Sunday, July 23, 2006

"Anglo-Saxon Apartheid"

Eileen Joy, who is filling in for Jeffrey Jerome Cohen over at In the Middle, has written a very interesting post regarding a recent dust-up on Ansaxnet in response to this scholarly article by Mark G. Thomas, Michael P.H. Stumpf, and Heinrich Haerke and this popular (British) press report about the article. I've stayed out of the discussion on ansaxnet (Grad student lesson #2: When professors are busy knocking the hell out of each other, don't offer yourself as an alternative target for aggression.), but have left a rather clunky response at In the Middle that really helped me vent my frustration with the whole discussion but probably didn't make me seem like a very serious scholar. I blame Marcuse for my emotional, some might say "one-dimentional," tendency to be irritated when I encounter ideas with which I really disagree. Another benefit of the pseudonymous blog: If I make a true ass of myself, in five or ten years I can say "Oh, yes, that HeoCwaeth woman. I remember her, poor thing. What a dolt!" And very few will know that I am the dolt in question. So there!


The problem for many Ansaxnetters is the anachronistic use of the term "apartheid" in describing Anglo-Saxon relations to the conquered peoples of Britain. Now, I don't get as excited about anachronism as the average Anglo-Saxonist, so perhaps I'm missing something vital. I dunno. It seems to me that the authors of the scholarly work used the term "apartheid-like" in their title because the term a) catches one's attention, especially when used to describe an unexpected group/culture and b) is an analogy that modern people can understand quickly. On a cognitive level ( man am I treading in unfamiliar waters here) people probably see apparent incongruity that involves an emotionally loaded term and think "I want to know what those guys are saying." This is what a title is meant to do, no? That kind of thing gets me to read stuff, anyway.

The premise of the article (very simplified) is that the prevalence of Germanic stock Y-chromosomes in modern Britain is out of all proportion to the evidence we have for the number of Anglo-Saxon invaders. Using computer simulations, genetic information, legal proscriptions of intermarriage in other European conquered areas, and A-S law codes, the authors posit an "apartheid-like" society in which being of Anglo-Saxon male stock meant a greater chance at reproductive success. In this case, the science seems to back up what we already knew or suspected about A-S culture and political wrangling in general.

For instance. If I were going to conquer and occupy an area with fewer folk than the natives have, I'd want to do a few things right away. I'd want to be sure my forces were up to the task of subduing the natives in the short term. I'd want to disarm the natives, so they couldn't regroup and kill my forces off quite so easily. Then I'd want to structure the society so that my minority group of crack military invaders were satisfied/busy enough that they wouldn't try to displace me as their ruler, and the majority native population would sort of fade away into irrelevance. "Apartheid-like" laws work for these purposes, right? Isn't that a bit like what ALMOST EVERY OCCUPYING FORCE, EVER has done?

So, if the term is anachronistic but the idea that word conveys is correct, is there really a problem? It's just an analogy, folks. (Cue Chris, who will most likely have something to say about analogy. And science. And humanities people talking about science.)


Dave said...

Leof Heo Cwaeth,
I live in Gloucester, England, a place with heavy links to Aetheflaed, but no virtually nothing in the city website or museum, and no monument - see the web page to see what I am trying to do about this.
Have just submitted an article for our local paper, editor was very keen on it.
Since you seem to have an interest I just thought I'd let you know.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with the idea that the Anglo-Saxons did the same as ANY invading force. Compare it to the Ottoman Empire for example where conquered peoples weren't allowed weapons. But there are still Greeks and Bulgarians and so on around in significant numbers. The Anglo-Saxons must have done something different for their small group to conquer such a wide area. For a start, your ideas about what would be sensible to include if you were conquering somewhere don't seem to include anything about intermarriage.