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The Many Faces of Translation: Language, Culture, Power, Art


Admission requirements:

This course is an (extracurricular) Honours Class: an elective course within the Honours College programme. Third year students who don’t participate in the Honours College, have the opportunity to apply for a Bachelor Honours Class. Students will be selected based on i.a. their motivation and average grade.

Key words:

Skills: In addition to skills for reading across various fields of inquiry and doing collaborative research, students will especially further develop their critical thinking.

Topics: The course engages with the notion of translation, a key concept in academic work and social interaction as well as cultural production. Entry points for the discussion include colonialism, censorship, resistance, gender, law, human/technology relations, art, and more.

Disciplines: The course advances interdisciplinary thinking in that it engages with survey essays and specialist research from a variety of domains (see above), inviting students to reflect on convention and individual agency as regards subject matter, theory, and method within and between various fields in the humanities and the social sciences.


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. There are those who argue that cultural translation can occur within a single language and that it is about people that migrate rather than texts—what is going on, for instance, when rural-to-urban migrant workers in China turn themselves into poets? Are these translated people? Translation at large relates to the experience of sameness, difference, and transfer, from bookstores to courtrooms and from anthropological fieldwork to philosophical reflection.

This course invites students to explore the notion of translation from entry points including colonialism, censorship, resistance, gender, law, human/technology relations, art, and more. We focus on culture (broadly defined), with ample room for social and political perspectives. 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:

Upon successful completion of this course, students will have:

  • a general awareness of core issues surrounding the notion of translation across various fields of inquiry;

  • 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.

Programme and timetable:

Twelve sessions in all: on Mondays, 5.15 to 6.45 pm and Wednesdays, 5.15 to 6.45 pm.

M 3 February 2020
W 5 February 2020
M 10 February 2020
W 12 February 2020
M 17 February 2020
W 19 February 2020
M 24 February 2020
W 26 February 2020
M 2 March 2020
W 4 March 2020
M 9 March 2020
W 11 March 2020

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

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

    • To be specified closer to the date. Will include themes like the history of translation, identities and roles of the translator interlingual and cultural translation, ethics of translation, translation and colonialism / censorship / gender / law / technology, translatability, the hegemony of English, translation as part of research practice, and so on;
  • Four sessions dedicated to team-of-two presentations and discussion;

  • Term paper due two weeks after the final session.


Old Observatory, Leiden. Room c003.

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.

Course load and teaching method:

This course is worth 5 EC, which means the total course load equals 140 hours. The numbers below are an approximation of what to expect:

  • Class sessions = 12 x 2 = 24 hrs; (attendance is mandatory)

  • Preparation for class = 12 x 4 = 48 hrs;

  • Postings on Blackboard = 5 x 1 = 5 hrs;

  • Position paper: think piece (response to assignment) = 20 hrs;

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

  • Term paper: think piece (students identify topics), in teams of two or three = 30 hrs.

Assessment methods:

The assessment methods will look as follows:

  • 20% contribution to group work in postings and in-class debate (continuous);

  • 20% individual position paper;

  • 20% presentation, in teams of two or three;

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

  • 10% self-assessment of engagement with what the course has to offer.

An overall pass mark (6 or higher) requires a pass mark for all components.


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

Registration process:

Enrolling in this course is possible from Monday the 5th of November up to and including Thursday the 14th of November until 23:59 hrs through the Honours Academy. The registration link will be posted on the student website of the Honours Academy.

Please note: students are not required to register through uSis for the Bachelor Honours Classes. Your registration will be done centrally after successful completion of the Bachelor Honours Class.


Prof.dr. Maghiel van Crevel: