Makandal in Translation

At the nexus of digital humanities and technological modernization, translation as method, discourse, and practice allows an inclusionary pathway to accessibility and coordination of research.This portion of the exhibit briefly provides an overview of the translation that oscillates among textual, aural, and visual methods of archiving the life of Makandal. The English language has always occupied the centering point of slave narratives, such that Makandal, whose history operates across multiple linguistic and cultural exchanges, is mostly textualized in the Anglophone hemispheric text-network. Drawing on “Worlding America: The Hemispheric Text-network” (insert link) by Susan Gillman and Kirsten Silva Gruez, translation transcends the mere transferral of language to inscribe a multilingual understanding of Makandal’s biography without the inevitable centering of the English language which we will see unfold in texts, sound, and photographs. Translation thereby offers a convenient lens to highlight key aspects in Makandal’s historical legacy and text-network.

Because of this diversity of language, the exhibit encompasses an examination of translation as an applied practice of archival research and linguistic transaction without the recentering of oppressive historical sources. Translation thereby functions as an active participant of archival digitization and not a footnote. While the initial concept is widely defined, translation involves the transfer of meaning between languages and culture. Many of the texts initially written and archived in French have not been translated outside a canonical text-networks, i.e. in Haitian creole or vice versa. To promote global archival outreach, translation as theory and practice engages in the decolonization and demarginalization of archives for the destabilization of power between colonized texts and slave narratives. 

Translation of the Makandal text network involves localizing and mapping language rooted in multiple sets and regions. Borrowing the theoretical definition of Pierre Cadieux and Bert Esselink, localization entails more than a word to word translation. It consists of using media to meet cultural expectations, such as meeting the language’s standards in providing accurate work through interpretation. Translation also generates new forms of digitizing cultural narratives at the periphery of a text-network roughly bounded by the western hemisphere. The translational scholarship of Makandal as a persistent form of knowledge production emerges throughout hemispheric ties, and therefore, widens the parameters of how we define and practice translation.

Crucial to the study of translating historical texts, Antoine Berman in “Translation and the Trials of the Foreign” throws into crisis textual deformation and deforming tendencies that occurs in the process of translating. The deformation of texts comprises issues in localizing translations. Berman elicits the naturalization of deforming forces that the translator is never free of, including leading factors in inaccurate interpretations. These tendencies and deforming forces include clarification, the destruction of significance, and additional underlying grammatical usage that may lead to the effacement of imposed meanings. Deformation in translational work, by definition, involves the overall rewriting of the text without qualitative accuracy or originality. As the literary translation of Mackandal proceeds, the translator remediates the digitization of the Makandal text-network and calls for a restitution of meaning to preserve the overall material sense of the historical text. Consequently, the exhibit preserves the cultural essence of Mackandal’s life by using integral ways of seeing, hearing, and reading the historical subject without reproducing colonial practices in digital practices.


Works Cited

Berman, Antoine. "Translation and the Trials of the Foreign." The translation studies reader 2004 (2000).

Cadieux, Pierre, and Bert Esselink. "GILT: Globalization, internationalization, localization, translation." Globalization Insider 11, no. 1.5 (2004): 1-5.

Gillman, Susan and Kirsten Silva Gruesz, “Worlding America: The Hemispheric Text-Network,” A Companion to American Literary Studies (2011): 228–247.