Simpson Center for the Humanities

Scholars at Work

#UWtranslators is a series of interviews with translators by the UW Translation Studies Hub.

By Jesús Hidalgo

Trained in Southeast Asian history, European intellectual history and anthropology, History Professor Vicente Rafael's research interests include language and power, the politics of translation, comparative colonialisms and nationalism, the social history of media and mediation, critical theory and anthropology, empire, race and gender. Much of his writing has been on the colonial and post-colonial Philippines and the United States.

How did you become interested in the Translation Studies field?

My interest lies less with translation studies as a field and more with translation as a historical practice. I got interested in it starting with my first book on the role of translation in the Christian conversion of Tagalogs during the early Spanish colonization of the Philippines.

How is your work in the field of Filipino Studies connected with Translation Studies?

Filipino Studies is a very interdisciplinary field that involves a plurality of languages and long, unfinished histories of colonial rule that also involve multiple languages. To track and analyze this history, one needs to take translation seriously, both as a way of reading documents and as a way of understanding how people deal with plurilingual worlds.

How do you use Translation Studies in your classes?

By talking about language as a whole or history as a series of discursive regimes.

Why are Translation Studies still relevant in our contemporary society?

The question should be: why is translation at all still relevant? Or better yet, could there be a society where translation did not exist?

Do you have any upcoming projects related to Translation Studies?

Yes, a project on the role of English in the production and maintenance of linguistic hierarchies in Southeast Asia and the United States; and the emergence and role of creole languages in disrupting linguistic hierarchies.

What translated works are you reading nowadays?
Gina Apostol, "Insurrecto"

By Kathleen Woodward

The numbers have mounted every day since China first began announcing them. As I write this, the New York Times reports that in China deaths from the coronavirus—named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization—have reached at least 1113, with the number of cases confirmed rising to 44,653. Where can we turn for an informed and compelling perspective on what will almost surely become a pandemic? I recommend science writer David Quammen’s Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, a book written for a broad public that was published in 2012.

The foundational questions of Spillover are these: Where do these diseases come from? Can they be predicted? Why do they subside? Drawing on the conventions of the detective story and citing academic research, Quammen explains the science in an intelligible voice, patiently introducing us to vocabulary I suspect is unknown to most of his readers (reassortment, reservoir hosts, anthroponosis). He devotes the chapters of his book to outbreaks of specific diseases around the world—Hendra, Ebola, Lyme disease, and AIDS, among them, with influenza taken up primarily at the end. He tells us about people who have died from these diseases and introduces us to people who have survived them, including scientists pursuing research and medical personnel caring for those who fell sick. He vividly illuminates the threat of diseases that are zoonotic— that spill over, jumping from animals to humans. Through the very accumulation of these stories, he shows us that these diseases are significantly on the increase. It’s a big book. Read it from beginning to end. But ignore the threatening image of a crazed primate on the cover. Designed to elicit fear and sell copies, it doesn’t resonate with the tone of the book whose purpose is to engender heightened understanding and informed concern.   

Throughout his book the word risk rings like a bell. But it is the concept of unpredictability—the unpredictability of catastrophic global biological risk—that is at the heart of his book. Spillover is a history of the present and a speculation about our biological future. But in fact, it offers not so much speculation as a confident prediction that there will be—there is in David Quammen’s mind no doubt about it—an outbreak of an infectious disease devastating to humans.

Crowded Conditions

Quammen argues persuasively that we are in a new era of ever-emerging zoonotic diseases. Over the course of Spillover, he builds a powerful case that outbreaks of pathogens—his emphasis is on viruses— are growing more and more common around the world. This elevated risk, he argues, is due to increased...

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Professor Heidi Pauwels (Asian Languages & Literature) was recently awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship to work on her book, The Voice of India’s 18th-Century Mona Lisa: Songs by Rasik Bihari of Kishangarh. Pauwel’s project explores the poetry of an 18th-century woman known as Bani-thani or Rasik Bihari, who was a court performer and favorite of the Indian ruler Savant Singh (1699–1764) of Kishangarh.

In 2017, Pauwels led a Simpson Center funded symposium, Memory Construction and Emotion in India, Past and Present, that examined how Hindu, Muslim, and Jain cultural self-understandings were shaped in India’s past and how that relates to the present. That same year, Pauwel published Mobilizing Krishna’s World: The Writings of Prince Sāvant Singh of Kishangarh (University of Washington Press), which discusses the political and religious upheaval of sixteenth and eighteenth century northern India through the life, devotional poetry, and paintings of Savant Singh, the Rajput prince unseated by his younger brother. 

