Saturday, July 22, 2006

Anglo-Saxons Were Apartheid Racists!

Yes, the title of this post is meant to be some-what provocative, but it is also the title of a recent article in the British online-zine, Life Style Extra [click on title of this post to go straight to the article itself], which is a somewhat breezy take on the more serious scholarly article, recently published:

Mark G. Thomas, Michael P.H. Stumpf, and Heinrich Harke, "Evidence for an Apartheid-Like Social Structure in Early Anglo-Saxon England," Proceedings of the Royal Society B 2006 [online publication]

The Life Style Extra piece has been creating a bit of a stir on ANSAXNET [the Anglo-Saxon discussion list-serv, of which some of the readers here may be aware], where many are expressing dismay that, in the words of one discussant, "Not only does it misrepresent the Anglo-Saxon situation, it also threatens to cheapen the *real* experience of apartheid suffered by Africans, Indians, and people of mixed race in South Africa--and I find that "repulsive" indeed." Another discussant expressed doubt that such knowledge could be deduced from genetic research [guess what? you'd be amazed] and also wrote, "As for the use of the term apartheid, I too find it misused in this context (unless it is a technical term geneticists use). Perhaps the authors should have used something like 'disadvantaged' or 'deprived' ?" Another discussant wrote, and I quote at length in this case:

. . . . the term is not only repulsive it is foolish. Whoever the invading or invited or opportunistic Germanic tribes were, they were not interested in setting up racially sensitive administrations. They were users, conquerors, exploiters. If historical genetics tells us something solid, it tells us that they managed to occupy territory within which they maximized their own population. Now I don't know to what extent genetic markers can tell us how much or how well they assimilated "native" Britons or Celts. I wonder about the claims. Those Britons may not have been as Celtic as one might imagine, given the Roman emphasis on mixed populations drawn from various sources for their military and economic expertise, perhaps people who were largely Germanic already. After Boadica's defeat, perhaps "pure" Celts in fact melted away into the hinterlands. Just a thought.

Finally, one discussant raised what I think are some of the larger issues, and I quote here, again at length:

Using the term "apartheid" to describe Anglo-Saxon England, even if the OED definintion allows for some flexibility of meaning, seems, unavoidably, to invite obvious anachronism, to me anyway...But is this gesture really surprising? 21st century notions of race, class, and gender have become central to modern scholarship, and are at times used to assess historical trends to which they relate only as loose analogues, at best. The big question here, it seems to me, is one of historical methodology: is it useful to try and compare historical periods to one another (e.g., Anglo-Saxon England to apartheid-era South Africa) or attempt to understand these periods independently on their own terms? I must admit, I am biased to the history-on-its-own-terms approach, though I realize it is a much more difficult affair. Yet, it seems to me the real work of a scholar. Perhaps (or perhaps not) it is useful to invite undergraduate students, in the intial stages of historical study, to make such comparisons...I don't know...but (though I remain open-minded) it seems like it ought to be our responsibility to problemtize such simple equations?

To the above post, I responded:

"History on its own terms" is impossible and there is no such thing as historical "periods" that are completely [100%, let's say] separate and discrete from each other, unless we are talking physics and the arrow of time [which even some physicists dispute]. First, historians invent "periods" as useful methodlogical frameworks for analyzing specific "cultures," "nations,""reigns," etc., and while these periods help classify and point to particular times/moments in human history, which are indeed unique in certain ways [and it helps us to understand that uniqueness, certainly], to say that it is not useful to compare seemingly disparate periods in history, such as Anglo-Saxon England and apartheid-era South Africa, is tantamount to saying that we cannot know anything about our present by looking at the past, and vice versa. Along with the Annalistes, I believe that the present has a *need* of history and that the questions we bring to our historical studies must, of some social necessity, be framed by present concerns. There is no "history for history's sake," or if there is, it is not worth pursuing. In the end, history is a form of art--as to how ethical or present-minded or past-minded or positivist or postmodern we want it to be, that is up to us. But every moment in time [as physics, but also evolutionary biology tells us] penetrates, in some fashion, every other moment in time. We should strive more for "whole" histories that seek to understand more how this is so, and what we can learn from that fact, because history, like poetry, in the words of Borges, is always "passing, yet remaining, a mirror to the same inconstant Heraclitus, who is the same and yet another, like the river flowing."

