Translation & Publishing in the Global South


Library of Muyinga in Burundi, by BC Architects

This is a summary, with a bit of commentary, of an event that took place at Duke’s Franklin Humanities Institute on January 25, 2018.

Translation—especially the challenge of translating poetry—has always fascinated me because, as a balance of compromises, it is nearly impossible to do satisfactorily, while at the same time it is absolutely necessary for respectful human communication and meaningful cultural exchange:  respectful because not everyone in the world should be expected to master English, and meaningful because human expression comes in so many flavors that are revelatory if we truly try to understand word for word, phrase for phrase, and culture to culture.

A translator tries to offer not only literal meaning but also some flavor of the sound and rhythm, the multiple layers of meaning, and the aesthetics of the tradition within which, or against which, the original author is working. As we took a serious look at translation and publishing in an all-day event entitled Translation & Publishing in the Global South at Duke’s Franklin Humanities Institute, we were thinking a lot about that tension between impossibility and necessity, idealism and practicality. In the spirit of the Publishing Humanities Initiative, I hope that everyone came away with some practical knowledge and inspiration to move forward with their own projects.

An encyclopedic treatment of translation and publishing in the Global South would ideally include many voices from the South as well as information on South-to-South publishing, publishing companies in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia, and translation across many different languages other than English. Despite our ambitious event title, we were not able to accomplish quite that much (if only!); nevertheless, we heard informative talks that caused a small but highly engaged cohort to stay all day. Indeed, some of the speakers seemed to learn as much from each other’s presentations as the faculty and graduate students in the audience did.

Following is my attempt to summarize the salient points from each talk.

Juan Obarrio, Johns Hopkins University, “Interlingual Exchange in the Global South: Translating and Publishing Critical Theory.”

In addition to his own distinguished scholarly writing on critical theory and political anthropology, Juan is editor of Critical Times, a new, forthcoming journal from the International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs. He is also co-editor, with Nancy Rose Hunt and Achille Mbembe, of Theory in Forms, a new book series from Duke University Press. Originally from Argentina, he has spearheaded efforts to encourage and enable South-to-South translation; notably, he ran a program on critical theory at the University of San Martín for five years. He spoke of how “very difficult” it is to produce joint research projects across the global South; he brings experience of the victories and failures from those ventures to his new publishing projects.

In this talk, he pointed out the limitations of the postcolonial view from the North of the South, where colonial violence, economic imperialism, and the “dynamics of extractive captial” are powerfully present, and he emphasized the importance of sharing humanistic production not only from the North to all countries and cultures that are wrestling with a colonial past, but also disseminating work that originates in (/is “immanent from”) the South. Ideally, the trajectory of such dissemination moves not only North, to the United States and Europe, but also South-to-South, for example from Latin America to Africa and vice versa. The very idea of “theory from the South” is radical, challenging persistent international assumptions about hierarchies and linear flows (North to South) of ideas and information. It “reorients the debate on universals and particulars, center and periphery.”

Theorizing this interlingual exchange in and from the South is important, while enacting it on a practical plane is an enormous challenge that the new journal and book series attempt to take up in different ways. The book series will include both established authors and “young, brilliant scholars from Africa, South Asia, and Latin America”; the editors are receiving many submissions. Financed initially by a three-year grant from the Mellon Foundation, the journal, Critical Times, will present themed issues on “the most important political and intellectual debates that are not part of our conversation here” and include “also arts and performances and the theorization around that.” Over time the plan is for issues to originate in the South as well as include “dossiers” of materials on topics like global women’s movements and Black Lives Matter.

One of many interesting challenges that Juan mentioned is the fact that “theory from the South is produced not only by academics but also by public intellectuals and social movements.” In addition, regions of the South are compartmentalized; global collaborations are needed to share and publish scholarship, perhaps in the form of “triangulations” that might include one Northern institution and two Southern. Not only would Southern work be translated into English, but also translations would move across South Asia, the Middle East, and so on, with translators for multiple languages provided at meetings and events.

In reviewing my notes from this powerful plea, or demand, for the South to be heard, it strikes me that Juan is placing great trust and a heavy and important burden on publishing. Nevertheless, his confidence in the potential of publishing is not misplaced, and these unique new projects could someday be regarded as catalysts for a new wave of global scholarly exchange in the humanities.

