Redheaded Neanderlady

Redheaded Neanderlady
This is a photoshopped version of something I found in National Geographic about the time I started researching

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Vexation, vexation, vexation

Late last week, I had a problem.  But it wasn't just my problem -- it was the problem of everybody on the list I happen to be on.  This is what is known as a "listserve", basically an early version of an e-mail list such as the numerous Yahoogroups lists.  It's called MEDIEV-L and is populated largely by a number of people in academic medieval history positions at various colleges and universities. So far, so good.  The trouble started when the program, run by, I think, the University of Kansas, began unsubscribing people.  It unsubscribed a lot of people, both academic and nonacademic.  The weird thing about this was, you could receive messages from MEDIEV-L, but if you tried to send them after the program took action, it rejected you, even if your address was exactly as it was before you got unsubbed.  The results were, to put it mildly, chaos for a day or two, until some people tried unsubbing themselves, and then resubscribing.  I tried this, and it worked, but before it worked, I sent out a bunch of test messages, just to see if they were getting through.  Which they finally did.  Three or four of them did, because I wasn't sure if any of them had gotten through.  Normally, if something like this happened, I would only send one such message.


But there was fallout.  After I managed to get through, and explained that I'd sent a lot of test messages, simply because I wasn't sure if the list was even working(I was assured that it was, but it was temporarily quiet), one of the people on the list sent me a really, really, snarky reply.  I mean, this guy was complaining because I'd sent several of "the same" messages, after explaining the reason!  He whined that he was getting something like 1000 of these messages.  I was really annoyed by that, and told him so, in no uncertain terms.  I'm prone to doing that in these situations.  And I do that because I've learned that some of these academics seem to think that they shouldn't have to deal with the Great Unwashed out there.  I pretty much told this guy to just use his delete button if he didn't want to read the messages.  Heck, I do this all the time.


For the record, I actually respect the work these people are doing.  None of these academic types are "in it for the money", or they wouldn't be in medieval studies, nor would they be teaching history classes in their respective colleges.  And I have learned a great deal from many of them.  Furthermore, several of them have been very, very, welcoming and helpful.  But there are a bunch of really "stuffy" types on this list, I'm sorry to say.  These "stuffies" apparently feel that they shouldn't ever have to deal with situations like this, and they sometimes come on as very, very unfriendly and unwelcoming.  Several years ago, I had one of these types complain to me privately that I was "taking up too much space" with my replies to various people.  Again, I pretty much told this particular lady off(politely, however; I was brought up to be polite).  She was pretty huffy.  I didn't miss her when she dropped out. 


This whole situation is interesting, because, as a result of basically gathering information from two different fields for my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals, I've also ended up on another listserve called ANTHRO-L. But what is even more interesting is, I was welcomed warmly when I first came on, and although I've been kind of "corrected" about some things I've said from time to time, I don't sense any stuffiness about these people at all.  They all just seem to be very, very welcoming.  Of course, if the discussions end up being about contemporary political and social arrangements, the discussions can get pretty heated(these kinds of discussions are not allowed on MEDIEV-L, and for good reason).  But still. . . .I've never, ever had the problem with snarky posts addressed to me, that I have on MEDIEV-L.  What I don't respect is an attitude of "superiority".  It's deadly.  And not just in medieval studies  But that's another story, for another blog, perhaps in another place.



Maybe it's simply because, (a) I let the anthropologists know I majored in anthropology, many moons ago, and(b),by the time I got to ANTHRO-L, I guess I'd absorbed enough information about Neandertals and human evolution generally, to discuss these subjects with what I hoped was some degree of intelligence.  On the other hand, I have no background in anything medieval, except books I'd read over the years, here and there.  And people in medieval studies have questioned some of the conclusions of some of these writers.   As I said, not everybody on that list has treated me as if I shouldn't be there asking questions; many of them have been extremely nice, and I correspond with a few of them on Facebook and similar venues.   Maybe it just happens that on the ANTHRO-L list, there are a couple of people who use science fiction in their coursework, or have tried or are in the process of writing, novels.  But there are two or three people on the MEDIEV-L list, who are writing novels, too, though they're not science fiction, let alone Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpieces With Neandertals.  I really don't mind; I've said elsewhere that all writers and aspiring writers should stick together and help each other.  Being a writer is hard enough without  getting sand kicked in your face, metaphorically speaking. 


