#thanksfortyping & the invisible labours of academic work

I was intrigued to scroll through the hashtag #thanksfortyping last weekend. As I paused between marking essays, new tweets had been uploaded all reminding us that wives have played a part in producing their husband’s academic work. To adapt a famous quote ‘Behind every great academic, there is a women’. 

Male historians were no exception as my contribution of E. P. Thompson’s book acknowledgement to his wife Dorothy The Making of the English Working Class testifies:  


We will never know how much Thompson borrowed from his wife’s notebook or how many ideas were developed together. I think many responses to my tweet were right to call out that she was in fact a co-author of much of his work.    

It has since left me to wonder, what makes an author? Writing is certainly central. But these women polished their husband’s prose when typing. They even appear to have been auxiliary research assistants and fact checkers. Oddly, they remind me of the women researchers in Amazon’s recent series Good Girl’s Revolt who eventually stand together to demand recognition and writer credits.

Dorothy Thompson was a highly respected historian. Although she never achieved the status of her husband, she did publish in her own right. She made inroads into the study of Chartism. Her Guardian obituary noted that she ‘put aside her historical writing (in the 1960s) because she had three children’.  

I have already noted that the language of housewifery is present in higher education. Other people have been inspired to consider how #thanksfortyping is a moment to reflect on unconscious gender bias and how we should resist it. I don’t want to repeat what they’ve already brilliantly said

But the Thompsons also reveal something interesting about academic coupledom and to some extent how some couples co-produce their research products. My husband and I went through each university stage together. We discussed, read and digested each other’s work at undergraduate and postgraduate level. We offered tips and reading suggestions to each other. We continue to do so. My learning disabilities have meant that my partner has also been at times an exasperated proof-reader. 

Acknowledgements are not the places to quite convey what other people have brought to our projects. I had my first book acknowledgement from my husband recently. One day he will have one from me. But does his show the labour we put into each other’s work & will mine? What invisible labour lies hidden still in the generic praise we give each other.   

What #thanksfortyping perhaps forced me to uncomfortably acknowledge was that my academic research outputs are rarely sole-authored. My dyslexia depends on more layers of invisible labour than others are aware off (by which I mean my work is always sent to a copy editor before it is submitted to a journal). 

Similarly, I think we might do well to start thinking about our citations. Perhaps it’s time that footnotes not only privilege written published sources but also the verbal and digital engagements we have had with others about our research. How many email or social media exchanges are made as we construct our research projects? When and where were people pushed to reconsider/ reframe ideas? When did a copy editor come in and tidy up our ideas? When did the editor or second reviewer help us to develop our work? 

It might now be time to think about the invisible layers of book writing that privilege the writing of others. If we did then a more vibrant collaborative academic dialogue might be revealed in which partners, colleagues and peers would be revealed to be the co-producers of our work. We are encouraged to look like single, independent writer researchers in the humanities and that for this dyslexic- dyspraxic writer might be our #thanksforthetyping Achilles heal. 
 

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