone for Even a Minute, Can I?

The light blogging of late has been because I took my family on a little vacation. Now I come back to find all heck has broken loose. Let's start with the medieval news:

There's been a lot of Sturm und Drang at AnSaxNet over the use of the word "apartheid" to describe Anglo-Saxon social structure in "Evidence for an Apartheid-Like Social Structure in Early Anglo-Saxon England." I read the posts with (very) mild interests at first, then put them on my mental "delete immediately" list as one of the sillier debates Anglo-Saxonists have had for a while -- but it's summer, so I guess we can cut ourselves a little slack. You can find some of the debate at In the Middle, Heo Cwaeth, and Old English in New York ... or you can search the AnSaxDat.

I suspect there are two reasons people might object to the use of the term "apartheid." One is a kind of Anglo-Saxon nationalism. Me, I don't really have a dog in that fight. By current American cultural definitions, I'm an Anglo-Saxon in the White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant formulation, but by actual descent I'm far more Anglo-Norman and Irish (at least if Uncle Mike's genealogy is accurate). I find it mystifying that anyone today might derive their personal self-worth from the politically-correct racial attitudes of ancestors dead for a millennium, but then again I don't understand a lot of things that must be obvious to other people. I myself am (supposedly) descended from John Chandos, but if tomorrow I found out that I'm not, or that he was the most evil man in the history of Western Civilization, who cares? It would be slightly interesting, but I'm not culpable -- after all, he begot me, not the other way around.

The other reason I suspect is that people want to demonstrate their political virtue by showing that they oppose apartheid in the previous century and in the medieval era. One of the ugliest elements of academic life are the frequent pageants of political virtue. Even when I agree with the political stance taken, I find these tiresome. Perhaps it would just be quicker if people were to post images of their Labour Party membership cards online.

Enough of tempests and teapots. The real interesting news comes out of a bog! An Irish construction worker found a Psalter from c. 800-1000 AD in a midlands bog. Naturally, it is fragmentary -- you try leaving a book in a blog for a thousand years and see how much is legible -- but it is still a wonderful find. I can think of at least one Briton who'd be happy to know about the survival of the psalter. Unfortunately, I don't have much more to say about this find, since we don't have a lot of detail yet. Maybe more will come later.

Other non-medieval issues arose while I was away, but I'll deal with those later.


  1. "Naturally, it is fragmentary -- you try leaving a book in a blog for a thousand years and see how much is legible -- but it is still a wonderful find." [emphasis mine]

    Freudian slip, Dr. Nokes?

  2. The funniest part of that "blog" slip-up is that I typed "blog" the first time, then corrected it -- but apparently only corrected it in my own mind, and simply re-typed "blog."

  3. Anonymous11:15 AM

    I actually misread "bog" as "blog" and chuckled to myself about the error, only to find the word "blog" on the next line. Now I can chuckle at you too.

  4. Surely the primary reason for objecting to the use of the word apartheid would be its anachronism?

    Hello -- I'm now across the river from the other Troy (NY) but still without an office, so all my academic things remained packed. But soon -- I will be back to work.

  5. Though lots of people cited "anachronism" as their chief objection ... I doubt it. First off, it isn't anachronistic at all, since the phrase in the title is "Apartheid-like," meaning that the authors are saying that the closest modern equivalent is Apartheid -- hence the "-like" part.

    Besides, the vitriol aimed at the authors indicates that the objections are motivated by something else. The usual AnSaxNet response to anachronism is to scoff at it, not to compete as to who is the most offended.

    Congratulations on the new job! We need to talk to get our book project moving again once you are settled in.

  6. On the Chandos connection -- you can see him as a great chivalric hero, dear to Conan Doyle's Sir Nigel, or as an egregious 14th century war criminal! Your choice!

    Back in 2000 the Sunday Times of London ran a list of the 200 richest Britons since 1066, and they had either Knolles, one of the same crew as the 14th richest Briton, based on his wealth at death (he died without heirs and forfeited everything to the crown.

    It was an interesting rating system. Equivalences were not based on taking inflation into account, but on how big a share of the national wealth you had. Those 14th century bandits made out like, er, bandits. But the 10th c ones (1066 and all that) did better.

    20th century billionaires came way, way down the list.