International Conference of the Study Group on Eighteenth-Century Russia edition:9 location:Leuven, Belgium date:17-22 July 2014
It is generally acknowledged that translation played a crucial role in the modernization of Russia in the 18th century (see S. Tyulenev’s The Role of Translation in the Modernization of Russia in the Eighteenth Century, PhD Thesis University of Ottawa, 2009). Translation, however, was not merely a catalyst for the transfer of (scientific and technological) knowledge. It also took an active part in the creation of knowledge about Russia itself, notably in the field of historiography.
Russia’s first and most popular ‘history’ throughout the 18th century, the Synopsis (1674), was a linguistically hybrid text largely based on Polish sources, which circulated in several (translated) versions. Russia’s first historiographers were foreigners who initially compiled Russian sources in translation (e.g. Müller’s Sammlung russischer Geschichte) and whose work later on had to be translated into Russian (e.g. Bayer’s Краткое описание всех случаев касающихся до Азова…, 1738) . Even when directly published in Russian, source materials were most of the time ‘translations’ from Old Russian (e.g. Musin-Puškin’s edition of Слово о Полку Игореве, 1800). Last but not least, Russian historiography developed in a (polemic) dialogue West: Western accounts of Russia’s history (e.g. Voltaire’s Histoire de l’empire de Russie sous Pierre le Grand (1761) or Chappe d’Auteroche’s Voyage en Sibérie..., 1768) mainly relied on (translated) Russian sources, but later on set the agenda and provided the wording (translation!) for subsequent Russian histories. In reverse, the Western understanding of Russia’s history at the beginning of the 19th century was largely based on a Jauffret’s and Saint-Thomas’s (debatable) French translation of Karamzin’s История Государства Российскаго.
In light of the aforementioned examples I would like to forward two hypotheses:
1) Translation caused Russian historiography to develop in a (polemic) dialogue with the West. Ideas and historical concepts may have been circulating in Russia for some time, but only became controversial after they had been (re)translated from a Western source.
2) Translators played a crucial role in providing historians with historical arguments and consequently need to be included in the history of historiography.
In my paper I want to explore the possible uses of translation of history-writing and their impact on the development of historiography in Russia in the (broad) 18th century. Translation here is conceived in its broadest sense, i.e. not merely as a linguistic transposition from one language to another, but as a complex system of cultural transfers between societies. This paper will not be an extensive coverage of the topic, but an exploration of a promising field of research.