Thursday, 17 October 2013

Initiatives in scholarly translation

I've just been reading a series of articles from a special issue of Art in Translation (volume 4, issue 1, from 2012, paywalled) on the translation of art history. The journal is the only periodical I know whose main function is to publish and discuss research in translation. There's a fascinating piece, 'Honor Thine Author' by Fiona Elliott, about being a translator of art-related texts and what that actually means. She has some very interesting reflections on ambiguity, author sensitivities and the ethical stance of the translator. On a light-hearted note, I like her remark that
if I get the chance, I always make sure I ask authors to avoid using the word 'aufheben', and any words deriving from it. What English verb could match 'aufheben', meaning to pick something up from the floor, to save something up for later, to close a meeting, to terminate a siege, to remove restrictions, to cancel or annul, to repeal or revoke, to compensate, neutralize, offset, or elevate?
More seriously, it's great to see the arts and humanities gradually get more interested in the role of translation in the transmission of research findings. There's a long history of debates about translation in the history of ideas, of course, about translation of Freud, Derrida, de Beauvoir, Cixous, Barthes, about the problems of translating philosophy in general (for readers with a JSTOR subscription I recommend this article by Jonathan Rée), or the 'epistemicide' wreaked on ideas by scholarly translators, as per Karen Bennett's argument.

But what I really wanted to write about today is practical initiatives to support scholarly translation in the arts and humanities.


The Getty-funded Art in Translation has a standing call for suggestions of important work in art history which deserves to be translated into English. They also have an annual student prize with a first prize of £250 for the best proposal by a registered art history student (next deadline 1 November 2013).

The Organisation of American Historians (OAH) offers a biennial prize, the David Thelen Award, to the author of the best article on American history published in a foreign language. The winning article is published in English translation in the Journal of American History. Next deadline 1 May 2015 for articles published in 2013 or 2014.

The European Society for Translation Studies has a new grant, the Translation Prize, which offers up to €2000 to support the translation of a key text or texts in Translation Studies. It was awarded in 2013 for the first time, for the translation of Anton Popovič's Teória umeleckého prekladu [Theory of Literary Translation] from Slovak to English. The next deadline is 1 June 2014.

On a related note, I see that the long-running Polish literary translation journal Przekładaniec has made several recent issues available in English on its website. I didn't know that there was a lively debate about the translation of Derrida's term différance into Polish, but I do now. 
The Society for Cinema and Media Studies has a Translation Committee which has a brief to promote the translation of scholarship in film and media studies not written in English. I have a memory of a page on their old website with a collection of texts proposed for translation, which was a very nice idea, but I don't seem to see it on the new website.

Lastly, there was an initiative a few years ago by the American Council of Learned Societies, part-funded by the Ford Foundation, to produce guidelines for translators in the social sciences. It culminated in Michael Henry Heim and Andrzej Tymowski's 2006 Guidelines for the Translation of Social Science Texts, which can be downloaded in English, Arabic, Chinese, French, Japanese, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese here.

UPDATE 28 December 2013: I've just been reminded of the wonderful-looking Paul Celan Fellowships, 3-6-month funded residencies for translators of works of criticism and research publications from and into Eastern European languages. The website gives the following description of the programme:
The aim of the Paul Celan Fellowship Program is to overcome deficits and asymmetries in the exchange of ideas and the reception of scholarly literature which result from the division of Europe in the 20th century. Therefore, the program supports translations of canonical texts and contemporary key works in the humanities, social sciences and cultural studies from Eastern to Western, Western to Eastern, or between two Eastern European languages. Special emphasis is put on translations of relevant works written by East European authors and/or by female scholars.
I'd be very interested to hear from readers of more initiatives to promote and support scholarly translation.

UPDATE 26 January 2015: I've just read an excellent short report on a French government-funded project commissioned by the Institut Français and run by Gisèle Sapiro on the translation of French research in social sciences and humanities. The project makes a number of recommendations and it will be very interesting to see how many of them will be taken up. More on the project here (in French).

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