The History Woman's Blog

Workshop: ‘Ideas and translation in early modern Europe’, Newcastle, 22 April

The title page of John Toland’s Anglia Libera (1701), translated from the English text.

As part of my Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship I am organising my first little workshop at Newcastle University to bring together historians and literary scholars with cognate interests in the area of translation and ideas transfer. It is intended as a rather informal gathering to discuss ideas without pressure – just for the sake of discussing ideas.

I see this event as a spin-off from the slightly larger Translating Cultures workshops I have been organising with Thomas Munck at the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel over the last couple of years, but also as an event with a slightly narrower focus that speaks directly to my own research on the translation of English republican works in early modern Germany. This does not necessarily mean that the speakers have to address this topic, but that their papers will deal with some of the same questions I have been asking myself in developing my project.

This workshop addresses the significance of translation in the history of early modern political thought. Why were some texts translated while others were not? How did early modern translators go about their work? And what impact did translations have on the dissemination of ideas across physical and linguistic boundaries as well as over time?

In addition to those broader questions, a particular focus will be on the specific issues that arise from the nature of political language itself. As political terminology is often deeply rooted in a particular political culture and a specific context, how well do ideas and concepts travel and to what extent might they change as they do so? For example, how was the conceptual language of classical Greek and Roman republicanism adapted to suit the political culture of mid-seventeenth-century England? How might sixteenth-century Huguenot resistance theories fit in? And how were ideas from the English Revolution in turn imported into late eighteenth-century France?

Some terms might have been difficult to translate because the concepts they described in one language did not necessarily exist in another, or because superficially equivalent terms had very different connotations in different contexts. Thus, a concept like ‘democracy’ might be problematic despite its morphological similarity across languages.

A typical problem might be the translation of a political text from one language into another between two systems that did not share the same institutions or parties. For example, how would a late seventeenth-century German translator from the English convey the workings of parliamentary processes for the educated reader in a German princedom? How would the same translator explain party conflict between Whigs and Tories? 

Would terms like ‘royalist’ and ‘parliamentarian’, ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ mean the same things to different people in early modern Europe, and why might they not? Are there terms that were simply ‘untranslatable’? And, if so, what might these ‘untranslatables’ reveal about either the culture of origin or the target culture?

In order to tackle these questions, this workshop will look closely at early modern printed texts in a variety of European languages as well as engaging with different theoretical and methodological approaches in the history of political thought which might be useful in this context, including the literature of the linguistic turn and of German conceptual history.

Related questions we might want to consider include:

  • To what extent can translations both facilitate as well as complicate the dissemination of ideas?
  • What might the materiality of a text (size, format, paper quality, font etc) say about its potential distribution and use?
  • How might translations of political works differ from translations in other fields and subjects?
  • How far can translators be seen as intermediaries in the transmission process?
  • Which criteria can be applied to assess the success of a translation? 
  • To what extent might translations be vectors of change?

Confirmed speakers:

Tom Ashby (EUI, Florence)

Laura Kirkley (Newcastle)

André Krischer (Münster)

Gaby Mahlberg (Newcastle)

Nick Mithen (Newcastle)

Thomas Munck (Glasgow)

If you would like to participate in this workshop, please email gaby.mahlberg@newcastle.ac.uk to receive a Zoom link to the event closer to the time.

Re-reading old history books

Caroline Robbins’ classic.

Part of the joy of starting a new research project is that you get the chance to read a lot of new literature. I am currently reading about translation and conceptual history, book history and the history of English republicanism.

But I am also actively re-reading a lot of older historiography I first came across when I got my teeth stuck into seventeenth-century English republican thought for my MA and PhD theses. One of the books I have recently re-visited is Caroline Robbins’ Eighteenth-Century Commonwealthman (1959), now a classic in its own right.

Of course, a lot of it was still familiar in a reassuring way. The authors it covers, John Milton, James Harrington, Henry Neville, Algernon Sidney, John Toland and Robert Molesworth, among many others – back then virtual strangers I was only slowly getting to know – have by now become old friends. 

