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The Noble Art and Tricky Business of Translation


Deze informatie is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar.

Admission requirements

This course is an (extracurricular) Honours Class: an honours elective in the Honours College programme. There are limited spots available for second-year and third-year non honours students. Admission will be based on motivation.


Translation is everywhere. And: it is never innocent. Even in the conventional sense—say, Shakespeare in Swahili—translation turns out to be a complex, dynamic phenomenon. It is hard to predict, control, or evaluate. It has language at its core but is by no means limited to language. It reflects power relations, norms, and values. And that’s just the interlingual variety, but there is much more. The last several decades have seen the notion of cultural translation establish itself, as controversial as it is prominent. “The translation of cultures” has been associated with colonialism, and there are those who argue that cultural translation is about people that migrate rather than texts—what is going on when migrant workers turn themselves into poets? Translation at large relates to the experience of the familiar and the strange in vastly different contexts, from bookstores to courtrooms and from anthropological fieldwork to philosophical reflection.

This course invites students to explore core issues of translation and link these to their individual interests. We focus on literature and culture, without assuming prior knowledge of these fields and with ample room for social and political perspectives. Last but not least, we will also consider translation as an integral part of the research experience, manifest in source material, theory, and method; and in the individual researcher’s trajectory. What gets translated, by whom, for whom, to what effect, and what questions does this raise?

Course objectives

  • General awareness of core issues surrounding the notion of translation in scholarly discourse, at the levels of source material, theory, and method

  • The ability to draw on this awareness in learning and research

  • Heightened sensitivity to the positionality of the learner and researcher as an integral part of what it is that is learned or researched

  • Heightened sensitivity to the nature of specialized expertise as part of a larger landscape of academic inquiry.


Mondays, 5.15 to 6.45 pm
Wednesdays, 5.15 to 6.45 pm

4 February
6 February
13 February
18 February
20 February
25 February
27 February
4 March
6 March
11 March
13 March


Old Observatory, room C003.


Introductory session on course structure and content, definitional issues and so on: lecture and response

  • Will include planning of presentations (see below)
    Six themed sessions on core issues in translation: seminar format

  • To be specified closer to the date. Will include themes like (the theory and practice of) literary translation, identities and roles of the translator, cultural translation, translation and censorship, translatability, ethics of translation, the sociology of translation, translation and gender, the hegemony of English, translation as part of research practice, and so on.

  • Four sessions dedicated to team-of-two presentations and discussion

  • Wrap-up: a look back at the course and what people are taking away from it

  • Term paper due two weeks after the final session.

Course Load

This course is worth 5 EC, which means the total course load equals 140 hours.

  • Class sessions = 12 x 2 = 24 hrs

  • Preparation for class = 12 x 4 = 48 hrs

  • Weekly postings on Blackboard = 5 x 1 = 5 hrs

  • Position paper: thinkpiece, response to assignment = 20 hrs

  • Presentation & moderating, in teams of two or three = 12 hrs

  • Term paper: thinkpiece, your own work, in teams of two or three = 30 hrs

Assessment method

  • 20%: contribution to group work in postings and debate (continuous assessment)

  • 20%: position paper

  • 20%: presentation & moderating, in teams of two or three

  • 30%: term paper, in teams of two or three

  • 10%: effective engagement with what the course has to offer (self-assessment)

Please note: attendance is mandatory.

Blackboard and uSis

Blackboard will be used in this course. Students can register for the Blackboard site two weeks prior to the start of the course.

Please note: students are not required to register through uSis for the Honours Classes. Your registration will be done centrally.

Reading list

We will read scholarly literature on translation from authoritative reference works, coupled with case studies. This will be complemented by texts in other media. “Texts” is taken broadly, and while students are welcome to assign scholarly essays for their presentations, they are equally welcome to draw on other kinds of writing (e.g. life writing, activist manifestos, fiction, all manner of “reporting”) and audio-visual material (e.g. exhibitions, catalogs, documentary / fictional film, photography, web lectures). Whatever works best in preparation of the discussions they will lead.

Details to follow closer to the date. Students will receive a detailed course description well ahead of time.


Enrolling in this course is possible from Tuesday November 6th until Thursday November 15th 23.59 hrs through the Honours Academy, via this link. It is not necessary to register in uSis.


Prof. dr. Maghiel van Crevel