David Hansen, Director of Copyright and Scholarly Communication, Duke University Libraries, spoke next on “International Copyright Law and Translation.” David is both a librarian and a copyright lawyer. Note that many research universities have a Scholarly Communications librarian on staff, who is usually a copyright lawyer. Many faculty members do not know that they have the luxury of consulting such an expert on their own projects, free of charge. Typically, at a publishing company, there is no full-time, on-staff copyright lawyer; permission to consult the expensive lawyer is given sparingly. At Duke, David has also trained a fleet of librarians dubbed Copyright Consultants.

David offered a practical review of international copyright law, which is not consistent across all countries and continents. He recommended that scholars handle rights in three steps: (1) determine whether the work is protected by copyright or in the public domain; (2) research whether one can use the work according to any applicable contractual, fair use, privacy, or ethical considerations; and (3) communicate to one’s audience what one knows about the rights.

Starting with item number 1, to translate a work, the translator must first determine its rights status, which is governed by the country where the work was first published. This is important because there are cases in which a work is in the public domain in the US but not elsewhere. He offered several useful websites, including the Cornell University Library Information Center, which offers the best current chart that he knows for helping to determine whether or not a work is protected by copyright or in the public domain.

David showed Section 102 of the Copyright Act on the screen. Several aspects of it are admittedly “very U.S. and U.K. centric,” but it is fundamental to copyright protection in most of the world. It is important to note that since 1989, a creator does not have to include a copyright notice on a work for it to be copyrighted. As long as you have put your ideas into a “fixed form,” the work you have thereby created is automatically copyrighted.

He reviewed the “fair use” doctrine that allows the reasonable reuse of quotations and excerpts as determined by the balancing of four factors including the proportion of the original being quoted and the potential to damage the market for the original work (see the US Copyright Office online).

Many works today carry a Creative Commons license, a legally binding statement whereby a creator can allow free sharing and reuse of their work without additional permission or contracts. There are several flavors of these licenses which always require attribution and are intended to ease the free flow of information. Some CC licenses include a “no derivatives” statement; note that a translation is considered a derivative work.

David pointed out that the “communication piece” is as important as researching copyright status: note how the Duke Library communicates about sources and what can be done with the material (for example, see the “Rights Note” attached to any of the Radio Haiti recordings). He advised that translators communicate what they know about the rights in a rights note. Without such explicit communication, future potential uses of the work can be inadvertently stifled.

Deciding on what uses are allowed is sometimes a matter of balancing risks (“Where am I likely to get sued?”). It is important to note that law is not the only factor to apply to such decisions; “Good actors try to respect the wishes of the creators,” David said. A translator should acknowledge the original, whether or not that is legally required. An interesting development is the Traditional Knowledge Licensing and Labeling Website, which is a project to create a kind of Creative Commons for traditional knowledge of local and indigenous communities.

Sandie Blaise, PhD Candidate at Duke, spoke first in the afternoon to share her research on publishing in Haiti (“Overcoming Francophonie: A Haitian Case Study”). Having gathered statistics on the publishing industry in Haiti as well as interviewed some twenty publishers there, she underscored the truth of the general picture that Juan Obarrio had painted of publishing in the Global South. Most publishing in Haiti is in French and the books come from France; they serve an elite audience of educated people who can afford to buy books. Meanwhile, most Haitians speak Creole in their daily lives; literacy rates reached a height of 53% in 2003, but only recently have some intrepid local publishing companies begun publishing books in Creole, with an emphasis on poetry and “youth” or Young Adult literature. New publishing companies since 2011 are C3 Editions, Legs Editions, and Association Lève. Run by young professionals, they offer their books on Amazon and publicize on FaceBook, Instagram, and Twitter. Although they offer discounted e-versions, paperbacks are more popular. The sales record for a book in Creole is held by a paper version of a poetry collection.

Sandie passed around copies of some of these new books and discussed the economic challenge of keeping prices low while negotiating small print runs and acceptable production quality from printing/binding vendors. Taking these significant practical steps, “local actors have resisted the cultural, linguistic and economic domination of French and France by carving out a space of autonomy for the Haitian book market and promoting Creole as a written language.”

Publishers’ Panel

This panel was intended to highlight what scholarly publishers do to enable exchange of scholarly ideas across national borders.

 Victoria Wells, former director of contracts and Subsidiary Rights, University of North Carolina Press, spoke of book fairs around the world; most have some rights-selling going on at them, but certain fairs are especially focused on rights: Frankfurt, Beijing, Guadalajara. Vicky attended the Frankfurt Book Fair every year for nearly two decades to make and keep contacts with foreign publishers; over three and a half days, she would meet with some fifty people at the UNC Press booth.