Robbins’ narrative analysis about the transmission of English republican ideas from the mid-seventeenth-century to revolutionary America has burnt itself into my brain just like the narrative of J.G.A. Pocock’s monumental Machiavellian Moment (1975), which starts the journey of ideas in the Italian Renaissance, but still ends up where Robbins does, across the Atlantic.

Where Robbins’ work was a collective biography of English-speaking Commonwealth authors, bringing together brief life sketches of an extraordinary number of authors writing on cognate issues, Pocock’s work was the biography of an idea travelling continents.

However, the re-reading of any work after a long time also lets you see its flaws more clearly, in part because of the plethora of secondary literature that has been published in the meantime, criticising and revising the arguments as well as developing them further. (more…)

What Germans made of the English Revolution

The Works of John Milton in an C18th edition held at Leipzig University. Library.

I know, it does not seem the best time to start a new research project in the midst of a pandemic. To begin with, many libraries and archives are still shut or operating a limited service, and I might not be able to make full use of my new office for quite some time. 

Moving from Berlin to Newcastle was enough of a challenge in itself, given I had to quarantine for two weeks on arrival, while also trying to sort out all the things one has to do when arriving in a new, if familiar, place. Still, I am determined to make the most of my fellowship after playing around with the idea for the project for quite a while now. After all, there should be enough quiet time for reading.

My new project explores the way in which ideas from the English Revolution (1640-1660) where received in Germany, or rather the German-speaking lands, through the means of translation and what potential impact they might have had on the constitutional debates before the revolution of 1848-49.

Challenging a largely Anglocentric and transatlantic historiography, I hope to establish the intellectual reach and legacy of English republican ideas in Europe by focusing on the country that from 1701 developed an ever-closer relationship with England through the Succession Act which established the Hanoverian dynasty and its heir as the next in line to the English throne. This will involve looking at the distribution history of English republican works in Germany, either in their original English version, or in a variety of translations that might include Latin, French or Dutch texts besides translations into German.

Proceeding from my work on the English republican exiles on the Continent, this is another transnational as well as (from its source base) multilingual study which addresses the communication and cultural exchange between societies across Europe and the way in which political ideas are understood in different contexts.

It is also timely as the UK is renegotiating its relationship with the EU following the 2016 referendum and the degree to which the UK is part of a shared European culture and value system has once again come under close scrutiny both from backers and opponents of Brexit. Then as now, the debates in Europe were about what we share and what divides us.

An C18th German translation of Algernon Sidney’s Discourses Concerning Government.

In practical terms, I will be looking at the legacy of key authors emerging from the English Revolution, such as John Milton, Marchamont Nedham, James Harrington and Algernon Sidney, whose ideas were key for the development of modern representative democracy. Tainted as they were by the regicide, however, the ideas of popular sovereignty, religious liberty and the rule of law promoted by radicals during the first English revolution did not spread widely beyond the British Isles until after the second. 

Only after the Glorious Revolution of 1688-9 which was – however misleadingly – presented as peaceful and bloodless did a concept of ‘English liberty’ emerge that was considered worthy of praise and emulation among the thinkers of early Enlightenment Europe.

In their view, the English had managed to combine the three classical forms of government – monarchy, aristocracy and democracy – in a unique way to balance the interests of the one, the few and the many in a parliamentary monarchy that was held up as a model to the rulers of Europe. By that time, radical republican ideas had been moderated and tamed. They were no longer considered as being in opposition to monarchy, but seen as supporting the rule of a sovereign bound by Parliament and subject to England’s unwritten constitution. 

In contrast, early modern Germany found both democratic government and its own national identity relatively late. It was divided into many smaller states and independent cities, and the territories ruled by the Holy Roman emperors in the seventeenth and eighteenth century were held together only by a loose bond. 

The dissolution of the Empire in 1806, meanwhile, led to the search for a new German identity, first in opposition to the Napoleonic forces and later during the pre-revolutionary period of the Vormärz (c1830-1848/9) against the conservative powers of the Restoration. Besides, many territories still struggled against outdated feudal structures. In this process of state formation and active state building, English republican ideas could offer a model for a parliamentary monarchy and clear constitutional order within the framework of a nation state. 

