Thank You For Noticing
March 27, 2017 8:19 AM   Subscribe

ThanksforTyping logs cases of academic works thanking (typically) unnamed wives (and sometimes their daughters) for typing their scholarly works. UVA mediaevalist Bruce Holsinger started the hashtag with five tweets [1|2|3|4|5] triggering the discovery of many more examples.
posted by Karmakaze (33 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
I'm (sadly) not surprised to see that this is so prevalent, but I am surprised (though I probably shouldn't be) at how often the wife goes unnamed.

Interestingly, I experienced the exact opposite of this growing up. When my mom went back to school in the '90s to get both her bachelor's and master's degrees, my dad typed up every single one of her papers, of which there were many since she was studying English Literature and Library Science. It was a show of support that meant so much to my mom. I know this because she brings it up anytime her going back to school as an adult gets brought up. Now my wife is heading back to school to get her PhD and I can only hope to be as supportive to her as my dad was to my mom.
posted by noneuclidean at 8:37 AM on March 27, 2017 [24 favorites]

Even though I was only four, I remember my mother typing my father's astrophysics dissertation on the manual Olivetti typewriter she received as a high school graduation present... and her frustration when she had to redo a page with many complex calculations. She wouldn't have understood any of it. Anyway, I came across a copy of the dissertation recently when going through their estate. I'm pleased to report that he thanked her by name.
posted by carmicha at 8:43 AM on March 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

how often the wife goes unnamed

If the author's name is H.J.Paton (to use an example from the link) then isn't the wife's name Mrs H.J.Paton? If you live in the 1950s anyway.
posted by biffa at 8:46 AM on March 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Is having someone else type your papers still a thing these days? Back in the typewriter days I could totally see the need because man does typing on a typewriter without screwing it up take actual skill.

Also, complete unsurprised that the "free" labor went uncredited so often. Wonder how many "ghost typed" manuscripts race around out there without even the simple anonymous acknowledgment.
posted by drewbage1847 at 8:54 AM on March 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

This one is particularly egregious. In my opinion it's a frank admission of plagiarism and copyright infringement.

Is having someone else type your papers still a thing these days?

I'm sure there are a few holdouts, but as Anne Bornschein put it, we can take the opportunity to "reflect on productivity norms in academia" and the fact that "the generations that set precedent had more access to unpaid help." This unpaid and uncredited labor has likely had effects that carry on to today.
posted by jedicus at 9:09 AM on March 27, 2017 [7 favorites]

I didn't even realize this was worthy of comment, because I'm so used to seeing those acknowledgments in older academic books. Sometime around 1980, there's a switch to slightly sarcastic "my wife didn't darn my socks or type my manuscript, but she's still great" type lines.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:19 AM on March 27, 2017 [5 favorites]

During college (in the 70s), my dad typed up all my mom's papers for her. When he told me this, which was 4-5 years after the divorce, he talked about it in terms of how brilliant he thought she was, how he was happy to help, and how he regretted that she hadn't gone on to grad school (a lot of her life plans got sidelined by a bad accident she was in and about the time he was telling me she had just started grad school, which may have prompted the whole discussion). It was one a few moments that showed me how supportive my dad has been of the women he knows. The other that comes to mind was during his retirement party when so many women, including minority women, told me that he'd been an important mentor to them.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 9:33 AM on March 27, 2017 [10 favorites]

Just this morning!! in conversation with a science colleague, he dropped the nugget that his wife (not named! I just realized that), also a non-tenured professor at the same university, had spent 3 hours at the print shop due to problems with his poster for a conference next week. When I somewhat jokingly mentioned that he better add a note to the poster thanking his wife for the effort and time she contributed, he replied, "Uhhhh what work?"

I gave him an earful, of course, but it just goes to show that just because the technology has changed. . . .
posted by barchan at 9:42 AM on March 27, 2017 [32 favorites]

Yay! I just looked at the acknowledgments and dedication in my dissertation and I didn't do this!

Dedication: To [Wife] and [Daughter] who make me happy to come home

Acknoledgments: There were a bunch, but all thanks were for peers and mentors in the department.

My wife, at the time working in business, had zero interest in 17th c. philosophy (can't blame her!) and would go cross-eyed if I ever tried to bounce ideas off of her.
posted by oddman at 10:01 AM on March 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

During [the creation of War & Peace], Tolstoy’s wife Sofia was an essential helper. The only person who could decipher Tolstoy’s handwriting or deal with his practice of writing not only across the page but vertically in the margins, Sofia copied out at least seven drafts of the novel. Some acquaintances report that she complained of copying it up to twenty-one times!
posted by Ian A.T. at 10:04 AM on March 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

And even earlier, we have perhaps the ur-example of English literature, blind Milton and his three daughters, famously depicted at the NYPL:
And hee waking early (as is the use of temperate men) had commonly a good stock of Verses ready against his Amanuensis came; which if it happened to bee later than ordinary, hee would complain, Saying hee wanted to bee milkd. (Darbishire, 33)
[Excepting Anne,] the other two were Condemn’d to the performance of Reading, and exactly pronouncing of all the Languages of whatever Book he should at one time or other think fit to peruse; Viz. The Hebrew (and I think the Syriac), the Greek, the Latin, the Italian, Spanish and French. All which sort of Books to be confined to Read, without understanding one word, must needs be a Tryal of Patience, almost beyond endurance; yet it was endured by both for a long time; yet the irksomeness of this imployment could not always be concealed, but broke out more and more into expressions of uneasiness; so that at length they were all (even the Eldest also) sent out to learn some Curious and Ingenious sorts of Manufacture, that are proper for Women to learn… (77-8).
posted by chortly at 10:22 AM on March 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

I was going to say, for a certain time period, I think it'd be more striking to have a MS lack that kind of acknowledgement than to have it!
posted by praemunire at 10:29 AM on March 27, 2017

Barbara Michaels has a character reflect on this. "Did I want to spend my life married to Joe, cooking and cleaning and having babies and typing his papers for him, with rewards like 'And finally, I dedicate this book to my wife, who typed the manuscript and made a number of vaulable suggestions'? Or did I want to type my own manuscripts and write my own patronising dedications?". That's from Someone in the House, 1981, though I think there was something similar in another book.
posted by paduasoy at 10:46 AM on March 27, 2017 [26 favorites]

The other funny thing from acknowledgments is the rote "all errors are my own" thing, as if people were somehow going to attribute your errors to someone in your acknowledgments. And that brings to mind this one, from The Wages of Whiteness by David Roediger, published in 1991:

"My wife, Jean Allman, has greatly broadened my thoughts about race and class, drawing on her own work on the history of Ghana and South Africa. She has been the best supporter and keenest critic of this project. My sons, Brendan and Donovan, have given me much, including the hope that the future does not belong to white supremacy. Responsibility for any errors of opinion or fact that remain in the text lies with four-year-old Donovan."
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:55 AM on March 27, 2017 [34 favorites]

A fictional reference to this phenomenon shows up in second-wave feminist Alix Kates Shulman's 1978 novel Burning Questions, set during the early days of the women's movement:
... All those writers had wives for secretaries, whom they thanked on the acknowledgments page. (Such an acknowledgment appeared in a standard med school textbook currently circulating in the movement. In it the author-doctor thanked his wife for typing the manuscript and doing the index. But an index entry under B read "Birds, for the, pp. 1-2574.")
posted by virago at 11:17 AM on March 27, 2017 [20 favorites]

we can take the opportunity to "reflect on productivity norms in academia" and the fact that "the generations that set precedent had more access to unpaid help."

Because we're all so much more enlightened now! Such blatant exploitation of unpaid academic labour could never happen today.
posted by verstegan at 11:41 AM on March 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I remember as an 8 year old in 1977 playing with my parents' typewriter, and being really bad at typing. I couldn't type two words without needing the white-out. I was frustrated, because I remembered an idea that really should have gone before that sentence, but now it was too late. I remember being really frightened, because all the working women I knew were secretaries and able to type entire reports flawlessly in minutes. Since I was also being taught feminism and that all women were going to be working heroes, I was very worried about the future. (I was a precocious kid.) Then a couple of years later they came out with word processors, and that was that.
posted by Melismata at 12:01 PM on March 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

As someone who started college already having used Microsoft Word for several years in high school (I have since gone on to finish a dissertation in European history), I cannot imagine the hassle of having to change drafts by "hand," what it would mean to move things around, adding room for footnotes, etc.

Getting to the FPP, a particularly egregious example comes from a book on Belgian history written by a Swedish academic and published (in French) in 1946, which I consulted when writing my own dissertation. From the preface (this is my own translation from French):

"Finally, I thank my wife for all the devotion that she brought to translating my Swedish manuscript."

She is not mentioned by name, while dozens of librarians and Belgian bureaucrats are.
posted by dhens at 12:38 PM on March 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

What happened in 1935? (See the graph near the end of the article.) Did all the wives go on strike, or did the husbands stop thanking them?
posted by clawsoon at 1:20 PM on March 27, 2017

"What happened in 1935?"