There then followed some back-and-forth as to whether or not Germanic tribes that migrated to "England" really set about "oppressing," "racializing" [what-have-you] the Welsh. It would seem that there is quite a bit of discomfiture among scholars of Anglo-Saxon studies that such could have been the case. Since I spent a good part of May and June at Cambridge University Library poring over Anglo-Saxon law codes, it is clear to me that various A-S polities were definitely intent on schemes of social classification, and "wealh" [Welsh, but also a stand-in, in some cases, for "slave," or "worse-than-a-slave" or "dark-complected," etc.] was one of those classifications. I know quite a few readers of this blog are working on Welsh subjects and much of JJC's work, as we all know, is concerned with early English "identity"--personal, national, and otherwise. I would recommend reading the Thomas, Stumpf, and Harke article--it's bracing reading and shows how science can, indeed, aid the humanists! What does everyone think?

19 comments:

Eileen Joy said...

Gosh, isn't anyone even going to pounce on this statement,

"After Boadica's defeat, perhaps 'pure' Celts in fact melted away into the hinterlands."

???

Is everyone drunk? [I myself am working on it.]

anhaga said...

Well, I'll take a chance and give my thoughts on all this, though I was planning on not jumping in until someone who knows a bit more has a chance to say something. But, lowly grad student that I am, I'll jump in, if for no other reason than this should be discussed -- moreover, it *has* to be discussed. I too have been following the Ansax discussion with some interest -- and I'm glad you're bringing it up as I've been somewhat troubled by what I was reading. I found the article itself, however, fascinating -- I love how much they can come up with.

With regards to the specific statement you've brought out in the comments, I would think there are a lot of people in Wales and Ireland and Brittany who would have disagreed with that. And what is a "pure" Celt? Are we talking entirely genetics here? Because that statement sounds, to the untrained ear at least, really reductive. I mean what on earth is a "Celt," much less a "pure" one? If we want to talk in terms of genetics (and here's where I may have misunderstood), they're working backward and looking for the people who were living in the area at the time of invasion.

And I'd have to agree with you about the laws as well. I've read through a good bit of the laws (though I only got to read them in a terribly old edition/translation), and they are very concerned with keeping social structures very stratified, and any time a word is the same for both a distinct ethnic group *and* "slave" I'd say there's more than a hint that there's something going on around that term.

But I think that the reactions to it are rather telling. It's a story I don't think the field wants to hear. We like our heroes and our kings and the monsters they fight. And I think that another person in the discussion, who said that this is more about "people thinking they are above having ancestors who were prejudiced," was right. There's a sort of way of looking backward on the past as having made acceptable errors, forgivable errors, or in the words of that most beloved of NC Senators, Jesse Helms, on the subject of segregation -- it was "right for its time" (which he said throughout his career). There's an inherent danger to listening to something like what Helms was saying -- it devalues the lesson we learned when times changed -- because it was never right. We just learned how horribly wrong we were. Although one person responded that they didn't understand what they were supposed to do -- should they feel guilty about it? -- I think the whole point isn't feeling guilty, though there's guilt enough to go around, it's not forgetting, and working to make sure that the future doesn't forget either. It's acknowledging that the past shapes the present -- and that our illusions about ourselves and our ancestors can have serious consequences. The stories we tell are stories that create the world around us -- history more than any of the others.

Ok, I've said more on this topic than I really should given how uninformed I feel and how little time I have to do extra research on it, though I'll try to in the days ahead. But I do want to hear everyone else on this -- this is a major discussion, and one that could shape a lot of responses in our work as science begins showing us the face of the past in ways we're not used to seeing it.

"In the end, history is a form of art--as to how ethical or present-minded or past-minded or positivist or postmodern we want it to be, that is up to us. But every moment in time [as physics, but also evolutionary biology tells us] penetrates, in some fashion, every other moment in time. We should strive more for "whole" histories that seek to understand more how this is so, and what we can learn from that fact, because history, like poetry, in the words of Borges, is always "passing, yet remaining, a mirror to the same inconstant Heraclitus, who is the same and yet another, like the river flowing." Eileen, this is both beautifully written and incredibly compelling. It's those who forget what history can teach us about things that happen in the past who will repeat the same tragedies over and over again. You brought up in a later post to Ansax (which I hope you don't mind me bringing up here) the politics of "origins" (which I thought we'd have all realized, by now, particularly with the brilliant work done on it, and in our field!) -- and the tragic consequences they've had in the modern world. WE write history. And it's when we let people maintain illusions about the past that that history serves their purposes, and all manner of atrocity. To take a contemporary view, look at the American representations of the "Founding Fathers" (which is only now beginning to be nuanced in the public eye, from what I can tell--and I'll admit what I know about early united states history fits on the head of a pin so I could be wrong). I think it doesn't take much to realize that our role as "Defender of the Free World" doesn't fall from the "epic" ideals we attribute to them. Equality for all--as long as you do it our way, because clearly we have it right.

Thank you for bringing up this subject, and I look forward to hearing more about it from you -- and everyone! Particularly with nuancing anything I've tried to address -- I feel so naive on this topic, like I lack the vocabulary and the knowledge to talk about it coherently, so I'll look forward to any advice/instruction I can gain here!

HeoCwaeth said...

Like anhaga, I was doing the deferential grad student thing, and for the same reasons. There is probably a great deal background knowledge of this topic that I don't have.

That said, I was shocked by the emotional and dismissive responses to the article on ansax. The question I kept asking myself was, "Isn't it fairly obvious that where there are conquerors, there are also the conquered?" As one person said in his comment, it's not as if the Geneva conventions and the Boy Scout handbook were the guidelines for medieval treatment of conquered peoples.

With regard to those who find the term 'apartheid' repulsive and/or foolish, I'm unclear as to how recognizing earlier versions of ethnic discrimination "cheapens" the experiences of more recent victims. Or, for that matter, how recent manifestations of legal systems based on the idea that different from is equivalent to lesser than are more "real" than the same ideas enacted in law several centuries ago. It seems to me that modern racism is very much the continuation of pre-modern racism. As anhaga said, clinging to pretty but false ideas of our own cultural/genetic history leaves room for dangerous ideas to take root in the present.


"Whoever the invading or invited or opportunistic Germanic tribes were, they were not interested in setting up racially sensitive administrations. They were users, conquerors, exploiters. If historical genetics tells us something solid, it tells us that they managed to occupy territory within which they maximized their own population."

As you and anhaga have already pointed out, the literature we have from the period strongly suggests that one of the ways in which the Germans "maximized their own population" WAS by "setting up racially sensitive administrations." When the resources for survival are funneled in proportionately greater amounts to one sub-group of occupants, and that group is defined by "race," that's a racially sensitive culture. Couldn't we say of the Boers that they were users, conquerors, and exploiters?

The irony that I almost enjoy in this discussion is that many of those responding to the article are calling foul on the anachronism of applying the term 'apartheid' to A-S society, but are simultaneously clinging to their modern understandings of "good" and "bad" people. And the bad people they recognize seem to be defined as "not us."

Really, I have no idea what to think of the person who intellectually erased all post-Boadica Celts by positing the removal of "pure Celts" to "the hinterlands." Anhaga has questioned the meaning of "pure Celt." I'd like to add a few more questions.
1)How hinter are the hinterlands? Does he suggest that geography prevented any tension between Celtic or Romanized Celt and Anglo-Saxon peoples?
2)If the Anglo-Saxons did in fact conquer *somebody* rather than move second troy-like into unoccupied (notwithstanding monsters) space, is it relevant that the oppressed people were not "pure" representatives of any one tribe?
3) Does shifting the blame for oppressed Celts to the Romans somehow mean that the Anglo-Saxons were the only historical example of a non-violent and thoroughly unoppressive warrior tribe? Did they arrive on Britain with tasteful hostess gifts, and gain their wealth and power from successful democratic campaigns?