This does not mean that Germans aimed to emulate their English neighbours, but their identity was shaped through comparison and contrast with other European powers, notably France and England. My new project hopes to capture part of this debate and to contextualise it to gain a better understanding of contemporary constitutional discourse and the formation of national identities in Europe.

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Murder in Lausanne: The Death of an English Regicide in Exile

Posted in Early Modern, History, Politics, Religion, Republicanism, Seventeenth Century by thehistorywoman on September 5, 2020

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The Reformed Church of St François in Lausanne in the 19th century.

On Thursday, 11 August 1664 the Englishman John Lisle was shot dead in bright daylight on his way to church in Lausanne. His killers had been observing his moves. They knew his daily habits.

When Lisle went on that fateful day to hear the morning sermon at the Church of St François, several men were hiding nearby. One of them had been waiting for Lisle at a barber’s shop, and then, following him into the churchyard ‘drew a carabine from under his cloak, and shot him into the back.’ After the deed, the men escaped on horseback towards the town of Morges, allegedly shouting ‘vive le roi’.

The suspects in Lisle’s murder were Irish royalists who carried out the deed as agents of the English Crown, though it remains contested how many assassins there were and who of them fired the deadly shot.

The events that led to Lisle’s death had taken their beginning in January 1649 when after the Second Civil War a High Court of Justice tried the English King Charles I for treason and had him executed. As a commissioner of the High Court, Lisle had been a leading regicide who helped to draw up Charles’s death sentence, even though he did not sign the King’s death warrant.

Lisle continued to hold public office during the Commonwealth and Interregnum period. However, when the Stuart monarchy was restored in May 1660, the tables turned. Some of the regicides were tried and executed by the new government. Others went underground or escaped abroad to the American colonies or to the European continent. (more…)

A coaching inn in Augsburg

CUP_coverChoosing a cover image for a book is tricky, especially on an early modern subject. Ideally, the image should relate both to the title and contents of the book and be available on one of the standard image sites. Since my book is entitled The English Republican Exiles in Europe During the Restoration, I should have selected an image showing the three republicans it focuses on.

Alas, while there are contemporary representations of both Algernon Sidney (1623-1683) and Edmund Ludlow (1617-1692), I yet have not come across a likeness of Henry Neville (1619-1694), nevermind an image showing all three of them at once. Therefore, not even a collage would have been an option.

Next I thought I might go for a map of Europe. I love maps of all kinds, especially early modern ones. But there were already too many other books with maps of Europe on their cover, and the book after all was not about Europe, but about people travelling it. I wanted something more lively, more dynamic which showed real human beings in action.

So I started looking for images of early modern travel, ideally showing travellers on horseback or travellers in cities. These images existed, but they often showed the wrong country, wrong city or wrong landscape. Somehow, the context was always wrong. The same was true for city maps, and they only ever showed once city at a time – Geneva, Rotterdam, Paris, Rome – when I wanted to show them all at once.

In the end, I struck on an image that fulfilled most of my criteria. It is a black-and-white image showing a coaching inn in seventeenth-century Augsburg. In front of the inn is a coach and horses, while several men on horseback are arriving from the left. Other men are nearby resting on a fence or barrier or probably just stretching their legs.

I like to imagine that one of the men in the image could have been Algernon Sidney stopping over on his way to Augsburg, where he stayed in 1664, presumably visiting the former lord chief justice Oliver St. John, who had withdrawn to the city following the Restoration. Maybe, just maybe, Sidney could have known that inn.

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How I got to The English Republican Exiles in Europe

Posted in Early Modern, History, Political Thought, Politics, Religion, Republicanism, Seventeenth Century by thehistorywoman on August 18, 2020

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The cover image shows a coaching inn in Augsburg.

The cover image has been selected, the proofs are done, and my new book on The English Republican Exiles in Europe During the Restoration is finally going to press – due out, the content manager tells me, in about five to six weeks’ time.

