A Symposium at George Washington University


What must be translated of that which is translatable can only be the untranslatable.

-- Jacques Derrida

Texts travel. Empires are lost and won, and stories are marred and rediscovered through cultural translation--the transformation of genres, manipulation of ideas, and linguistic translation. Cultural translation is one of the most significant modes of textual and cultural transmission from medieval to modern times. Estrangement and transnational cultural flows continue to define the afterlife of narratives. Translation, or translatio, signifying “the figure of transport," was a common rhetorical trope in early modern Europe that referred to the conveyance of ideas from one geo-cultural location to another, from one historical period to another, and from one artistic form to another.


Over the past decade "translation" as an expansive critical concept has greatly enriched literary and cultural studies. In response to these exciting new developments, this one-day symposium brings together leading scholars from the fields of medieval and early modern studies, history, film, English, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and comparative literary studies to engage in transhistorical and interdisciplinary explorations of post/colonial travel, globalization, and the transformation of texts, ideas, and genres.

The event is free and open to the public. The presentations are designed with both general and specialist audiences in mind. Following in the wake of several recent events in town, namely the Folger's exhibitions on "Imagining China: The View from Europe, 1550-1700" and "Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible" and conferences on "Contact and Exchange: China and the West" and "Early Modern Translation: Theory, History, Practice," and the Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America in D.C., 22–24 March, 2012, the Symposium at GW continues and expands these thought-provoking dialogues.



Schedule: Sunday March 25, 2012


Venue: Rome Hall 771

7th Floor

801 22nd Street, NW, Washington, DC 20052

(Intersection of Eye Street and 22nd St NW)



9:00 - 9:20 am Coffee and Tea


9:20-9:30 am Opening Remarks by Alexa Huang




Chair: Jonathan Hsy (GW, English)


9:30-9:50 am Suzanne Conklin Akbari (Toronto, English and Medieval Studies): Translating the Past: World Literature in the Medieval Mediterranean


9:50-10:10 am Marcy Norton (GW, History): Parrots in Translation: The Amerindian Contribution to the European Pet


10:10-10:50 am Discussion

10:50-11:10 am Coffee


                        Early Modern


Chair: Lowell Duckert (GW, English)


11:10-11:30 am Barbara Fuchs (UCLA, English and Spanish & Portuguese): Return to Sender: "Hispanicizing" Cardenio

11:30-11:50 am Christina Lee (Princeton, Spanish & Portuguese): Imagining China in a Golden Age Spanish Epic


11:50 am -12:30 pm Discussion


12:30 - 1:30 pm Lunch




Chair: Alexa Huang (GW, English)


1:30 - 1:50 pm Peter Donaldson (MIT, Literature): The King's Speech: Shakespeare, Empire and Global Media


1:50 - 2:10 pm Margaret Litvin (Boston, Arabic and Comparative Literature): What Can Arab Shakespeares Teach the Field of World Literature?


2:10 - 2:50 pm Discussion


2:50 - 3:00 pm Coffee




Chair: Lynn Westwater (GW, Italian)


3:00 - 4:00 pm Roundtable on Cultural Translations


             Suzanne Miller (GW, History)

             Peter Donaldson (MIT)

             Barbara Fuchs (UCLA)

             Suzanne Conklin Akbari (Toronto)



[return to the menu]







Translating the Past: World Literature in the Medieval Mediterranean

Suzanne Conklin Akbari (Toronto, English and Medieval Studies)


