The History Woman's Blog

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

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?

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

Programme:

2-2.30pm Welcome and Introduction 

Gaby Mahlberg (Newcastle), ‘Working with Translations in the History of Political Thought’

Panel 1, 2.30-3.30pm:

Thomas Munck (Glasgow), ‘Understanding what you read: dictionaries and encyclopedias as works of reference in early modern Europe.’

Nick Mithen (Newcastle), ‘Translating the well-ordered mind: English, Latin, and Italian editions of the Port Royal Logique, ou l’art de penser (1662)’

Coffee break, 3.30-4.00pm

Panel 2, 4.00-5.30pm

André Krischer (Münster), ‘“Entdeckte Engeländische Verrätherey“. English State Trials in German prints of the later 17th century’

Laura Kirkley (Newcastle), ‘How Feminism Travels: Mary Wollstonecraft’s Translational Afterlife’

Tom Ashby (EUI, Florence), ‘Giuseppa Barbapiccola, I principi della filosofia (1722), and the 18th Century Translators Dictionary’  

Roundtable discussion, 5.30pm-6pm (chairs: Rachel Hammersley and Katie East (Newcastle))