Sat Jul 28, 2007

The Last Typing Wife

Question: what is the latest—i.e., most recent—example you know of an academic’s first book where, in the acknowledgments, the author thanks his wife (or some other person’s wife, as in “the redoubtable Mrs Elizabeth Arbuthnot”) for typing and retyping the manuscript with great patience, forbearance, accuracy, and so on? The acknowledgments to academic books are a mini-institution with pretty clear rules that change only slowly over time and show a high degree of homogeneity, particularly for first books. Up until a certain point, the endlessly patient and also busily typing wife was a fixture in them. But no longer. How precisely, I wonder, can her extinction be dated?

My hypotheses are: (1) The typing wife disappeared earlier than the typing employee, but (1a), The typing employee has also now disappeared. (2) Things must have been in decline for a long time (typewriters are not exactly a new technology, and then women started going to graduate school on their own account), but the big drop-off comes some time in the 1980s, as cheap computers and word-processors arrive. I suspect specimens continued to appear into the 1990s, however. (3) The typing wife may have disappeared from acknowledgments faster than actual wives doing actual typing disappeared in practice. (4) I expect variance across fields due mostly for reasons of technological affinity. But I’m not sure how fine-grained this is.

As evidence for (2), as an undergraduate in 1993 not in possession of a computer, and not lucky enough to be attending a university with any decent computing facilities, I along with almost all others hand-wrote all my essays and regular coursework. But it was a requirement of both my honours theses that they be typed, so I had to marry pay someone to do that. The following year, though, I had saved up and bought a powerbook and typed my MA paper myself. So it seems reasonable to think that academic books published around this time might still have phantom typists working away – though maybe by then it was people who took a typewritten manuscript and retyped it on a wordprocessor. But I want specific examples. So the main question is, in whose set of acknowledgments is the most recent typing wife to be found?