Dear Colleague

Our NEH Summer Institute “What is Gained in Translation: Learning How to Read Translated Texts” (June 4-24, 2017) is dedicated to the study of texts in translation as a way to develop cross-cultural literacy and to explore what can be gained by addressing issues of translation in the classroom. For scholars in the Humanities and Social Sciences who work with translated texts, this institute will provide the theoretical models and applications developed through Translation Studies that will enable them to exploit translation as a teachable moment. These strategies are designed to sensitize students and teachers to the worldviews embedded in other languages and to make them aware of the cultural specificity of their own modes of thinking and perception.   The overall goal of the institute is to develop systematic approaches to teaching translated texts so that readers can both perceive the worldviews to which those texts give us access while acknowledging the important mediating role of the translators.

We will examine features of translated literary texts that distinguish them from texts that are written and read in the same language in order to explore the complexities involved in cross-cultural communication. Specifically, the institute will investigate the deep cultural beliefs and assumptions, related to time, space, and agency, that shape the production and reception of the original text, and, through a series of case studies, explore the role played by translators in presenting that culture to a new audience. Informed by discussions of contemporary translation scholarship, we will consider translated texts not as mere copies of an original but as versions providing points of access to the source culture as it is shaped both by the translator’s voice and the receiving culture’s beliefs and practices. The Institute’s mission is to provide participants with the resources necessary to engage with the unique issues posed by translated texts and draw awareness of the crucial role played by translation in the making of cultures. The readings and discussions at the Institute will enable participants to use translated texts more knowledgeably in their classrooms and their research.

Key Topics and Approaches

The institute has a dual focus. Part one focuses on discussions of contemporary translation theory and the implications it has for the study of translated texts. This part of the institute addresses the role of the translator as cultural mediator and the status of translated texts as versions rather than copies of an original. Part two of the institute is dedicated to what Edward Hall famously referred to as “the invisible language of culture,” that is, the deep cultural differences that shape texts and complicate their translation. During this part of the institute, instructors will lead discussions of case studies, involving the comparative analysis of various translations of key cultural texts from Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish into English. 

The institute will begin with a discussion of several key concepts developed in Translation Studies to describe the specific qualities of translated texts, focusing in particular on the translator’s voice. After that, the sessions will be devoted to theoretical readings on the five themes (relationships, time, space, authority and individuality)  from a variety of disciplines (literature, philosophy, intercultural communication, history, etc.), followed by sessions devoted to case studies during which we will examine closely how these theoretical readings enable us to read translations of specific short texts productively, i.e., with an awareness of their status as translations (as opposed to “native” texts) Our approach is collaborative and constructivist. That is, the daily sessions will be structured around a discussion of the readings and group work in which participants bring in texts from their particular discipline that they wish to discuss using the approaches developed during the theoretical sessions. 

Institute Faculty and Setting

The institute, which will be held at Kent State University, home to an internationally known translator training and research program, will be led by Dr. Françoise Massardier-Kenney, Professor of French and Translation Studies and Director of Kent State’s Institute for Applied Linguistics, and Dr. Brian James Baer, Professor of Russian and Translation Studies and founding editor of the journal Translation and Interpreting Studies. Our guest faculty members include prominent translators who are also translation scholars working in a variety of languages and cultures: Dr. Rosemary Arrojo of Binghamton University (translation theory), Dr. Peter Bush of Oxford (Catalan, French, Portuguese, Spanish translation), Dr. M. R. Ghanoonparvar of the University of Texas at Austin (Persian translation), Dr. Carol Maier of Kent State University (Spanish and Latin American translation; translation and gender), Dr. Christi Merrill of the University of Michican (Hindi translation), and Dr. Michelle Yeh of the University of California at Davis (Chinese translation). Participants in the institute will have an opportunity not only to familiarize themselves with the scholarship on translation and issues in cross-cultural communication but also to be guided by seasoned translators on how to incorporate approaches to reading in translation into their own research and teaching. It is our hope that participants will never read translated works in the same way again and in turn will share through their research, writing, and teaching what they have gained in translation.


If you teach courses in which translated texts are used and you are interested in translation and in cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural issues, we encourage you to apply. We hope that our applicants will be at all stages of their careers and encourage adjunct faculty members to apply as well. We also hope that you will come from a variety of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences (from literature and applied linguistics to history, religious studies, communication, cultural studies, anthropology, and philosophy) and from a variety of languages and cultures (European, Asian, African, and Middle Eastern).  While it is not necessary to know the source language of the texts we will discuss, we also welcome participants who have some experience of a second language (formal or informal) or whose mother-tongue is not English in order to enrich the interdisciplinary and intercultural conversations that the institute will foster. Prior to the institute, participants will be asked to select as a case study a translated text they have taught, will teach or with which they have worked. Then, during the institute, they will develop an analysis of the translated text based on the readings and discussions. They will also be encouraged to present their own projects pertinent to issues of translation and cross-cultural competency.

The Institute will run for three weeks (June 4 - 24). We will begin with a welcome reception on Sunday evening, June 4, and end with a farewell dinner on Friday evening, June 23. Summer scholars must therefore plan to arrive in Kent on or before June 4 and plan to depart after June 24. The Institute will begin on Monday, June 5, at 9:00 AM. Generally, mornings will be devoted to presentations and discussions while afternoons will be free for individual work. In the final days of the institute, all NEH Institute scholars will be asked to make brief formal presentations of their case studies. We will also provide online space on our web page so that participants can continue to share their work after the Institute. Those who accept an offer to participate in the institute must agree to participate fully; that is they commit to attend all institute sessions, prepare all assigned reading, develop a case study about translation, help to develop each other’s projects and present their work to the Institute. NEH provides each Institute scholar with a $2,700 taxable stipend intended to help cover travel expenses to and from the project location, books and other research expenses, and living expenses for the duration of the period spent in residence. We will provide lists of affordable lodging and affordable restaurants in order to help you live within the stipend. 

We urge you to apply if you are interested in translation and cross-cultural competence and if you want to participate in an intellectually stimulating experience. 

Please, consult our website for details regarding the program, location, application process, and other practical information, and note that the application deadline is March 1, 2017. Successful applicants will be notified on March 31. 


Brian Baer & Françoise Massardier-Kenney

Institute for Applied Linguistics College of Arts and Sciences Kent State University