Bah!

Anonymous said...

Well I have 'lazy thinking time' - and 'productive thinking time'. I tend to only use lazy thinking time on the internet - which can sometimes productive but not if I try too hard.

One of the reasons this blog intrigues me is because of the very productive posts - to which I don't always feel able to rise to the challenge (right now about to dash off on the equivalent of a summer camp run), which will eventually take in 5 countries on two continents.

So I will just say 'of course they were' but in saying that kind of stuff we need to be careful not to naturalise that kind of behaviour and be complacent about it. History should not be about making us feel comfortable with the present.
N50

kofi said...

As Eileen said, and as Heo Cwaeth notes on her own blog, I also don't really have a problem with what many in our fields call "anachronism." First, those "anachronisms" tend only to result from our having fallen in love with the divisions we created to make sense of shifting historical (and literary, cultural, etc) patterns. Second, as Heo Cwaeth noted, the use of the term is at least partially an analogy, meant to situate the discussion within a context immediately recognizeable to the reader. It is anachronistic, I would suggest, only because of the hard and fast and ultimately foolish way we've fetishized our "historical periods" and "area studies" to the point that they are still often seen as having little or nothing to say to each other.

As with the others here, what I find really interesting is the instantaneous and at times vituperative denials that sprung up. The reason I find it strange though is because, as I pursue my own work which is heavily focussed on medieval postcolonialism, I have often found that the real opposition to my work came not from medievalists, but from postcolonialists.

That is, I've always found medievalists open and fairly accepting of these so-called anachronisms (well, lately anyway), even the negative ones which showed, for example, that England's Orientalist fantasies were as brutal and ridiculous in the medieval period as they would be centuries later.

I wonder if we're perhaps seeing an Anglo-saxonist/medievalist split here? I've certainly noticed a tad more scepticism from my Old English associates. Can any Anglo-Saxonists speak to this, since I'm really not as up to speed as I used to be regarding Old English scholarship? Is there perhaps a lingering resistance to this melding of modern theoretical structures with medieval materials in that field that is perhaps more pronounced that it is among medievalists?

Eileen Joy said...

First, I just want to say to "Anhaga" and "Heo Cwaeth," please stop apologizing for being graduate students! You're both obviously very smart, and excellent writers on top of it. Over at the ANSAX list-serv, they might slap you silly, but not here. And on top of "on top of it," you both illustrate in your two posts exactly the kind of thoughtful rumination of the subject [provocative, granted, and hardly "settled" as to "causes," regardless of genetic evidence] that is missing over at the ANSAX list-serv, where [almost] everyone is being their usual reactionary selves [and Kofi--I almost spit out my coffee when you raised the question of a medievalist/Anglo-Saxonist "divide"--hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha . . . DUH!!!--but all kidding aside, YES, Kofi, there IS a medievalist/Anglo-Saxonist divide, and I know this from having lived on the A-S side, where it is often, dark, dreary, and *conservative*--things are changing, but . . . slowly, slowly].