This book has been a long time in the making, and it has been a labour of love. I have been wanting to write this book ever since I finished my PhD some 15 years ago – mainly because I was surprised at the time that such a volume did not yet exist.

When doing research on the English republican Henry Neville (1619-1694), it proved rather difficult to find out anything about his period of Italian exile during the 1660s. The time between the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy and the publication of his Plato Redivivus in 1681 had been neglected by scholars mainly interested in his relationship to the more prominent thinker James Harrington and his neo-Harringtonian political thought.

But republican minds do not suddenly stop thinking in 1660 only to re-start some twenty years later. Surely, what happened in between must have been of some significance, I thought, and the exiles project was born.

Lack of interest in the exile period?

Unsurprisingly, it turned out, the narrative was not dissimilar for other republican thinkers, even though they were slightly better known and hence better explored. The prime example was Algernon Sidney (1623-1683), the republican firebrand executed for treason in the aftermath of the Rye House Plot in 1683, to whom Jonathan Scott devoted a two-volume intellectual biography.

While Scott did trace Sidney’s moves beyond 1660 and through to 1683, other historians of seventeenth-century political thought did not, partly because they focused on his published writings. This meant primarily his posthumously published Discourses (1698), while Sidney’s Court Maxims, which capture the spirit of his exile thought, were not widely known until they were published in a study edition in 1996. (more…)

How not to write women out of history

Posted in Academia, Early Modern, History, literature, Political Thought, Politics, Republicanism, Seventeenth Century by thehistorywoman on January 17, 2020

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The Parliament of Women (1646), on which Neville based his satirical libels.

Admittedly, my headline sounds a bit dramatic. But I am serious about this. Several years ago, I reviewed two books in short succession: one, a collection of essays on Oliver Cromwell, another, a history of gender in the English Revolution. The former barely mentioned any women at all, the latter focused on gender relations during this crucial period of British history.

The two books could not have been more different from each other, and yet, they covered similar issues. This made me think more about the way in which I was treating women in my own writing on seventeenth-century English republicanism.

I had to admit to myself, that I too had written my PhD thesis on a male republican, Henry Neville (1619-94), who was a bit of a misogynist himself. (He married a much younger woman to lay hands on her estate and then largely ignored her for the rest of her short life.)

It had not even occurred to me to look for a female subject to write about, mainly because I was under the naïve impression that – with the possible exception of Lucy Hutchinson – female republicans in the seventeenth century simply did not exist. This impression, no doubt, was based on the existing literature.

Ironically, it was through Neville himself that I came to engage with women in the English Civil War and its aftermath after all. In his Parliament-of-Women satires, Neville had used the image of an all-female assembly to poke fun on the weak and useless male MPs at Westminster in the late 1640s and early 1650s. This led me to investigate the political activities of women during the period from female petitioners to prophetesses and the activist wives of Leveller leaders.

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Frontispiece of Neville’s The Isle of Pines (1669).

Likewise, Neville’s fictional Restoration travel narrative The Isle of Pines had used a particular depiction of gender relations to pose questions about the legitimacy of political patriarchalism and hereditary rule. So I got hooked on the gender theme and promised myself to pay more attention to the female figures and voices that appear like faint shadows in the documents and secondary literature.

When I was writing my forthcoming book on The English Republican Exiles in Europe during the Restoration, for instance, I realised what an important role Elizabeth Ludlow (c 1630-1702) held in the wider republican nexus.

Not only did she facilitate the flight of her regicide husband, Edmund Ludlow (1617-92), into continental exile in 1660, she also maintained a communication network that allowed the fugitive to stay in contact with important allies over many years. (more…)

A small workshop shows why I like the EU and Brexit is a bad idea

Posted in Academia, Comment, Conferences, Early Modern, higher education, History, Uncategorized by thehistorywoman on October 18, 2019

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Our Translating Cultures group in the HAB’s Bibelsaal.

I have just returned from our annual workshop on Translating Cultures at the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel (HAB, Germany) which is always a great opportunity to catch up with friends and colleagues while discussing the significance of translation for the dissemination of ideas in early modern Europe. The spread of papers was amazing – from translations of the Old Testament Book of Job via the reception of William Robertson in Italy to Montesquieu in Hungarian and new conventions of botany books that created a whole new language for the description of plants. (You can catch up with the live tweets under #tcHAB2019.)