The NEH announced this round's grant winners on January 14. The federal organization awarded $30.9 million in grants to support 188 humanities projects in 45 states and the District of Columbia. An additional $48 million was also awarded to fund 55 state, territorial, and jurisdictional humanities councils, which serve local communities through a range of state-focused humanities discussion and educational outreach programs. You can read more about this year's awards and see a full list of winners here.

Congrats, Heidi!

Congratulations to UW Professor Naomi Sokoloff (NELC/Comparative Literature), who, along with Washington University in St. Louis Professor Nancy Berg (Hebrew/Comparative Literature), won a 2019 National Jewish Book Award for their co-edited collection, What We Talk about When We Talk about Hebrew (University of Washington Press).

The volume gathers twelve essays, chiefly from the May 2016 UW conference Hebrew and the Humanities: Present Tense, which was organized by Prof. Sokoloff and the UW’s Dr. Hannah Pressman, along with Prof. Berg, in conjunction with the 2016 Samuel and Althea Stroum Lectures and with the support of the Simpson Center. Like the book, the conference explored the state of Hebrew language studies in contemporary America and beyond. Keynote lectures were delivered by Dara Horn and Ilan Stavans, who both contributed to the collection (along with Dr. Pressman) and whose talks you can view here.  

Inaugurated in 1950, the National Jewish Book Awards is the longest-running North American awards program of its kind. The Awards are intended to recognize authors, and encourage reading, of outstanding English-language books of Jewish interest. Past notable win­ners include Deb­o­rah Lip­stadt, Bernard Mala­mud, Chaim Potok, Philip Roth, Elie Wiesel, Jonathan Safran Foer, Deb­o­rah Dash Moore, and Sandy Eisen­berg Sasso.

Sokoloff and Berg will be honored on March 17 at an awards dinner and ceremony in Manhattan, New York. Next year, Sokoloff, along with UW Professors Gary Handwerk (English/CHID) and Gordana Crnkovic (Slavic) will also be leading Global Literary Studies, a Simpson Center funded project that will work towards developing a new Global Literary Studies major at the UW.

By Jesús Hidalgo

As part of its fall events featuring researchers, activists, and artists whose practices and work are connected to translation, the Translation Studies Hub hosted a two-part talk on Nov. 22, 2019. Profs. José Alaniz (Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures) and Jason Groves (Department of Germanics) gave presentations on translating Russian comics into English and the applicability of the term “weak” in the Translation Studies field, respectively.

Prof. Alaniz spoke about his experiences as a translator of Russian comics, and mainly about his current project: translating Lena Uzhinova’s 2014 graphic memoir My Sex. He described the book as the representation of Uzhinova’ sexual experience as she grew up as part of the last Soviet generation; a generation that had to deal with inadequate sexual education, child abuse, and rape culture.

After speaking about his other translation work (including being a consultant for an exhibit about Russian comics in the U.S.), the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures professor also used some examples from Japanese manga, Conan the Barbarian, and Mandrake to talk about some of the visual challenges translating comics poses. Some of these challenges, he said, are usually related to how panels and vignettes are contextualized, how the composition of speech balloons is formatted, and the adaptation of speech balloons for a new audience. He is facing similar challenges while translating Uzhinova’s memoir.

In the second part of the talk, Prof. Groves spoke about some of his past translation past translation work in both the U.S. and Germany. including translating bureaucratic events, writing the captions for a punk film, and working on a map about immigration in Germany.

He used these experiences to introduce the term “weak translation,” a term he adopted from other fields, such as “weak theory” and “weak environmentalism,” for example. The latter has been used to refer to small-scale actions and ideas, low-intensity affects and social ties, and the precariety of subjects.

The Department of Germanics professor said that the word “weak” in the Humanities is originally derogatory, but recently it has been recovered to push back against its opposite: the affective value of “strong.”

In that sense, Prof. Groves says that “weak translation” is “non-normative, non-derogatory, evacuated of any ableist connotation. It marks the partial, the provisional, the leaky, in-promptu, the centrifugal, but it’s not ‘weak’ in the sense of deficient at all.”

To end his talk, Prof. Groves showed a few exercises he does in his undergraduate classes (including a translation of a poem in German using the voice assistant Cortana) to talk about the “weak” barriers of languages and what a “bad translation” would mean...

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A Look at the Simpson Center’s Next Generation Humanities PhD Special Initiative

By Rachel Arteaga

*You can also read this story over on Medium.*

In 2016, the National Endowment for the Humanities announced a new program directed at change in doctoral education. The projects to be funded by Next Generation Humanities PhD grants would bring humanities PhD programs into alignment with a true diversity of possible career outcomes for their graduates, integrate the humanities more purposefully into the public sphere, and ultimately “transform what it means to be a humanities scholar.”

The program was, in part, a response to widely-circulated reports from major professional organizations, including the Modern Language Association Task Force on Doctoral Study in Modern Language and Literature (2014). Indeed, “No More Plan B,” (2011), the American Historical Association’s summary statement on the academic job market for historians, had gained currency in the vocabulary of the academic humanities. When Next Generation Humanities PhD appeared, the profession was already in a moment of intense self-reflection, its focus cohering around a single question: what was the meaning and value of the humanities PhD?

The NEH announcement offered an opportunity to rigorously pursue that line of inquiry and sparked an exciting possibility for us at the Simpson Center for the Humanities. Usually, our mandate is to support crossdisciplinary research and inquiry in the humanities, meaning that the vast majority of the projects we support involve faculty from multiple departments. But doctoral education is almost always defined primarily by cultures within departments, not across them. So we took an unusual approach, resolving to directly support degree-granting departments in imagining the futures of their disciplines on their own terms. In February of 2016, we announced our own Next Generation Humanities PhD special initiative, inspired by the visionary leadership of then-NEH Chairman William “Bro” Adams.

From 2016 to 2019, this special initiative supported eight projects involving ten doctoral degree granting departments and programs at UW, among them English, History, and Philosophy. Doctoral education in the humanities is unique in its capacity to prepare students to undertake projects of...

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This summer, the University of Washington was one of two schools, along with the University of Massachusetts, to host the pilot program of the Mellon Foundation-funded MLA Teaching Institute, aimed at strengthening the teaching of English at access-oriented institutions through collaboration. For one week in June, thirty-two participants—a mix of faculty members from access-oriented institutions and doctoral students at regional universities—met to discuss and develop pedagogical research projects that they’d conduct for the rest of summer and then present at the 2020 MLA Conference in Seattle. 

This week, they’ll do just that when they present the findings of their research on the MLA panel, “Research Projects from the MLA Reading-Writing Institute.” The panel will be held from 1:45 to 3 pm on Saturday, January 11 in Room 4C-2 of the Washington State Convention Center, where folks can also learn more about the Institute and how to apply to be part of next year’s cohort.

As the panelists prepare their presentations, we asked University of Washington-affiliated doctoral students to reflect on being part of the first MLA Teaching Institute cohort—both what they learned and what they’ll be sharing during the conference. Here’s what they said:  

Leah Rubinsky (Comparative Literature):

We talk, quite a bit, in my department and across campus about collaboration and interdisciplinarity, but rarely do we practice these things. Participating in the MLA Summer Teaching Institute in June gave me the wonderful opportunity to be part of a diverse and collaborative learning community made up of PhDs, graduate students, creative writers, professors and instructors, some working at community colleges, some working at four year institutions, all brought together to learn about and share strategies for teaching academic writing and reading. And this was, perhaps, the most memorable and refreshing part of the experience: the invitation to be part of a professional community of teachers talking about how we show up in classrooms, what we grapple with at access oriented institutions or four year colleges and how we define and teach critical college-level reading and writing skills. Along with this, it was also valuable to do the hands-on, experiential work that we did, including sharing and peer-reviewing our writing assignments, prompts and syllabi, and actually doing, in our group, some of the discussion-based assignments and activities that we have our own students do.

As I reflect on the Institute, I am so grateful to have been able to take part in it. Not only did it rekindle my love of writing, reading and the teaching of both, it also gave me a glimpse of how academia can be done differently. What possibilities open up if we look beyond ideas of hierarchy, gate-...

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#UWtranslators is a series of interviews with translators by the UW Translation Studies Hub.

By Jesús Hidalgo

An active member of the UW Translation Studies Hub, Professor Cynthia Steele is a Professor Emerita of the Department of Comparative Literature, Cinema and Media, and former Chair of that department. She has taught courses on Literature of the Americas, Latin American cinema, world literature, and literary translation.

Tell us about your research in the Comp Lit Department.

I’ve been a critic of Latin American narrative for many years, primarily the Mexican novel. I published two books on Mexican narrative: Narrativa indigenista en los Estados Unidos y México (1985) and Politics, Gender and the Mexican Novel: Beyond the Pyramid (1992). Over the years I have published numerous articles on Mexican narrative and film and on the literature of Chiapas and Oaxaca. Beginning in the 1990s, I also began to translate both fiction and poetry. I published a translation of Inés Arredondo’s Underground River and Other Stories (1996) and of José Emilio Pacheco’s City of Memory and Other Poems (2001, with David Lauer). Also during the 1990s, I translated numerous short stories and poems for two special issues of TriQuarterly, one on Recent Mexican Literature and the other on Literature of Chiapas.

How did you become interested in the Translation Studies field?

My earliest translations were of Mexican writers who had become friends during my stays in Mexico City: Elena Poniatowska, José Emilio Pacheco, and Inés Arredondo. As time went by I found that, when I would read a Spanish text that I loved, I would feel the urge to translate it, and that I found the process very gratifying. I have also been motivated by wanting to make more wonderful works by Latin American and Spanish writers available to English readers.

How do you use Translation Studies in your undergraduate classes?

I once had the opportunity to teach an undergraduate practicum on translating from Spanish to English. Students worked in groups, translating short stories by Mexican women authors. It was a lot of fun! Also, on several occasions I have taught a graduate seminar on translation.

I was going to ask about that graduate seminar. Tell us about the CLIT511 class you taught in Winter 2017. What was the aim of the course?

At various points I have emphasized more or less translation theory in my seminars; on this occasion I focused primarily on the practice of translation. I had each student translate three poems and a short story from their source language to English, workshop the translations with the other members of the seminar, and then submit them to literary journals for publication.

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Little Women by Maira Kalman

by Laura Griffith

Fifty-six people got up on a Saturday morning to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. The event was March Madness, hosted by the Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Graduate Research Cluster and held in the Research Commons in Allen Library on November 23.

Members of the University of Washington community and the community at large gave lightning talks on a variety of subjects, including women’s clothing in the 1860s, Little Women and sustainability, the legacy of Little Women in China, Alcott’s assessment of Transcendentalism, and the stakes of being a woman artist in the nineteenth century.

Graduate Student Laura Griffith (English) and March Madness co-organizer, Laura Griffith, giving a lightning talkIn between panels of lightning talks, attendees visited tables displaying desserts baked from nineteenth-century recipes, reproduction clothing and artefacts in the style of the nineteenth century, art in the style of the nineteenth century (which was being painted on the spot by UW’s own Joey Xiaoyi), and the University Bookstore’s collection of books by and about Louisa May Alcott, among other things. Re-enactors from the Washington Civil War Association, at the University of Washington for the first time, were also there in full 1860s costume.

Finally, the event finished with a talk from Sandra Kroupa, the Rare Books Curator for UW Special Collections, followed by a trip downstairs to see the more than 150 books Sandra had displayed, including a first edition of Little Women. An endowment for the collection of works by nineteenth-century American writers has enabled Sandra to collect an impressive array of books by Alcott and her contemporaries. 

March Madness was a fun opportunity for fans and scholars to unite over their shared love of Little Women. Attendees could vote on their favorite of the four March sisters in the novel by putting money into jars bearing each character’s name. Donations went to the University District Food Bank in honor of the March sisters, who feed the hungry at the beginning of the novel. Participants also chatted about why it is that everyone likes Beth but she’s nobody’s favorite character, and argued over whether or not Jo should have married Professor Bhaer.

March Madness also provided a platform for scholars to share their work with an audience beyond the university, breaking down the invisible barriers that often separate academia from non-academic communities. This ensures that the insights and questions raised within university walls reach beyond them; it further ensures that the knowledge and concerns of the broader...

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In anticipation of winter break, we asked Simpson Center-affiliated scholars and staff what books they’re excited to dig into once the end-of-the-quarter frenzy has wound down. Here’s what they said:  

Rachel Arteaga, Assistant Director, Simpson Center:

"Last winter, I compulsively pre-ordered a hardcover book of essays and speeches. I couldn’t resist the title, and I knew that the author wouldn’t fail me. The book is The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison. A speech from 2005, included in the selections, has stayed with me. It’s called “Hard, True, and Lasting,” and in it Morrison explains that in her own writing, “in order to reveal what seems to me the hard and the true and the lasting things, I am drawn to describing people under duress, not in easy circumstances.” Since her passing in August, my gratitude for her unflinching work has only deepened, and I’ve returned to this collection again and again."

Michael Biggins, Affiliate Professor, Slavic Languages & Literature

"Over the holidays I’ll be reading Claudio Magris’s Trieste, un’identità di frontiera, published in 1982 and supposedly one of the first works about Trieste by an Italian author ever to make a serious effort at encompassing the broad totality of the city’s complex cultural heritage, including its very considerable and age-old Slovenian presence. 

I’ll also be reading 2018 Nobel Prize winner Olga Tokarczuk’s Primeval and Other Stories (Prawiek in inne czasy in Polish) in preparation for the January meeting of a local Central European book club that I helped organize and belong to, which we’ve dubbed Stories from the Heart of Europe. Anyone with an interest in Central European literature, or in a particular book that’s on our reading/discussion agenda, is more than welcome to join us.  Our schedule of meetings and authors/books up for discussion at each one are posted...

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