I *do* think, as "Anhaga" points out, that part of the negative reaction to Thomas, Stumpf, and Harke's article has to do with not wanting to condemn supposed "ancestors" [although if recent science is teaching us anything, I hope, it's that the whole idea of separable, discrete "racial" heritages, especially given the continual migratory nature of humans over time, is really suspect--Walter Goffart is quite eloquent on this subject--even the term "Germanic" doesn't mean much at the end of the day, so who do we think we are protecting/defending, anyway, and why do we think we're so "connected" to "them"?]. And, as "Anhaga" also points out, it can be very convenient to say, well, our ancestors weren't as "politically correct" as we are--they didn't understand that, um, slavery was evil. And forget Jesse Helms. Try living in South Carolina, as I have for seven years, where Strom Thurmond isn't just a legend, but is considered a saint. In that case, there are *no* errors of "ways," past or present, and this plus Helms's statement raises the more important question, which is worse: remembering the past incorrectly or not remembering it at all? In the case of some of those posting to the ANSAX list-serv, the grumblings over the "proper" or "ahistorical" or "imprecise" use of the word "apartheid," or, as "HeoCwaeth" points out, arguing that, in A-S England the Geneva Convention didn't apply [!], simply serves to mask the real questions we should be asking ourselves, as scholars of early England, as a result of this article, which does not so much "close" a question, as open up new ones for further research. To whit:

1. If "Computer simulations indicate that a social structure limiting intermarriage between indigenous Britons and an initially small Anglo-Saxon immigrant population provide a plausible explanation of the high degree of Continental male-line ancestry in England," what might that "social structure" be, more exactly, and how was it dreamed up, formulated more legally, and enacted [with what consequences], and where might we start hunting more formally for evidence--textual, archaeological, and otherwise? The article touched briefly upon early law codes [with reference to Whitelock's "English Historical Documents"], but in no way represents a thorough review of those codes, which is needed in relation to this question, and I would personally urge manuscript work, especially with A-S Chronicle, as editions are deeply flawed in their transcriptions/translations [whether Whitelock, Keynes, Attenborough, Liebermann, etc.--by way of example, when I was at Trinity College, Cambridge in 2004 as part of an NEH Summer Institute on "Anglo-Saxon England," I was struck by how the original A-S Chronicle writers would refer to "invaders"--sometimes just with impersonal pronouns, like "them," or "those on ships," but other times as "Danes," but in one of Keynes' translations, he used "Vikings" and when I asked him why, he said, "because everyone knows what Viking means"!!!]

2. If, as the authors of the article maintain, one possible explanation for their genetic findings is that, in early England, there was "an apartheid-like situation (Woolf 2004) in which elevated social and economic status grant higher reproductive success to the immigrants when
compared to the native population and a degree of postmigration reproductive isolation is maintained among ethnic groups for several generations," how can other research--literary, historical, archaeological, ethnographic, etc.--either bolster or call into question this supposedly plausible explanation? Obviously, as "HeoCwaeth" pointed out, where there were conquerors there were conquered and of course the "Welsh" did not just, at some point, "melt away into the hinterlands" [although, "HeoCwaeth," sometimes geography *is* propitious in protecting peoples from too much intrusion], but aside from assuming the obvious facts about power, warfare, the theft of social resources, etc. in *all* times and places, how would we more precisely delineate the process whereby "the high degree of Continental male-line ancestry in England" came into material being?

And so on and so forth.

2.

kofi said...

Eileen said: "First, I just want to say to "Anhaga" and "Heo Cwaeth," please stop apologizing for being graduate students! You're both obviously very smart, and excellent writers on top of it"

I meant to start off by saying essentially the same thing. I'd only add that the main reason to get over the apologizing is because, until we've been in the biz for 20 yrs or so, there will always be reasons to apologize. I just finished my 1st year on the tenure-track, and I still have to fight the urge to begin with, "well, I'm just a newbie, but. . ."

In all fairness though, even in posting continually here you've shown much more courage than I would have as a grad student. I've learned a lot from both of you, and you both always express yourselves very well.

kofi said...

as editions are deeply flawed in their transcriptions/translations [whether Whitelock, Keynes, Attenborough, Liebermann, etc.--by way of example, when I was at Trinity College, Cambridge in 2004 as part of an NEH Summer Institute on "Anglo-Saxon England," I was struck by how the original A-S Chronicle writers would refer to "invaders"--sometimes just with impersonal pronouns, like "them," or "those on ships," but other times as "Danes," but in one of Keynes' translations, he used "Vikings" and when I asked him why, he said, "because everyone knows what Viking means"!!!]