From each Fall and Spring list of forthcoming UNC Press books, she would select those that had the best chance of selling in certain non-US markets and create a “rights guide” to promote these books to other publishers, based on her experience with foreign publishers and distributors and the performance of previous translations.

She pointed out how important it is to choose a foreign publisher or distributor who will actually promote the book in their markets; it can be frustrating to see a book be translated but sit on the shelf because there is no marketing push for it.

In working out a fair contract, many details were arranged including permission for illustrations, how the quality of the translation would be evaluated, and payment schedules. She named several examples of books that were translated widely; Hiroshima Diary might be UNC Press’s record, with twenty different translations.

“Most authors sign over all rights to the university press,” Vicky explained, “Because we are best positioned to exploit those rights.” This is an important point, because some writers’ advocates and organizations will recommend that authors retain subsidiary rights; if you want time to work on your next book, it’s reasonable to let your publisher serve as your agent in these matters.

 Elizabeth Ault, Editor, Duke University Press, is Juan Obarrio’s editor for the new Theory in Forms series mentioned above. She pointed out several ventures in translation at the Press, including a new bilingual en face edition of Cesaire’s Cahiers and a longstanding Latin American in Translation Series, a joint effort with the University of North Carolina Press and Duke’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS); interestingly, in choosing one translation per year for the Latin American series from twenty to forty submissions, the publishers assume that most of the potential audience has already read the work in Spanish or Portuguese, so the publishing decision is focused on the potential for the work to “break into the conversation” in English, be taught in courses, or otherwise appeal to a wider audience.

In the World Readers series, each volume includes around fifty pieces chosen by the academic editor, who arranges for the translations while an editorial intern at the Press negotiates permissions. “The Readers,” Elizabeth explained, “are a huge undertaking but extremely successful.”

An investment in a translation is usually a double investment, she noted; first the Press buys the translation rights; then, the translation itself must be paid for. For the translator, there is not much money to be made; it is often a labor of love. Nor is there much scholarly credit gained, although the work is important in a larger sense.

Finally, Molly Hansen, a Marketing Associate for Latin America at Oxford University Press’s office in Cary, North Carolina, told us about marketing Oxford books and journals to Brazilian libraries. She travels to trade fairs and communicates with librarians almost exclusively in Portuguese about books in English that their patrons—Brazilian scholars and students who are proficient in English—will use for their research. Face to face meetings are crucial, she finds, though she also communicates a lot via email and prepares marketing materials that organize new publications by discipline.  Outside of the book fairs, the efforts of her marketing group focus mostly on online resources; the countries they hear from the most are Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and Paraguay.

Molly’s role at OUP, part of a larger international marketing and sales operation, gave us a window into the complexity of an international publishing business (OUP is, in fact, one of the largest publishers in the world). The audience also appreciated hearing that she had earned an M.A. in Latin American Studies (Tulane University) and had found this interesting and worthwhile way to make use of her education.

Reflections on DH2017 Montréal

Room in Museum of Fine Arts, Montréal
Video projections of swaying trees and twittering birds in the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts bring back the magic feeling that painted clouds and cherubs might have inspired centuries ago. Photo by Sylvia K. Miller.

By Sylvia K. Miller and Hannah Jacobs

Some new trends emerge as Duke colleagues reflect on DH2017 in Montréal and contrast it with previous DH conferences. Following is a distillation of our observations in the form of a list of takeaways:

