Translation historiography in the Modern World: Modernization and translation into Persian
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
Nearly all scholarly works about the encounter of Iran with European modernity emphasize the role of translation not only in introducing new literary forms into the Persian literary system, but also in becoming the main engine of change and modernization of the culture. This paper concerns itself with this constructivist narrative of the available historiographical discourse and the translational environment between 1851 and 1921 in Iran. After describing the field of translation in the period in question, I challenge the uncritical conception of translation as a positive force by, on the one hand, investigating hypothetical cultural and linguistic implications, and on the other hand, questioning the power of translation per se, as ascribed to it in the above mentioned historiographical discourse, in socio-cultural modernization. This will prioritize the individual and cultural translational effects over the supposed institutional ones.
Even though translations are historical phenomena, it is only relatively recently that they have been taken seriously by historians; at least “history”—or rather “historiography”—has generally been written without any reference to translational phenomena. Hence, it is all the more remarkable when, in certain circumstances, in certain cultural environments, historians take translation (more) seriously. It is true that neither history nor historiography are well-defined kinds of narrative writing. Most universities recognize history or historiography mainly as a national genre in which the history of the local/national culture is an object of study. International historiography may be linked with the tradition of national [ p. 299 ]history, but it is generally considered additional to the history of the national culture. In most cases, various kinds of relations with the surrounding cultures are part of this historiography, but translation is rarely an object of study in this field. At the same time, the history of translation(s) has become an object of study at a relatively late stage in Translation Studies, and is often considered to be a subtopic within the cultural approach to translation.
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