Over the past decade, World Literature has emerged as an increasingly vital framework for the writing of literary histories – not just in those general overviews useful to teaching that we might provide in the classroom or assemble in the literary anthology, but also in the research paradigms we generate, especially as these are tailored to the visions of national and international granting agencies. In this presentation, I will sketch out some of the ways that Medieval Studies occupies a crucial place within the World Literature framework, both in temporal and spatial terms. The way we choose to constitute the ‘medieval’ both influences and is influenced by the ways in which we conceive of historical timelines, ranging from the long ‘peri-Renaissance’ of the fourteenth century (where ‘Renaissance’ Petrarch pre-dates ‘medieval’ Chaucer) to the pre-modern/early modern split. In each case, the temporal divide is articulated with reference to a conceptual hinge that scholars have, at some point, identified as transformative: linear perspective (or its literary analogue, the ‘discovery of the self’) in the case of the Renaissance, the printing press (or its most famous product, the Guttenberg Bible and subsequent waves of affordable religious literature) in the case of the modern. The ‘medieval’ plays a key role in the effort to rewrite literary histories within the World Literature frame not only in temporal terms, but also in spatial terms. The social geography of the Middle Ages, especially as mapped out in terms of the economic and cultural trade routes of the Mediterranean Sea, allows us to envision literary histories of the Middle Ages that run against the grain of nationalist philologies, offering counter-histories of networks of exchange that traverse religious, linguistic, and ethnic borders.





Parrots in Translation: The Amerindian Contribution to the European Pet

Marcy Norton (GW, History)



1492 catalyzed a turning point in the history of human-parrot relationships. Parrots were among the earliest beings who participated in the “Columbian Exchange” of flora and fauna. Prior to contact with the Americas, Europeans viewed parrots as sacred, almost mythical creatures associated with the Orient and Holy Land; very few medieval Europeans ever encountered an actual parrot, as they were unique to the menageries of princes and potentates. Throughout the Caribbean, South America, and Mesoamerica, on the other hand, parrots – in the wild and those captured for domesticity – were ubiquitous. Parrot capture and adoption was a subset of larger phenomena by which individual members of wild animals were made into kin. This paper explores the process and consequences of the transmission of American parrots to Europe in the wake of 1492 as parrots moved through and brought together these two cultural systems.






Return to Sender: "Hispanicizing" Cardenio

Barbara Fuchs (UCLA, English and Spanish & Portuguese)


Professor Fuchs will present on the recent Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Cardenio and its representation of Spain, as well as problems of intellectual property. This is part of her current book project entitled The Poetics of Piracy: Emulating Spain in English Literature.





Imagining China in a Golden Age Spanish Epic

Christina Lee (Princeton, Spanish & Portuguese)


Newly arriving information about discovery of the Far East by Iberian merchants and missionaries beginning in the 1550s gave rise to Spaniards’ unprecedented desire to appropriate factual but equally extraordinary narratives about an “Orient” that traditionally had been little more than an allegory for hyperbolic exoticism. The fascination with Asia in Spain was intense but short-lived as evidenced by the rise of Juan González Mendoza’s History of the Great Kingdom of China (1585) as a best seller, with eleven Spanish editions in the first decade, and its swift disappearance from publishing houses after its last printing in 1597. Although the writers of travel accounts, chronicles, and “histories” differed in what they emphasized and at times offered conflicting details about specific geographical and cultural matters, they collectively depicted China - and to a lesser extent Japan - as having highly complex political structures analogous to those in Western Europe.

        My presentation explores how secular non-traveling Spaniards of the time -people who did not have a personal engagement in Asian commerce or religious missions- might have interpreted these more recent accounts in light of the prevailing views founded upon the preexisting literature (classical authorities, Medieval travel literature, and oral folklore). I begin my presentation with a survey of how various authors during this period of extraordinary curiosity imagined the Far East. I then focus my analysis on Luis Barahona de Soto’s Tears of Angelica (1586), the only extant work of imaginative literature whose main subject is the Far East. Although this epic has received scant attention from modern scholarship, it was deemed by Barahona’s contemporaries to be one of the finest literary accomplishments of his time. The main subject of the epic concerns the invasion of China and its territories by the barbarous Queen of Tartary and her eventual defeat by the forces of the Cathayan Queen Angelica and her Chinese commander. Throughout the poem, Barahona embarks on a detailed geographical and ethnographic rendering in which China is ultimately conceived as the locus and civilizing force of the entire “Oriental Indies.”