  • Collaboration. There was more frequent reference to project partners, indicating more acceptance, even embracing of, collaboration. Many presenters explicitly, fully, gratefully thanked their team colleagues, showed their pictures on the screen, etc. Associated with this positive development for DH and humanities at large is concern over how collaborators are to be formally credited for publication and tenure.
  • Diversity. The diversity workshop, for the first time open to all attendees, was a critical moment indicating that the community remains committed to addressing its diversity challenges.
  • Librarians are more and more taking ownership of their role in enabling and supporting DH. I attended the “DH in Libraries” SIG meeting, and the lecture hall was quite full; I’d guestimate 200+ people. There were a number of projects to classify library/archive collections in new ways.
  • TEI is more synonymous than ever with XML in the library world and world of DH scholarship. This is important for publishers to know if they are collaborating on multimodal projects that will have integrated library or repository components. (XML comes in different established schemas; TEI=Text Encoding Initiative.)
  • “Phygital.” I heard more about the interplay between analog and digital forms, particularly 3D printing. (One paper called multimodal physical/digital projects “phygital,” though it is impossible to predict whether the term will stick!) The phenomenon of 3D printing of historical artifacts is fascinating and problematic: is it right to “copy” an artifact before returning it to the community from which it was stolen? (What if the artifact is a human bone?)
  • Music/art. There was more art and music this year, though the emphasis of the conference is still more computational than artistic.
  • Visualization. The expansion of visualization as an accepted DH practice stood out. There was an increased presence of visualization in its many forms; especially prevalent were node maps showing network relationships and geo-maps showing data sources or trajectories. Some of this work was also self-study (e.g., Taxonomy of Digital Research Activities in the Humanities, TADIRAH).
  • Cultural heritage work was a theme. In Europe it is well funded, but systems developed there are not universally applicable; scholars working with American Indian communities find that digitization challenges and metadata schemas are very different in the US context.
  • Overlaps. Several different teams around the world found that they are developing similar tools. At DH2015 in Sydney, there was a lot of special OCR work and machine-reading of historical texts with special scripts or other visual challenges. At DH2017, there seemed to be a significant amount of attention to adapting face-recognition software to recognition and comparison of other types of visual data (e.g., newspaper layouts, furniture/decorative arts, etc.).
  • Publishing. The conference demonstrated a wide variety of computational, visual, and interactive scholarship that demands new modes of publication. Sylvia has noted some specific, if scattered, developments elsewhere; taken together, they remind us that scholarly publishing in its current form is seen by practitioners of DH as a barrier to growth and innovation.
  • There was some AR and VR at the conference but not as much as one might expect. One exciting AR project stands out in retrospect, a project by Amanda Marie Licastro (Stevenson University, MD) to share the experience of Syrian refugees and create empathy in millennial students, who are, according to research, 40 percent less empathetic than earlier generations(!); in the Q&A session, she told a striking story about a student whose views were radically changed by the VR experience. I also heard about an exciting visualization project from Rachel Hendery of the University of Western Sydney, a projection of a node map inside a dome, where people can experience it together in 3D without having to wear 3D equipment.
  • Funding. Mellon and NEH are the important funders of US work. European work is well funded by governments and the EU.  There is a new government-funded DH initiative in South Africa.
  • Peer review. There were many calls for proper peer review and recognition of DH as legitimate scholarship for promotion and tenure. One speaker mentioned that the University of Florida is the latest institution to create a DH peer review committee; content creators were asked to recommend a level of equivalency in terms of traditional scholarship on which the DH project should be evaluated.  This was considered not ideal but perhaps a necessary interim step. (In this context, the Mellon-funded project at Brown University to evaluate digital scholarship at the department level seems especially interesting and ambitious.)
  • Congenial spirit. There was a great deal of friendliness and mutual appreciation at this meeting; many scholars, especially graduate students, feel alone at their own institutions and appreciate meeting like-minded people. The group Tweeted up a storm! See #dh2017  (and @SylviaKMiller)
  • Attendance. I heard that there were around 1,100 people at the meeting.  I have not been able to confirm this online and have written to the ADHO–Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations, the umbrella organization that hosts the conference.
  • Future meetings. Next year the meeting will be in Mexico City, June 24–30, 2018; in 2019, Utrecht.

Hello world! Crossroads, Meeting Streets, and Makerspaces

Why “Crossroads”? If I ever started a publishing company, I would call it Meeting Street Publishing.  It refers to the collaboration that is behind most publishing projects, and it reminds me of many years attending the wonderful Charleston Conference, where librarians and publishers have equal billing. (Of course many towns have Meeting Streets, but Charleston’s is well known.)  “Meeting Street” as a metaphor is related to “Crossroads,” which is a reminder that scholars, publishers, librarians, and technologists will together determine the direction that scholarly publishing will take in the future.  Sometimes we think of publishing as a sort of weather pattern in the sky over which we have no control, but I am interested in how we shape the future through our choices.  “Meeting Street” is about communication and collaboration, while “Crossroads” adds to that the image of roads to be taken and not taken.

Some people say that publishing is changing rapidly, but in my experience over the last few decades (yikes, a long time!), this change is astonishingly slow. The pace definitely gives us time to reflect on what we are doing (or not doing).

The term “Crossroads” is also related to Publishing Makerspace, a working group that I co-founded in 2014.  It is dedicated to encouraging collaboration, supporting multi-modal publishing, and ultimately redefining scholarly publishing to include all the forms of work that scholars are creating today.

I like the idea of liminality–a boundary that is not a line but rather a creative space where categories overlap and recombine.  Whether I am planning an encyclopedia project that will define a field for a generation or sewing a pamphlet to please a friend, I appreciate the sense of “serious fun” and creative possibility inherent in publishing and want to share it.