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Radical Translations


We are in the process of collating and annotating information about translations of radical texts produced between 1789 and 1815 in Britain, France, and Italy. The project's digital resource consists of three parts:

  1. The bibliography, providing a systematic description of our corpus of print and manuscript resources, with particular attention to the paratext of translations
  2. The prosopography, which collects biographical information about ca. 200 radical translators, some of whom remain unidentified, with the aim of uncovering relationships and connections
  3. The chronology, where events relevant to the intersection of political radicalism and the history of publishing in the three language areas have been marked, to contextualize the translation process

The database is not in its final release phase. We have taken the decision to share work-in-progress online, partly to give scholars interested in specific texts and/or translators that are already in the database immediate access to the work so far, and partly in the hope that users will give us feedback enabling us to improve any aspects of the database, whether these be substantive, presentational, or functional.

To leave feedback on the current version of the database please email Dr Brecht Deseure and Dr Niccolò Valmori

A technical overview will be added to the side in due course, for now for more information on the technical solution developed in collaboration with King's Digital Lab please refer to the in progress documentation.


a. Translations and source texts

The database contains bibliographical records of target texts (TT) and their source texts (ST). We do not provide full text digital editions of the texts at this stage. When known, we have listed the actual edition of a ST on which a given translation was based. As translations are our main focus, this is where our analytical effort has concentrated. TT records tend to be more heavily annotated and include information on genre and subject matter, using a selection of terms from the Library of Congress classification system.

In addition to these standard terms, we have introduced the following ones to describe specific aspects of the relationship between translations and source texts:

  • Abridged: TT presents itself as covering the whole of the ST but in fact includes ellipses and compressions
  • Adapted: evidence of substantial rewriting, ST significantly reshaped 
  • Compilation: ST not originally published together, or parts thereof, by the same or different authors (do not use if source text is listed a Literary collection under FAST Forms)
  • Extended: TT includes additional material, new or translated 
  • Indirect translation: translation of a translation
  • Integral: ST translated in its entirety
  • New translation: ST translated for the first time in a given target language 
  • Partial: one or more extracts from ST are translated in their entirety (e.g. ‘Profession de foi’ from Emile), no attempt to render the whole ST
  • Pseudo-translation: original work presented as translation 
  • Self-translation: ST and TT by the same author 
  • Simplified: perceived complexities of language or content are removed to make text more comprehensible
  • Retranslation: new translation of ST already available in target language (note for the purposes of this project, re-translation differs significantly from re-edition: ‘Whereas re-edition would tend to reinforce the validity of the previous translation, re-translation strongly challenges that validity [Pym, 83]).

b. Paratext

The most innovative aspect of this database is the prominence we accord to the paratext. We have produced separate records for the paratext of translations, and have sought to provide a thick description of its forms and functions. In literary criticism, paratext is defined as material that surrounds the text. In our corpus this typically includes title page, dedication, epigraph, prefatory material, notes, postface and appendixes.

We consider paratext as a key element in the identification and interpretation of radical translations, which is why we have annotated all the formal features that provide clues that a given translation was intended as a radical text.

It is here that the translator’s voice is often heard, and evidence can be gleaned as to why and how they translate a particular text at a particular time. “Minor” paratextual elements such as the choice of dedicatee or a date expressed in the revolutionary calendar or a printer’s motto echoing revolutionary slogans can become key markers of a radical translation, especially in cases when the ST has no recognizable radical content. Moreover, the paratext is fundamental to the effort of reshaping, adapting, and extending the impact of radical ideas into new contexts, which is the driving force of many radical translations.

To further recover how translators sought to extend radical ideas beyond the intended or imagined readership of a source text, the paratext have also been described using the following functions (adapted from Nottingham-Martin and Batchelor):

  • Meta-communicative: reflecting on the conditions and constraints of communication and translation
  • Community-building: referencing groups of readers (imaginary or actual) 
  • Hermeneutical: presenting an in-depth commentary and interpretation of ST   
  • Text-activating: removing epistemic obstacles to the reader’s understanding, clarifying culture-specific references, reframing text for situated audience 


The project also seeks to illuminate the lives and often shadowy activities of radical translators. We are compiling a digital prosopography to sketch a collective portrait of the personal and professional identity and the transnational networks in which they lived and worked. While the database contains information about three main categories of people (authors, translators, and publishers), the prosopography focuses solely on the lives of translators. Some of the translators are already well known, others less so, or even anonymous. As a consequence, the amount of information available on each person in our database varies. We sought to provide a structured record for every translator on our database, complementing it with longer discursive biographies for a number of key figures.

The information contained in the prosopography provides further evidence of the translators’ aims and motivations; is used to discover radical texts and translators; and to shed light on anonymous, pseudonymous or uncertain attributions (e.g. by linking translators to printers or other networks).

The “Knows” rubric visible in the Persons records connects individuals to other individuals in our database. This is a generic indicator that maps networks in the widest possible sense, without specifying the degree or kind of relationship. In a few specific cases, Persons who are not recorded elsewhere in the database (i.e. as authors, translators or publishers) are included here when they are known to be central to a given network.


Using the Database

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