Illegible Cities

Illegible Cities: Translating Early Modern China

This book project in progress, very loosely inspired by Calvino’s Invisible Cities, is devoted to understanding the institutional, textual, and social history of translation in China from the fifteenth through eighteenth centuries (with a wee bit of a foray into the nineteenth as well). It’s also a space in which I’m trying to work on, and work through, practices of sameness in history. Put another way, can we glimpse in glossaries and phrasebooks (and in the practices of the men who made them) moments in a global history of selfhood, of the basic act of considering something as equal or identical to something else?

I am looking at the significance of early modern translation bureaus (especially the Siyi guan, or Translators’ College) and the manuals they produced, in an attempt to understand the institutional and social context of production, print history, and use of these texts, as well as the lives and work of the translators employed by the College. The project pays special attention to the significance of dictionaries and translation manuals in mediating knowledge exchange across Ming and Qing China.

As soon as I can squeeze the time in, I’ll post links to relevant talks, workshop papers, and publications here. Coming soon!