Translation in History Lecture Series


2013/2014 Lectures

Term One

Time: 6pm

Venue: Anatomy Gavin de Beer Lecture Theatre, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT

Term Two

Time: 6pm

Venue: Archaeology G6 Lecture Theatre, UCL Institute of Archaeology, 31-34 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0PY

Free entry & all welcome!

Term One Lectures

10 October 2013

Latin as a language of translation in Elizabethan England

Gesine Manuwald (UCL - Department of Greek and Latin)

This talk will look at the role of translating from and into Latin in 16th- and 17th-century England, where this was done as an exercise to create linguistic fluency, but also to make writings available to a larger number of readers. The framework will be sketched by a look at a selection of contemporary statements on translation practices and on the value of particular translations. Against this background, case studies drawn from Queen Elizabeth’s own translations and from works of bilingual poets, such as Abraham Cowley, will be analysed. Thus this study will shed light on translation practices and the educational context in the Elizabethan period and make it possible to compare early modern views on translation with present-day ones.

24 October 2013

‘No Tincture of Learning?’: Aphra Behn as (Re)Writer and Translator

Alison Martin (University of Reading; Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg)

Aphra Behn (1640-89) was one of the foremost female writers and translators in Europe of her time. Best known as the author of the short novel Oroonoko (1688), she was also an energetic translator and produced English renderings of classical and contemporary authors, not least Bernard de Fontenelle’s work on astronomy, the Entretiens sur la Pluralité des Mondes (1686), which appeared as A Discovery of New Worlds two years later. In this lecture I shall be exploring how Behn styled herself as a female translator of early scientific writing, before comparing her with British women working in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, who similarly contributed to the ‘feminisation’ of science and the circulation of scientific knowledge to a wider readership through their translation activities.

14 November 2013

Literalism, expediency and decorum: the contradictions of Victorian translation publishing

Carol O'Sullivan (University of Bristol)

Several factors affected publishing and translation in Britain in the nineteenth century. These included the expansion of the readership through mass literacy; the fall in the price of paper in the middle of the century; and changes in the moral and legislative climate. Retranslations allow us to trace these environmental changes. This paper focuses on series publishing in the Victorian period, and in particular on Henry Bohn, who launched several commercially successful and influential book series including the ‘Standard Library’ and the ‘Classical Library’. The ‘Libraries’ offer a useful prism through which to consider translation norms (e.g. the emphasis on literalism) and the negotiation of prestige and acceptability. 

28 November 2013

Schleiermacher and Plato, Hermeneutics and Translation

Theo Hermans (UCL - Department of Dutch, School of European Languages, Culture & Society)

Schleiermacher’s 1813 lecture ‘On the Different Methods of Translating’ is famous for contrasting the method of ‘bringing the foreign author to the reader’ with that of ‘taking the reader to the foreign author.’ In my opinion, Schleiermacher’s lecture is not really about this dichotomy at all. I will argue that his lecture is neither more nor less than the application of the principles of hermeneutics to translation, and that Schleiermacher developed his hermeneutic theory largely as a result of translating Plato. The first five volumes of this monumental translation appeared between 1804 and 1809. In my talk I will take a close look at Schleiermacher’s Plato and then go on to sketch the connection with his hermeneutics. I will end by re-reading the 1813 lecture with a focus on two key passages.

12 December 2013

‘Transportation is Civilisation’: Ezra Pound’s Poetics of Translation

Andrés Claro (Universidad de Chile)

Ezra Pound’s groundbreaking poetics of translation overlap with his best legacy as a writer, with consequent impact on Modernist and contemporary literature. In the understanding that there is no historic sustained translation performance without a conception of language and an idea of culture, beyond examining the creative versions Pound shaped from a variety of tongues (Provençal, Chinese, Latin, and others), this lecture articulates the conception of language that defines Pound’s differential approach to literary translation (‘plain meaning’ charged by musical, imagistic or contextual effects), as well as the cultural impact he devised from the task: the ways in which translation, through its very donation of poetic forms of meaning and representation, is able to modify language and culture (strengthening perception, expanding a world-view, reviving voices of the past which criticise and shape the present).

Term Two Lectures

23 January 2014

Translations and Literature in Ancient Mesopotamia

Martin Worthington (University of Cambridge)

This talk will introduce non-specialists to the rich bodies of writings which attest to practices of translations in and out of Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian. These include bi- and trilingual word lists, Babylonians’ tabulations of Sumerian grammatical forms, interlinear Babylonian translations of Sumerian compositions, Assyrians composing in Babylonian, and Babylonians adapting Sumerian materials. The sources considered will span roughly the first three millennia BC, and will include Lugal-e (or how the god Ninurta defeated an alliance of evil stones) and the Epic of Gilgamesh. We will also consider some of the issues faced by modern translators of ancient Mesopotamian works.