The King's Speech: Shakespeare, Empire and Global Media

Peter Donaldson (MIT, Literature)


Though the recent Academy Award winning film The King's Speech (2010) maintains an impressively firm grip on the personal side of the story it tells about King George VI and his speech therapist Lionel Logue, it also locates that story in broader historical contexts. In telling its poignant story of a king whose shortcomings as a speaker were so at odds with the ever-increasing importance of the broadcasting skills he struggled to master, the King's Speech also draws on Shakespeare, who enters the narrative largely because he plays so large a role in Lionel Logue's life and view of the world. Logue quotes from Shakespeare beginning with Iago's "poor and content is rich enough" (cf. 3.3.172.) when Bertie first enters his consulting room; he performs Shakespeare speeches for his children and encourages their interest in Shakespeare by having them guess the characters he plays; he auditions for the title role in a Putney amateur production of Richard III; and he makes Shakespeare a collaborator in his therapy, convincing his client, "Bertie" the Duke of York (soon to be King George VI), to recite the "To be or not to be" soliloquy into a voice recorder to convince him of his latent vocal competence. These Shakespearean moments help to give cultural resonance to the king's courage in dealing with his disability despite his doubts and to the ironies and complexities of the Australian-born Logue's position.

        In addition to quotations, direct references and unmistakable allusions to Shakespeare, the film has a more subtle but significant links to Shakespeare's Henry V and to Olivier's 1944 film. The King's Speech echoes several scenes in the play -- especially the campfire scene on the eve of the battle (4.1) and the scene after the battle in which the king and Fluellen meet the common soldier who had challenged the king's pledge not to be ransomed (4.8). The King's Speech also replays aspects of the metaperformative tropes by which Olivier connects the historical Henry V, the actor who played him on the Globe stage, and his own performance in the film, thereby linking live performance to epic cinema. The succession of performance modes and media is different in The King's Speech, celebrating a more modest speaker, but, like Olivier's film, seeks to reposition the monarchy in relation to the contemporary media of global film, television and the cult of celebrity. Of course it cannot do so today without revising Olivier's triumphant, largely unclouded view of royal presence and majesty. The King's Speech does succeed in creating a more persuasive and powerful redefinition of a media-intensive British monarchy for the present day than Olivier's Henry V can any longer be, and does so principally by reimagining the subject matter of Henry V -- the story of a prince who in early life seemed unfit for kingship, who struggles as king with his father's legacy and with his relation to the common people, whose success is in doubt and requires self transformation, who becomes a leader and makes a great speech on the eve of war -- as a Shakespeare-infused disability narrative.





What Can Arab Shakespeares Teach the Field of World Literature?

Margaret Litvin (Boston, Arabic and Comparative Literature)


Besides opening a new window on modern and contemporary Arab political cultures, the study of Arab/ic Shakespeare appropriation offers a model for scholars of international Shakespeare reception and, more broadly, of world literature. Taking a step back from my work on Hamlet’s Arab Journey (Princeton, 2011), this presentation will offer and illustrate three simple lessons from the Arab “case” that may be generalizable to other studies of transcultural adaptation. First: reception of a prestigious literary text is seldom direct. Almost never does a would-be rewriter first encounter a “great” work by sitting down at a desk and reading it; instead, knowledge of the text comes through what I have termed a global kaleidoscope of indirect references, adaptations, and offshoots. Second, and relatedly: intertexts are multiple, and they can hide. Everything from authorial pride to geopolitical changes can occlude the intervening web of texts from scholars’ view, leaving the adapter in apparently unmediated conversation with the prestigious source. Third: a literary or theatre culture may develop in dialogue with a “privileged interlocutor”: another high-prestige literary culture that helps determine which sources and models are available, what they are presumed to mean, and who is attracted to them. Attending to such dialogues can help avoid both a deterministic focus on “influence” and the creative free-for-all implied by the term “global kaleidoscope.” Examples from three periods of Egyptian theatre history will help illustrate why historically weighted ties between literary cultures, so obviously important in theory, can be so easily overlooked and interesting in practice.