This is also one of my pet peeves; I was just going through an anthology which continually translates "se here" as "the Vikings" in the A-S Chronicles.

The one which really bugged me though was a facing page translation of "The Battle of Maldon" in which "saemen" was translated as "Vikings."

Karl Steel said...

Only time for a quick dash in, my Kofi, per your postcolonial comment, I'm hoping JKW, frequent commentor, tells his story on meeting resistence.

Also, per the various comments on history and comfort, check this out.

Last month Florida governor Jeb Bush signed a law revising teaching standards in the state’s public schools in ways that have caused some dismay among historians. At the top of the list of what will be taught is:

(a) The history and content of the Declaration of Independence, including national sovereignty, natural law, self-evident truth, equality of all persons, limited government, popular sovereignty, and inalienable rights of life, liberty, and property, and how they form the philosophical foundation of our government.

Later (in section f) the law adds:

American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed, shall be viewed as knowable, teachable, and testable, and shall be defined as the creation of a new nation based largely on the universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.

Karl Steel said...

Oh, I also want to make a noise that's only marginally in context, but I assume I'm not the only one following, almost against his/her own wishes, the 'hwaet' imbroglio on the Chaucer list-serv?

Good lord. Strikes me that what these people want is a word portentious enough to bear the cultural weight they've assigned to Beowulf, the 'oral tradition,' and their love of the poem. Since all these things are thoroughly shot through with nostalgia, mourning, what have you, no modern word can ever do the duty. In fact that confidence in the impossibility of translation is just the point, because that supposed impossibility preserves the wholeness of AS culture so central to AS nostalgia that, to the point, requires that the AS showed up with, haha, hostess gifts. 'Hwaet' stands in for both the full participation of the past culture in itself and the inability of moderns to experience that full participation owing to simulacra, the cheapening of the language, and so forth.

Hence their irritation at Seamus Heaney's perfectly fine opening 'So...'

I could bring this up on the list-serv itself, but why bother?

Amy Fulton Stout said...

In an earlier post, "Anhaga" wrote:

"I think the whole point isn't feeling guilty [about our supposed racist ancestors], though there's guilt enough to go around, it's not forgetting, and working to make sure that the future doesn't forget either. It's acknowledging that the past shapes the present --and that our illusions about ourselves and our ancestors can have serious consequences. The stories we tell are stories that create the world around us -- history more than any of the others."

Hello, I am a friend of Eileen Joy's. This morning, when I returned from class, Eileen and I were reviewing recent blog entries and responses. When I read anhaga's entry quoted above, I realized the relevance and synchronicity of what he was saying with the discussion in my class this morning. After describing the class events to Eileen, she asked me to post a description of what happened. Here it is.

My class is led by a writer and teacher who I have known for six years. She is very well-known in East Tennesse, and known nationally as well for her tireless work and writing and teaching. She was born in Gdansk, Poland (now Danzig), in 1923. And since she was born Jewish, you know where this is going. At first she was housed in the Jewish ghetto, then transferred to concentration camps. She lost five years of her life as well as many family members, including her mother and her brother, to the Nazi extermination plan.

I, along with three other adults, am in the Sunday morning class to learn Haftorah chanting. But often we have other discussions about Jewish holidays, etc., so this morning we were talking about the holiday of T'isha B'av (this year it falls on August 2-3).

T'isha B'av is a date on which many tragedies have befallen the Jewish people. In 586 CE the first temple was destroyed, in 70 CE the second temple was destroyed, in 1492 the Jews were expelled from Spain, in 1942 the Warsaw Ghetto uprising began on that day ... to name a few events. On that day, many Jews go to the synagogue and read the book of lamentations to commemorate this series of events. This morning, while we were talking about the importance of remembering even horrible things that have happened, the rabbi came in to ask a question of another class member. The teacher asked him about the rally scheduled tomorrow night to show solidarity with Israel, because a mailing that was sent out asks for monetary contributions and she wanted to know where that money is being sent. The rabbi wasn't sure but he said there was a fund for soldiers in the front and for families of soldiers. "What," asked the teacher, "is being done for displaced Lebanese civilians?" "Look," said the rabbi, "there are plenty of Syrians and Lebanese to help them. If I had as much money as Bill Gates I could give to everyone. But since I don't, I send my money to those I can."

When the rabbi left, the teacher said, "my heart goes out to the Lebanese civilians. When I see a war going on, and women and children don't have a place to live, they have lost everything, we need to help them. As Jews."

Then there followed a lengthy discussion about culpability and appropriate responses. The students in the class (except for myself) are a militant bunch. Pax Romana was mentioned. The teacher said at three different points during the discussion, "you don't make peace with your friend. It's your enemy you have to make peace with." There was discussion of the Balfour declaration, post 1967 and post 1973 Israeli concessions, Henry Kissinger, and the Marshall Plan. And one person mentioned the necessity of "killing all terrorists," to which my teacher responded, "killing terrorists only creates more terrorists." Suffice it to say, reading a comment on this blog about acknowledging how the past shapes the present, or about illusions about our ancestors, really hit home.

Additionally, I was personally wowed by my teacher's magnanimity and lack of bitterness. It's amazing to me that, even after her experiences, she is still able to be so open-minded.

[And Eileen adds: and so courageous in her sentiment re: the current situation between Israel and Lebanon, especially when you consider the importance of Israel, both as an actual geographical site/country/state and as a metaphorical refuge for the Jewish soul. In this story of Amy's, I find real relevance vis-a-vis our discussions on this blog as to whether or not "history matters." Those of us who work with earlier periods must never forget how relevant communal memory is to the present, and how much is at stake in that memory.]

Best, Amy Fulton Stout

Eileen Joy said...

Karl--I do not know about "hwaet" imboglio on Chaucernet, as I do not haunt that list-serv, but my impression from your comments is that it somehow concerns people not liking Heaney's "so" for "hwaet"? Something similar happened on Ansaxnet when Heaney's translation was first published, and let's just say that, since many Old English scholars believe they *own* "Beowulf" [as a text, an historical document, a linguistic archive, what-have-you], the discussion was not pretty and mainly revolved around the sentiment of "how dare a non-Anglo-Saxonist" translate *our* poem, and to add insult to injury, try to contemporize or Irish-ize it"!

Now, as to "Irish-izing" things, that kind of relates, in a way, doesn't it, to this most-recent thread? But it also relates to to the link Karl provided to Jeb Bush et al.'s recent re-writing [and supposedly enforcing via Florida state law] how history will be taught in public school, where, apparently, the American past is a verifiable chronicle of fact and in no way available for analysis of the ambiguous complexities that lie at the heart of this, our beloved "nation." This raises the issue, too, *also* related to the debates at Chaucernet and Ansaxnet, as to the proprietorship of history: who believes they are most deserving of *owning* certain historical narratives, and to what purpose [and this also reverberates with my friend Amy's post regarding the discussion in her Torah class this morning]? Who has the right to decide, and even make legal, the "true," supposedly "authentic" historical narrative, whether of 18th-century America or Anglo-Saxon England or Israel, and what might be at stake in ceding to certain institutions [i.e. the state of Florida] the power to forbid alternative viewpoints, or to enforce, with violence, a particular manifest destiny? We in the academy should be very careful to avoid adopting positions of exclusionary ownership of our subject matter, while at the same time, we need to also fight vigorously against the more preposterously *stupid* people who would make ill use of it. We need to get our heads out of our asses and start thinking about new avenues for "applied" humanistic scholarship.

I am now retiring to front porch to watch the sun set and read "Harper's." Now, it's not light reading, but stil . . . .

Karl Steel said...

Eileen:

That's pretty much the long and the short of it. There was a lot of discussion about what the 'best' translation of Beowulf is, without providing much criteria, and a lot of facetious suggestings that the poem could have begun with "Word up" or "Dude..." The facetious suggestions themselves indicate the impossibility of providing something suitably solemn to commemorate their combined sense of loss and ownership. And so some suggested that we just keep it as 'Hwaet.' A sign of presence or absence depending on where you're standing, I guess.

Now, I'm probably being unfair to the disputants because of the spam-like frequency of the email that clogged all the tubes going to my internets box: but still.

And thanks for putting all the pieces together for me Eileen. Everything you said is what I wished I'd said: and more.

A. F. Stout:

killing all the terrorists indeed! I trust you've seen Alan Dershowitz's latest, lovely entry into the debates. here's a clever take-down on his new(? shades of Dresden?) concept of "civilianality."

It gives me some comfort to know your teacher's on the side of the angels.

And now to make dinner. Enjoy your Harper's EJ. Look forward to taking in the rest of your posts gradually this week...

patricia said...

After skimming the scholarly article, and its references, I'd just like to observe that while sources for Anglo-Saxon law were cited as evidence for the idea of an "apartheid like" social structure, the authors apparently did not consult *any* sources for native laws - one would think in the interest of balance, they would have at least looked at the ways Irish law (as an example of a cognate Celtic culture) or even Welsh law (though the sources are thirteenth-century texts, and the usual difficulties of dating the information are in place) might have added some insight into the problem. Definitions and restrictions regarding foreigners and kinship are (naturally) central concerns of those texts, and some attention to such sources might have provided at least a *gesture* towards a British perspective. Instead, all evidence of social structures is derived from texts written from the Anglo-Saxon perspective . . .

All of which, to me, adds some urgency to the continuing debate about the constructed nature of history and the importance of humanistic engagements with the past along with a healthy concern for the prejudices and blind spots of the present!

Dwi'n ysgwyd fy mhen . . .

Eileen Joy said...

Just a quick word to say thanks to Patricia for bringing up the fact that Thomas, Stumpf & Harke's article relies heavily on [other than genetic evidence] Anglo-Saxon evidence, and does not consider, say, Irish or Welsh legal codes. To be fair, the article doesn't really consider A-S law codes, either, except for brief nods towards Whitelock's "English Historical Documents," which is really a little crazy, since that work considers only *excerpts* from a range of A-S legal documents and charters and does not present a "whole" history of A-S law. Again, going to the manuscripts/original documents themselves is, I would argue, necessary in this case. Also, in case some on this list are not aware of it, relative to the issue of how the term "wealh," in Old English, served as particular kind of racilaized [and even sexualized] category of identity, the following article is very important:

Tanke, John W. "'Wonfeax Wale': Ideology and Figuration in the Sexual Riddles of the Exeter Book." Class and Gender in Early English Literature: Intersections. Ed. Britton J. Harwood and Gillian R. Overing. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1994. 21-46.

And an important response to and enlargement of Tanke's article is:

Nina Rulon-Miller, "Sexual Humor and Fettered Desire in Exeter Book Riddle 12," Humor in Anglo-Saxon Literature. Ed. Jonathon Wilcox. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000.

kofi said...

Thanks for those articles Eileen - man I wish I'd read those about a year ago, as I make a very brief reference to the referentiality of the "swearte wealas" of Exeter Book RIddle 12 in my book. Ah well, there's always more to read. . .

R1b said...

The English i.e. Germans don`t like their hypocrisy exposed.Condemning the Dutch for their `immoral` domination of South Africa while not pissing off back to Europe themselves.

Jeb said...

What does everyone think?

I think everyone should read Alex Woolf's

"'Apartheid and Economics in Anglo-Saxon England' a.s.a.p


It can be found online and is a deeply interesting paper.

The major Scot's legal text concerning the Scot's and Pict's shows the same legal stunt being pulled on the Pict's but I think that remains unpublished although the document is not difficult to get hold of.

The genetics stuff is a rather unfortunate red herring in regard to this matter.

Jeb said...

I should not write replies at 3 a.m not sure how I managed to introduce the Pict's into this should have been the British.

Legal text is Leges inter Brettos et Scottos