Or maybe it just has more to do with the type of people who are drawn to anthropology, v. the kind of people who seem to be drawn to medieval history.  For instance, the ANTHRO-L people make no pretense of being anything other than pretty politically liberal; I think a lot of this, for them, has to do with being exposed to cultures and ways of being not their own.  On the medieval list, I get the feeling that there are a fair number of political conservatives there, though the expression of this is pretty muted because the listowner doesn't like people fighting over contemporary problems that seem to mirror medieval ones(or vice versa). I'm in full agreement with the listowner about this, although he is not one of these apparent "conservatives" as far as I can tell.  For the record, I don't really mind that some people have ideas that differ from mine in this regard; academic or not, it would be a pretty dull world if everybody thought the same. 


But at bottom, I really don't much care for people who think, because they have studied some specialized body of knowledge, they can look down on those of us who haven't inhabited such rarified realms.  Not that I don't respect their work -- I do.  But the attitude that some of these people seem to exhibit -- that us ordinary folks have no business on their precious list, and have no right to even speak, appalls me.  This is one of the reasons why so many people end up on e-mail lists, only to lurk endlessly.  They are absolutely scared to ask any questions, for fear of their heads getting bitten off.  I should also add, for the record, that I encourage anybody who joins my own e-mail list, Paleoanthropology, Science, and Society, to speak up if they have questions, and join the conversation.  This is one of the best ways people learn anything. 


Apparently these "stuffies" on MEDIEV-L that haven't learned this.  And they don't even make allowances for computer "glitches".  I realize these academics don't have a lot of time to waste; I also respect that, and really make an effort not to pester the ones I've corresponded with.  It's not fair to them.  We all have lives utd we all need to respect each other. 

Anne G


Susan Higginbotham said...

I gave up on Mediev-L when the group started complaining about "lady novelists" who didn't properly acknowledge academics in their novels, after which they moved to a discussion about raising money for the defense of a professor who'd been arrested on drug charges. The little I was getting out of the group wasn't worth the arrogance.

Anne Gilbert said...


Fortunately, I've developed a fairly tough skin, and I'm not easily put off by the kind of "arrogance" you describe, and I've experienced, on MEDIEV-L. There are actually some decent people there, and I've met one of them. Oddly enough, though, they're mostly women, who apparently won't put up with this kind of crap, either. Incidentally, I developed my tough skin about this kind of thing, when I was starting out researching the "prehistoric" part of my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece.
Anne G

terryt said...

Interesting comparison. I've found something similar with geneticists versus anthropologists. Geneticists are extremely helpful, anthropologsts a bit less so. Seems historians are even less so.

I know you've read several of my essays at remotecentral. The reason I put them up there is that after several prominent NZ geneticists had read them, made very helpful comments and then agreed with that aspect, they suggested I needed to get some anthropologists to read and comment. Have I found any to do so? Not likely. Thank goodness I don't need historians to read them.

Anne Gilbert said...


The weird thing is not so much whether a certain group of academics is "helpful" or "unhelpful", but more the high degree of hostility I've noticed among some of these medievalists, toward people "outside" the field Not all of them, or even the majority of them, by any means. But those who exhibit this hostility from time to time are very hostile indeed. It usually comes out when somebody introduces a topic, or asks a question, which particularly "offends" them. What bothered me on the last round, was not even so much that some of this hostility was directed at me(I've got a tougher skin than you might think), but rather that it was generated by a computer glitch that essentially prevented just about everyone, from posting at all. Those so "unsubbed" had to "officially" unsub and then resubscribe, which I did, but it took a while for reasons I won't go into. Then the list was very quiet for a few days. The result was, I ended up sending several "test" messages to make sure everything was in order on my end. This offended at least two people, who surely should have realized what was going on and taken note of it. But no, I dared to clutter up their precious list with these test messages(I wasn't the only one who got this snarky response, however), and one of them even wrote me privately to the effect that I shouldn't post so much; in his words, "there is Twitter for that". I consider this completely unacceptable, and the next time this happens, to me or anybody else, I will call out this kind of hostility. Publicly, but politely.