WWI decimated the generation of men that would have been publishing at about that time would be my guess.
posted by oddman at 1:25 PM on March 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

This discussion prompted me to get out my grandfather's thesis for his PHD in chemistry. He graduated in 1935 from McGill University, and my grandmother typed the entire thesis (complicated chemical compounds with handwritten symbols not contained on typewriters, apparently). This is a bound, book-like thesis, and nope, not an acknowledgment to my grandmother at all, though my grandfather did express his gratitude to his mentor. Sigh.

I take great comfort in that he expressed his gratitude and love to her for their entire marriage until her passing after 59 years of marriage, at least.
posted by annieb at 1:32 PM on March 27, 2017

What happened in 1935?
The Depression made it easier to hire a cheap typist, rather than imposing on your wife? Fewer books published in general?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:34 PM on March 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

My mom could type very well but lied about that fact at her job in the 70s and 80s (as program director for the local Red Cross) because she hadn't worked that hard to be anyone's secretary. She taught me to type and would not type my school papers for me.
posted by octothorpe at 4:13 PM on March 27, 2017 [7 favorites]

My mother told me, in a totally off-the-cuff way a few years ago, that she was typing my dad's master's thesis WHEN SHE WENT INTO LABOR WITH THEIR FIRST CHILD. She found this totally unremarkable (literally, she had not remarked on it for thirty-some years!) and I think she found my inarticulate sputtering about hidden domestic labor kind of precious.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 4:15 PM on March 27, 2017 [5 favorites]

Honestly, this simply represents gendered work norms of the era. Women used to be the primary computer programmers as well. Typing was taught in high schools, but was typically for women, aspiring toward secretarial work.

Now, I'm not defending "the way things were" as being "the way things should be." But I do think it's inappropriate to assail individual authors for expressing gratitude for the generous help of their life partners.
posted by phenylphenol at 4:42 PM on March 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I remember being told, in about 1990, "don't let them know you can touch-type or the only positions they'll consider you for will be secretarial ones."
posted by Lexica at 7:30 PM on March 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

One thing I saw mentioned about this on Twitter, but that hasn't yet come up here, is how this is a really good example of couple privilege. The married authors had access to free typing, housekeeping, and childcare services. How did their uncoupled colleagues manage? Were their research (and careers) affected by not having free access to typing and housekeeping services?
posted by Lycaste at 7:32 PM on March 27, 2017 [6 favorites]

There also were women in academia at the time: not a lot, but some. And I don't think they had this "couple privilege," whether they were coupled or not.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:24 PM on March 27, 2017 [7 favorites]

There also were women in academia at the time: not a lot, but some.

And facing all sorts of barriers. One of my favorite professors has a story about how, when she was heavily pregnant, none of her male classmates would offer her a chair and she had to sit on the floor.

My field (linguistics) has had more women in it than some, and some in subfields (e.g. prosody and intonation) a lot of the fundamental work was written by women on typewriters. I've seen women thanking families for emotional support - but I can't recall any thanking their families for actual work like typing.

Were their research (and careers) affected by not having free access to typing and housekeeping services?

Typing is not so much an issue now, but I think male academics (and men in competitive/demanding careers more generally) receiving a lot of help from their female partners is still something we talk about a lot. Just being able to take an extra hour to read articles instead of watching dinner/cooking the kids can add up to a big advantage over time.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 4:50 AM on March 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

But I do think it's inappropriate to assail individual authors for expressing gratitude for the generous help of their life partners.

I don't think it's those that acknowledge the wives that are being assailed. It's those who don't.
posted by LizBoBiz at 5:19 AM on March 28, 2017

I guess that a few of the dudes are being assailed. Dr. "my wife typed all of my drafts as soon as I handed them to her, even though she was taking care of a newborn and teaching part-time in the chemistry department" is being assailed a little bit, because holy fuck dude. But for the most part, I think it's the gender norms that are being assailed, and the way that women's labor was basically rendered invisible, so much so that most of the wives don't even get acknowledged by name. And it's clear that a lot of the wives did more than typing and probably deserved a lot more acknowledgment than they got. In a lot of academic fields, it looks like women were pretty much absent until the late 20th century, but a lot of that is that women's contributions were subsumed into men's.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:40 AM on March 28, 2017 [10 favorites]

« Older Permanent Daylight   |   YouTubers: not very well supervised, apparently Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments