Translating History

In December I spent a very productive week at Stirling University taking part in a group workshop entitled Traduire l’histoire. This was the first in a series, La Fabrique des Humanités, organised by ATLAS – Association pour la promotion de la traduction littéraire.

The series brings together translators working in both language directions: a rare UK-based opportunity to discuss translation and more in French as well as English! It was interesting for me to find out more about the worlds of literary translation and academic history in France and Belgium. I gained greater insight into US English too, as the other 3 into-English attendees were originally from the States.

The week included an introduction with Jörn Cambreleng of ATLAS on the Monday, and a talk by Dr Michael Rapport on the Thursday about ‘What historians want from translators’. We also visited The Pathfoot Press, a small ‘hand press’ printer based on campus.

In the workshop sessions proper, 3 hours were dedicated to each participant’s text. With everyone having read and prepared the source texts in advance, this was an opportunity to really get to grips with the whole extract submitted.

The proportion of time devoted to discussing the context, approach to take, and details of the text itself varied according to the translator and source material. The manuscript I’m working on is ‘history’ in the sense that it’s a primary source; all but one of the other participants were translating secondary sources.

I was the only into-English participant approaching the subject from a translation background, rather than a history one (both tutors were experienced translators, and Siân Reynolds worked as a history professor too). The tutors and attendees provided lots of knowledge about history, methods and more for me to absorb. Hopefully the historians gained from the translation input too.

I have found it pretty much impossible to sum up the experience, not least given the intensive nature of the study during that week and the variety of material we tackled. Suffice it to say that this was a mind-broadening experience, which also deepened my knowledge. And what a great opportunity to get to know my colleagues!