6 February 2014

Toledo as a Centre of Translation in the 12th &13th Centuries

Charles Burnett (Warburg Institute, University of London)

Toledo is well known as the principal centre in Europe in which texts were translated from Arabic into Latin in philosophy, medicine, mathematics, alchemy and magic. This lecture will show how the translations were made according to strict rules and how they were accompanied by explanations of the texts. They reflect a context of collaboration, between Christians, Jews and Muslims, and of lively exchanges between masters and their disciples.

27 February 2014

The Art of 譯(yì): 3000 Years of Chinese Translation

Nicky Harman (Chinese-to-English translator)

Translation from and into Chinese has played an influential role in the development of Chinese civilization. It has been a tool of the state, essential to regulating trade and diplomatic relations, and the route through which a major religion, Buddhism, became dominant. It has also been a medium of cultural exchange: science, philosophy, literature and art has travelled both ways, both out of China and inwards. As far back as 200 BCE, we can read analyses of the nature of translation, and down the centuries there has been lively debate around issues which we now call fidelity, domestication and skopos. This talk will give an overview of those 3000 years and will show how translation problems perceived and discussed centuries ago are still relevant today.

13 March 2014  

Language and Translation in Rabbinic Thought

Willem Smelik (UCL - Department of Hebrew & Jewish Studies)

This lecture will focus on the rabbinic views of translation against the background of their views on language. More specifically, the rabbinic views on the use of languages will be related to a development in rabbinic thought on the domain and scope of translations, in particular scriptural translations. Topics include the Adamic language, the distinction between written translations and oral-performative translations, the function of translations as lexical repositories for the interpretation of texts, and the devaluation of understanding alongside an increased emphasis on a ritual performance of texts. All sources will be provided with English translations.

27 March 2014 

The Translation of a Saint: Santa Rosa de Lima

Stephen Hart (UCL - Department of Spanish & Latin American Studies, School of European Languages, Culture & Society) 

Santa Rosa de Lima, patron saint of Peru and the Philippines, inaugural saint of the Americas, was born in the City of Kings (as Lima was then known) on 20 April 1586. Strikingly beautiful with blond hair, her mother, Maria de Oliva, tried to marry her off, but Rosa resisted, devoting herself to a life of prayer. She had visions of hell and purgatory, she cured the sick, she made flowers grow overnight, she made a picture of Christ ´sweat´, and she was known for her extreme self-mortification, on one occasion whipping herself 5,000 times. She died at the age of 31 on 24 August 1617 and, as a result of the further miracles which blossomed, she was beatified on 15 April 1667 and canonised on 12 April 1671, one of the quickest canonisations in history. This lecture looks at the process of the ´Procesos´(the Ordinary ´Proceso´in 1617-1618 and the Apostolic in 1630-1632) and, specifically, the role played by translation in the canonising transformation of the original testimonies (recorded in Spanish) into the first official biography written in Latin, Vita mirabilis et mors pretiosa venerabilis sororis Rosae de Sa. Maria Limensis (1664), by the enigmatic Dominican friar and master of the English Province, Leonardus Hansen. 

Eventbrite - Translation in History Lecture Series: Professor Stephen Hart (UCL)


Carol O’Sullivan is a Senior Lecturer in Translation Studies and the director of the MA in Translation at the University of Bristol. Her research interests include literary translation, publishing, censorship, film, audiovisual translation and translation historiography. Her work on translation history has been published in collections by Four Courts Press, John Benjamins, LIT Verlag and Multilingual Matters. In 2012 she was guest editor of a special issue of the journal Translation Studies on method in translation history.

Andrés Claro (Chile, 1968) is an essayist and academic. He undertook his postgraduate studies in Philosophy and Literature at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (Paris), writing a thesis under the direction of J. Derrida, and at Oxford University, where he completed a D. Phil. with a thesis on ‘Ezra Pound’s Poetics of Translation’ under the direction of R. Bush. He has published notably La Inquisición y la Cábala, un capítulo de la diferencia entre ontología y exilio (The Inquisition and the Kabbalah, a chapter on the difference between ontology and exile, 1996; 2nd. ed., 2009) and Las Vasijas Quebradas, cuatro variaciones sobre la ‘tarea del traductor’ (Broken Vessels, four variations on ‘the translator’s task’, 2012). To a series of essays on poetics, the theory of language, translation and culture, he adds two collections of poems and literary translations from various languages (most recently, Kirigirisu, a selection of haikus). He divides his work between Paris and Santiago, combining writing, research and teaching. He has been visiting professor at The State University of New York. He teaches in the Doctorate in Philosophy (Aesthetics) at the Universidad de Chile.

Martin Worthington studied Ancient History and Egyptology at UCL (BA, 2000) before specialising in Assyriology at the Universities of Leipzig and Cambridge. He was a Junior Research Fellow at St John's College, Cambridge, and a British Academy Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at SOAS. He maintains a website of modern recordings of Babylonian ( and is the author of Teach Yourself Babylonian.