The Challenges of Translating Translation History

Translation has played a prominent role throughout history. In addition to being a type of multilingual communication across political, social, and societal boundaries, translation has also served as a means to control historical and literary narratives and to exert political influence in a range of settings. Until recently, many discussions on cross-cultural and translingual practices have tacitly addressed translation rather than explicitly discussing translation in its role in historical events. As translation has become the focus of historical inquiry, reflections on translation history have bifurcated, with some scholars focusing on the historical development of translations throughout history while others address the practice of translation in its broader context and use. In so doing, scholars have begun to address the epistemological challenges of history of translation alongside the translation of history.

Although these two approaches to history and translation have been described in much of the literature in opposition, these strands of inquiry intersect when translating texts on translation history. As a type of academic translation, in which scholarly discourse circulates within broader, multilingual knowledge flows, the task of translating translation history is an important means by which to contribute to our understanding of translation in and through history. Yet this task poses certain challenges that stem from these differing approaches, which are ultimately shaped by these epistemological differences. Drawing on a case study of an ongoing translation project of África Vidal’s La traducción y la(s) historia(s) [Translation and its histories], this presentation discusses various challenges that arise in these types of translation projects particularly with respect to textual situatedness, anachronicity, and historicity. Specific examples are provided to illustrate their impact and resulting rendition.

Author: Christopher Mellinger