The mix of languages present at the conference was reflected in our conversations as well. While most papers were presented in English, one was presented in French, and French was also often used in discussions around the table or during break times outside of the conference room, where Italian and German could also be heard. Among the participants were an Israeli, a Hungarian, a Russian and a French national who live and work in Germany, while the event was co-organised by a Danish national living in Scotland and a German who had spent almost one third of her life in the UK and Ireland. (more…)

Royalist Republicans in the United Provinces

Posted in Early Modern, History, literature, Political Thought, Politics, Religion, Republicanism, Seventeenth Century by thehistorywoman on December 16, 2018

Royalist Republic

The cover of an excellent book.

I have just finished reading Helmer Helmers’ The Royalist Republic (CUP, 2015), which offers a profound challenge to received views of Anglo-Dutch relations during the seventeenth century, in particular the idea ‘still influential among non-specialists – that Dutch republicanism somehow separated Dutch political culture from the kingdoms surrounding it.’ (262)

In his book, Helmers explores the shared literary culture of what he calls the ‘Anglo-Scoto-Dutch public sphere’ during the English Civil War and Interregnum period to show the extent to which early modern English works were read in the United Provinces, while English readers were also familiar with the literary output of the Dutch republic. (24)

This republic meanwhile, according to Helmers, was less straightforwardly republican than is commonly assumed. In fact, he points out that during and after the conflict between Charles I and his Parliament, a considerable part of the Dutch population could be considered as royalists both for political and religious reasons.

However, Helmers dismisses as simplistic Steve Pincus’ equation of the Stuart with the Orangist cause. He shows ‘a structural asymmetry between the political and the religious Anglo-Dutch identities’ and argues that we have to differentiate further to understand the full extent of support for the English monarchy across the Channel. (9)

In terms of religion, ‘Dutch Contra-Remonstrants, Scottish Covenanters, and English Presbyterians cooperated in a propaganda campaign in the Dutch Republic aimed at representing the First Civil War as a battle against “Arminians” who were jeopardising the entire Reformation.’ Prominent Remonstrants, including Hugo Grotius, meanwhile, were ‘defenders of episcopacy and the Church of England.’ (8)

In political terms, Dutch Contra-Remonstrants might have gravitated towards the Prince of Orange in the domestic sphere, but supported the English Parliament during the First Civil War. (9) ‘When these Reformed came round to the Stuart/Orange point of view during the Second Civil War, their support of the restoration of Charles II was difficult to reconcile with their religious views.’ (10) (more…)

Translation Matters

Posted in Academia, Early Modern, History, Journalism, Political Thought, Seventeenth Century, translation by thehistorywoman on September 7, 2018

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Some excellent books on early modern translation.

I work at the Foreign Services Desk of a news agency and I moonlight as an intellectual historian of early modern Britain. Both jobs have been fostering my obsession with translation.

Part of my day job consists in translating news stories into German – mainly from English, less frequently from Spanish, and occasionally bits and pieces from French or Italian.

During a seven-month stint of lonely night shifts in the newsroom, I even cobbled together the odd story from Dutch or Swedish sources with the help of Google Translate, various online dictionaries and a bit of common sense.

Admittedly, I’m still feeling a bit queasy about what might have happened if I had got it wrong, but I was lucky (and I wouldn’t have touched the stories had they been too complex anyway).

The titles of political office-holders alone are a major challenge because there are so many false friends. The US ‘Secretary of State’ in German is the ‘Außenminister’, the equivalent of the UK’s ‘Foreign Secretary’, while the literal translation of the concept’s individual components could be rendered as ‘Staatssekretär’, which however in Germany is used to describe an official in a government department below the rank of ‘Minister’. While the heads of German government departments are known as ‘Minister’, however, in the UK the term ‘minister’ is often used for someone equivalent to the German ‘Staatssekretär’, while the chief minister of a department is the ‘secretary’. You get me? (more…)