Speakers and Moderators


Suzanne Conklin Akbari, Professor of English and Medieval Studies, University of Toronto


Professor Akbari's research focuses on the intersection of English and Comparative Literature with intellectual history and philosophy, ranging from neo-platonism and science in the twelfth century to national identity and religious conflict in the fourteenth century. Akbari’s books are on optics and allegory (Seeing Through the Veil), European views of Islam and the Orient (Idols in the East), and travel literature (Marco Polo and the Encounter of East and West). She is the volume editor for the Norton Anthology of World Literature, Volume B: 100-1500 and co-editor of the Norton Anthology of Western Literature, and is at work on The Oxford Handbook to Chaucer. Akbari is cross-appointed to the following units: Centre for Medieval Studies; Centre for Comparative Literature; Centre for Jewish Studies; Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations; Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies.

Suzanne Miller, Assistant Professor of History, George Washington University


Suzanne Mariko Miller (Ph.D., Stanford, 2007) is an historian of medieval Europe. Her broader research interests include the intersection of politics and cultural production, the construction of authority, and cross-cultural encounter. Her current research has focused on colonial endeavor and foreign rule within the medieval Mediterranean. Her dissertation, "Venice in the east Adriatic: Experiences and Experiments in Colonial Rule in Dalmatia and Istria, c. 1150-1358," examines the city-republic's varied attempts to win the submission of the coastal Croats through warfare, civic administration and invented traditions. She is currently finishing the revision of this dissertation into a book. She delivered a keynote address at the Syracuse University's inaugural Graduate History Conference on March 25, 2011.

Marcy Norton, Associate Professor of History, George Washington University


Marcy Norton (Ph.D., Berkeley, 2000) writes on the cultural history of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe and its American colonies. Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures: A History of Tobacco and Chocolate in the Atlantic World (Cornell University Press, 2008) sheds fresh light on the encounter between the New World and the Old World by explaining how these American Indian goods became European commodities of mass consumption. Professor Norton has held fellowships from the Kluge Center at the Library of Congress and the Davis Center of Princeton University, among others. She is currently researching cultural relativism in the seventeenth century and human-animal relationships from Columbus to Darwin. At GW she teaches such courses as "European Civilization in its World Context to 1715" and "New World Encounters between Europeans and Indians." Some of her publications of interest are "Imperial Rivalries and Commercial Collaboration: Portuguese and English Merchants and the Formation of an Atlantic Tobacco Trade, 1560-1640" and "Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics."

Barbara Fuchs, Professor of English and Spanish and Portuguese, UCLA


Trained as a comparatist (English, Spanish, French, Italian), Prof. Fuchs works on European cultural production from the late fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries, with a special emphasis on literature and empire. Before UCLA, she taught at the University of Washington and the University of Pennsylvania. During 2006-2007, she held a Guggenheim Fellowship for her project on “Moorishness” and the conflictive construction of Spain. Prof. Fuchs is now working on the occlusion of Spain in English literary history and, with Aaron Ilika, on a translation and critical edition of two maurophile novellas, The Abencerraje and "Ozmin and Daraxa." She is a past editor of Hispanic Review and a member of UCLA's Department of Spanish & Portuguese and Department of English. Of special interest to this Symposium are her books Empire and Mimesis: The New World, Islam, and European Identities (2001) and Exotic Nation: Maurophilia and the Construction of Early Modern Spain (2009).

Christina H. Lee, Associate Research Scholar, Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Cultures, Princeton University


Prof. Lee (Princeton Ph.D.) focuses on the literatures and cultures of the Early Modern period in the Hispanic world. She joined the faculty at Princeton in 2007 after teaching at Berkeley and Harvard. Her forthcoming book, Western Visions of the Far East in a Transpacific Age (1522-1657) (Ashgate), brings together leading scholars from a range of disciplines (Cultural/Literary Studies, Art History, History, and Translation Studies) to examine Western European representations of a Sino-centered Far East before the British and the Dutch dominated in the region. She is also working on a second book, provisionally called "The Anxiety of Sameness in Early Modern Spain.”

