chapter  20
7 Pages

Histoire croisée

In the last decade, the history of translation has attracted considerable attention within Translation Studies. Research methods in particular have gained momentum, as signalled by vast and manifold academic activity: a growing number of conferences, books, special issues, and ambitious group projects testify to the importance given today to the topic. Many of the emerging methodologies draw on the field of history, among them, to a lesser extent, the histoire croisée approach. As Michael Werner and Bénédicte Zimmermann, both working at the

Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris, point out, the research method known as histoire croisée invites us to reconsider the interactions between different societies and cultures, erudite disciplines of traditions, and, more specifically, social and cultural products: “Histoire croisée focuses on empirical intercrossings consubstantial with the object of study, as well as on the operations by which researchers themselves cross scales, categories, and viewpoints” (Werner and Zimmermann 2006: 30). Histoire croisée is tightly connected with other concepts, such as entangled

and shared history, which are also concerned with exploring transnational procedures and enlacements that have for a long time been veiled by national historiographies. The concept of histoire croisée goes further inasmuch as it constructs a specific relationship between the observer’s position, the perspective, and the historical object. In so doing, the moment of crossing becomes an active occurrence and can be viewed as the result of historical and present processes. What is interlaced is not of primary importance, but rather the mode of enlacement. Histoire croisée is not concerned with fixed categories, but with problems and questions that are subject to a certain evolution during the process of analysis; it also analyzes concrete objects like institutions, legal systems, cultural products, or disciplines-and not given models and global constructs, such as nation, society, or culture. It focuses on the level of the agents involved, that is, on the conflicts in which they operate and on the strategies adopted to develop solutions to those conflicts (Werner and Zimmermann 2002: 617). As can be seen, these concerns are also central

to the analysis of the translation/interpreting process, including both the actors involved in all its stages and the translation/interpreting product. The process of “enlacement” or “intercrossing” is conditioned by various

dimensions: one is that it is continuously created anew because it takes place between already enlaced objects; this implies that the objects are subject to a permanent transformation during and as a result of the “intercrossing,” which generally takes place in asymmetrical constellations. As a result, we have to distinguish among various levels of intercrossing: the one between the objects, the other between the various perspectives that control the view of the enlaced objects, and the third involving the intercrossing of the analytical practices of the researcher (Middell 2005). This, eventually, discloses the self-reflexive nature of this approach. The objects to be analyzed-in our case “original” and “translation/

interpretating” or “translator/interpreter”—are considered to be historically constructed. One of the features of this construction is their interpretation in the specific context of their formation, which distinguishes the object from other comparable objects; this implies a sociological approach to the translation/ interpretating phenomena that sheds light on the various stages of the production process and reveals the object’s specificity. The conditions of formation are also a product of construction. Also, the (preliminary) ensemble of these objects-in our case, for instance, the translations/interpretations produced at a certain time and in a certain culture-live in a dynamic relationship of exchange with other objects within their social, political, and cultural surroundings (Werner and Zimmermann 2002: 611; Anklam and Schwerendt 2009); consider the various cultural reference systems and the personal experience of the “oberserver” that deliver the context of the translation/interpreting production. For Werner and Zimmermann, the constituents of the “intercrossing” pro-

cess are manifold. Typological factors include observations and viewpoints, which for the translational context could mean various perspectives on translation/interpreting and their reflection in time and space; abstract objects, such as economic systems, educational systems, or traditions of ideas, which in translation/interpreting can be related to the consideration of political and aesthetic traditions of thought; concrete objects, such as books (in Translation Studies, these are the very object of the discipline); and human beings, the last and perhaps most important group of constituents, especially migrants who create a tissue of multifold relationships (Werner and Zimmermann 2002: 618). In the context of translation/interpreting, these refer to translators, interpreters, and other agents or institutions involved in the translation process.

Histoire croisée has been developed in historical sciences in the course of debates over various established theoretical methods, such as the comparative history (Kocka 1996) or cultural transfer approaches (Wolf 2003). The most

salient arguments in this debate refer to the position of the observer, traditionally assumed to be external to the objects that are compared; to the choice of the scale of the comparison (levels of region, nation-state, etc. are not generalizable); to the definition of the object of the comparison, which is always marked in advance by a particular representation; and to conflicts between synchronic and diachronic logics, as the comparative approach privileges a synchronic cross-section over a diachronic view (Kocka 2003: 41-42; Werner and Zimmermann 2006: 34-35). On the other hand, the inquiry into cultural transfers is clearly located in a diachronic perspective. What makes this approach problematic, however, is its concept of culture. Based on national categories, it is clearly unsuited to the study of the complex game of identity constructions and hybridizations characteristic for both historical (see, e.g., the Habsburg or Ottoman Empire) and contemporary contexts (Celestini and Mitterbauer 2003: 11). Consequently, “transfer” can no longer be seen as a linear connection between two units to be analyzed, but as a procedure based on multiple and dynamic exchanges of symbols, informative discourses, and practices subject to continuous transformation (12). As a response to these critical points and in view of the accelerated processes of internationalization and renewed debates on globalization, we can witness a new stress on transnational approaches to history, among them histoire croisée (Kocka 2003: 42).