Translation traces in the archive: Unfixing documents, destabilising evidence

Hephzibah Israel, Matthias Frenz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article focuses on a challenge faced by a collaborative research team: the Protestant missionary archive. While we found a number of autobiographical accounts in several South Asian languages, with statements on several documents stating that they were translations, we were unable to trace both the source and target text in each case. How could we compare texts in translation without complete versions of their source texts? More importantly, how could we engage constructively with the implied presence of the source texts in the face of their material absence? This meant developing a new set of questions on translation and its relationship with the archive. Drawing on Foucault’s critique of ‘the archive’ and his argument for an ‘archaeological’ engagement with archives, we examine how to treat what we term ‘translation traces’ in the documents we uncovered: bilingual texts, translated extracts, fragments, and evidence of repeated relay translations. We ask further, what role translation, invisibilized as it is, plays in the documentation of lives. The archive can be conceptualised as a ‘contact zone’ where languages, texts, and collective memory intersect through translation. We contribute to the discipline of translation studies by suggesting some means of addressing the way archives from the past inevitably shape our study and understanding of material presence and function of translation in specific historical periods. Finally, we argue that highlighting the role of translation opens up new ways of conceptualising and working with historical archives.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)335-348
JournalTranslator: Studies in Intercultural Communication
Issue number4
Early online date8 Apr 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Apr 2020


  • translation and history
  • translation and memory
  • translation and archives
  • conversion accounts
  • South Asia
  • missionary archives
  • Christianity
  • Foucault
  • Tamil
  • German

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