Margaret Litvin, Assistant Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature and Convener of Arabic at Boston University


Margaret Litvin writes about modern Arabic drama and political culture. Her book, Hamlet’s Arab Journey: Shakespeare’s Prince and Nasser’s Ghost (Princeton, 2011), examines the many reworkings of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in postcolonial Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. She holds a PhD from the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought (2006) and has been an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Yale University’s Whitney Humanities Center. Her articles and reviews have appeared in Critical Survey, the Journal of Arabic Literature, Shakespeare Studies, Shakespeare Yearbook, and Shakespeare Bulletin. At BU she teaches courses on Arabic language and literature (both in Arabic and in English translation), as well as seminars on “Global Shakespeares” and on the worldwide appropriation of the 1001 Nights. Professor Litvin has lived and studied in Egypt and traveled extensively to Lebanon; she speaks Arabic, Russian, French, and Spanish.

Peter Donaldson, Ford Foundation Professor in the Humanities, MIT


Peter S. Donaldson was educated at Columbia (BA 64, PhD 74) and Cambridge (BA 66 MA 70), where he held the Euretta J. Kellett Fellowship. His early research on the convergence of Machiavellian and sacred politics led to the publication of Machiavelli and Mystery of State (Cambridge U Press, 1988). Since the late 1980s he has focussed on two major research areas: Shakespeare on Film (Shakespearean Films/Shakespearean Directors and a series of articles now being revised for a book on Shakespeare and Media Allegory) and electronic projects involving Shakespeare across media. These include the Shakespeare Performance in Asia and Global Shakespeares digital video archives (both co-founded and co-edited with Alexa Huang), Shakespeare Electronic Archive , Hamlet on the Ramparts and XMAS: Cross-Media Annotation System, which supports the use of DVDs, images, and texts in student on-line discussions, in class presentations and multimedia essays. Donaldson has also been a pioneer in the use of media-rich presentations for scholarly and intepretive use. Donaldson is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society (UK), has held research fellowships from the NEH and ACLS, and was the first Lloyd Davis Visiting Professor of Shakespeare Studies at the University of Queensland (2006).

Lynn Westwater, Assistant Professor of Italian and Director of Italian Language and Literature, George Washington University


Professor Westwater received her Ph.D. in Italian Literature from the University of Chicago. Her research interests include polemical writing in Early Modern Italy; Early Modern women's writing; convent writing; Venetian culture; the Italian Jewish experience; plagiary in Early Modern Italy; and cultural production in Italian border regions. She is preparing a book manuscript on the often fraught relations between male and female writers in seventeenth-century Venice. She recently co-edited a critical edition, in Italian, of seventeenth-century Venetian nun Arcangela Tarabotti's correspondence (Lettere familiari e di complimento, Rosenberg & Sellier, 2005), which she is also co-editing and -translating for the University of Chicago Press's Other Voice in Early Modern Europe series.

Jonathan Hsy, Assistant Professor of English, George Washington University


Professor Hsy specializes in late medieval literature, and his research and teaching interests include Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, and their contemporaries; medieval romance; sociolinguistics; and material culture. His current research investigates multilingualism and commerce in medieval England and France, but his interests extend into later fields and periods, including early print culture, postcolonial theory, and the history of the English language. His new book Trading Tongues: Merchants, Multilingualism, and Medieval Literature is forthcoming from Ohio State University Press. His publications include “Lingua Franca: Overseas Travel and Language Contact in The Book of Margery Kempe" and “Translation, Suspended: Literary Code-Switching and Poetry of Sea Travel.”

Lowell Duckert is a doctoral candidate in the GW English Department, finishing his dissertation on early modern waterscapes, actor-network theory, and ecocriticism. He will be joining the West Virginia University as assistant professor of English in fall 2012. He has forthcoming articles on glaciers, the color maroon, rain, and Walter Ralegh's Discoverie of Guiana. Along with Jeffrey Cohen, he is editing a special issue of the journal postmedieval titled "Ecomateriality." Duckert has always been interested in English, but it took him a long time to discover his own voice within eco-critical studies. He received his B.A. in English from Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, where his family was. He studies the interactions between nature and culture and then thinks about ways in which figures move through the landscape as much as by the landscape.

Alexa Huang, Associate Professor of English, George Washington University; Co-General Editor, The Shakespearean International Yearbook; Research Affiliate in Literature at MIT


Recipient of the MLA's Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for Chinese Shakespeares: Two Centuries of Cultural Exchange (Columbia UP), Huang is the co-founder and co-director, with Peter Donaldson, of Global Shakespeares. She focuses in her teaching and research on early modern and postmodern global literary and performance cultures, digital humanities, and critical theories. Part of her work focuses on racial histories that connect imaginative writing to performances, which led to the publications of Shakespeare in Hollywood, Asia and Cyberspace (co-edited) and Class, Boundary and Social Discourse in the Renaissance (co-edited), and a special issue of Shakespeare (Journal of BSA, forthcoming). She served as the video curator for the Folger Shakespeare Library exhibition on "Imagining China: The View from Europe, 1550-1700" (Sept. 2009-Jan. 2010).





Directions, Parking, and Hotels



The symposium is held in Rome Hall 771 on the 7th floor of "Academic Center," 801 22nd Street, NW, Washington, DC 20052 , located at the intersection of Eye Street and 22nd St NW



Foggy Bottom Campus Public Transportation Options:



George Washington University's Foggy Bottom campus is centrally located three blocks from the White House. The Foggy Bottom GWU Metro Stop, located on the Blue and Orange Lines, is right on our Foggy Bottom Campus at 21st and I Streets, NW.


If you are coming from the Renaissance Society of America (RSA) conference in the Grand Hyatt (1000 H Street NW), GW is within walking distance (1.2 miles; 25 minutes on foot). You may also take the metro (three stops away; a 10-minute journey). Taxi is relatively cheap and efficient (10 minutes).


From the Grand Hyatt in DC, walk one block south to the Metro Center metro station. Take the orange line (toward Vienna) or blue line (toward Franconia-Springfield). Get off at the third stop, Foggy Bottom-GWU. See the campus map below.


Click on the following Metro map for a full map of the DC Metro system:





Click here for GW campus maps


Rome Hall 771

7th Floor

801 22nd Street, NW, Washington, DC 20052

(Intersection of Eye Street and 22nd St NW)


One block from the Foggy Bottom/GWU metro station and across the street from the Whole Food's and GW Hospital.






Visitor Parking




Parking on campus is currently a challenge due to ongoing construction, so we strongly encourage the use of public transportation. If you choose to drive to GW, a limited number of visitor parking spaces is available in --


  • The Academic Center Parking Garage (801 22nd Street, NW; entrance on I Street, NW, between 21st and 22nd Streets); open 24 hours a day 7 days a week


  • The Marvin Center Parking Garage (800 21st Street, NW; entrance on H Street, NW, between 21st and 22nd Streets); open 7 days a week from 7 a.m. until midnight daily


The parking fee is $18 per day or for a portion of the day (subject to change). On-campus street parking is available, but it is also limited and time limits are strictly enforced.


A few public parking garages (not run by GW) are also available nearby. Click here for a detailed map.





Hotels on or near the GW Foggy Bottom Campus (all within walking distance)


George Washington University Inn



One Washington Circle Hotel



Hotel Lombardy



State Plaza Hotel



DoubleTree Guest Suites Hotel



Washington Marriott



Renaissance Washington DC (Dupont Circle)



Best Western Georgetown



The River Inn



Washington Suites Georgetown



Fairmont Washington, D.C.



Click on the following map for details:




More options here: http://www.gwu.edu/explore/visitingcampus/lodgingdining



Note: Rosslyn (Arlington, VA)--across the river--has some great hotels at affordable rates, and it is only one stop from Foggy Bottom-GWU by metro (and these hotels are next to the Rosslyn metro)


Options include: Hyatt, Marriott, Holiday Inn, Hotel Palomer, Best Western, Residence Inn, Courtyard, and more.







Lowell Duckert, lduckert@gwu.edu



Department of English
The George Washington University
801 22nd Street NW, Suite 760
Washington, DC 20052
Phone: (202) 994-6180





The symposium is co-sponsored by the George Washington University Department of English and Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute (MEMSI), and co-organized by Alexa Huang, Jonathan Hsy, and Lowell Duckert. Special thanks to Gayle Wald, Jeffrey Cohen, and Connie Kibler for their support. GW MEMSI brings the study of early Europe within a global perspective to students (from undergraduate to doctoral), teachers and researchers, and an interested public.