Computing in the Humanities

Final Project: Internet Archive

For this assignment, we each create a archive of historical items so that scholars and lay-people could access them from anywhere in the world. I was lucky enough to get to work with a manuscript of Targum: or Metrical Translations from Thirty Languages and Dialects from 1835 hand-written by the author, George Borrow. You can see visit my archive here.

George Borrow was an English translator, born in Norfolk, England in 1803. In additions to his translations, he also wrote travelogues/pseudo-autobiographies during long periods of living in Spain (The Bible in Spain), with nomadic Romani (Lavengro and The Romany Rye), and Wales (Wild Wales).

Borrow spoke many, many languages with some degree of fluency - Russian, Chinese, Arabic, and Spanish, to name only a tiny fraction. He was said to be almost obsessed with learning new languages, taking up another as soon as he became at all confident in whatever he was learning at the moment. (For some interesting commentary on the psychological implications of this behavior, see the first few pages of George Hyde's article 'Language Is First of All a Foreign One': George Borrow as a Translator from Polish.) His translations were widely read all the way up to his death in 1881 and remained popular for many years after. Some of the works he translated had never existed in English previously, and his new translation of the Bible (which he did while in Spain) was by far the most popular English translation for many decades to come.

And yet, relatively little scholarship exists on him. Apart from the work of interest groups like the George Borrow Society, Borrow is currently rarely read and not particularly well-known. I think several factors have contributed to this. First, Borrow in some way anticipated a trend - translation of little-known languages and sociological examinations of different cultures became very popular in the years following Borrow. It is certain that relatively quickly, many young scholars became linguists and translators interested in reviewing Borrow's work, and many found it wanting. While his works remained popular, it became clear that the quantity of Borrow's languages in some way compromised the quality of his understanding - often learning languages in a non-academic setting, his translations are often liberal with the source material, eager to conform to the literary tastes of him time more than capturing perfectly the nuances of the source material he is working with. This may have contributed to the frequent absence of his works from college reading lists. Second, translation and travelogue are both forms which have been (and arguably, still are) looked down upon as lesser forms of literature within academic circles; without any significant corpus of novels or essays to add academic clout, Borrow may simply have been dismissed based on genre. But perhaps the most obvious contributing factor appears when we look at the (slim) body of work that does exist on Borrow: most of the works on him focus on a specific book he wrote, or his relationship to a specific language, rather than his (considerable) body of work as a whole. Obviously few, if any, scholars are capable of examining all of Borrow's translations because they will not be familiar with some, probably more than half, of his source languages. It is understandably a daunting task.

But Borrow is fascinating for his uniqueness. I hope to use this archive, which I will be expanding, to examine 1) the choices and dilemmas Borrows was facing while writing Targum, in which (as the subtitle states) he is working with over thirty different languages, and 2) any overarching similarities between his translation methodology regardless of language. Please check back often; I will be posting more pages and commentary, and I would be very happy to read any thoughts on these translations by scholars familiar with Borrow or with one or more of the source texts he's working with. If you have any questions or comments about the site, you can contact me at borrowtargum@gmail.com

Here are links to sources I used for this assignment: