The UT Dallas Center for Translation Studies, one of the oldest academic centers for literary translation in the U.S., recently marked its 40th anniversary.
The center was created in 1978 by Dr. Rainer Schulte, professor of arts and humanities and the Katherine R. Cecil Professor in Foreign Languages, with the purpose of fostering and promoting the study and practice of literary translation. It was officially named in 1980.
“Translation is a model of communication across barriers. And once you think of it that way, everything changes,” said Dr. Dennis Kratz, dean of the School of Arts and Humanities and the Ignacy and Celina Rockover Professor.
Kratz, who previously served as co-director of the center, said translation brings in everything about a culture and a writer to re-create a piece as fully and completely as possible.
“That means not taking ‘word A’ and making it ‘word B,’ but re-creating the impact of what was said in a new language. If the original made you cry, then the translation should make you cry,” he said.
Schulte described translation as a type of bridge.
“As you cross the bridge you have to leave some of your prejudices or some of your concepts behind and open yourself to new ones,” he said. “And the discovery of the new ones is frequently very exciting.”
Schulte said that at the time the center was created, translations of literary texts were primarily done in Europe. He wanted to change that.
“There were very, very few places in the United States where literary translation or translation in academia was taken seriously,” he said. “We built the center to train students, gain more respect for translation, and to support faculty members who work in literary translation.”
Faculty and students in the center also conduct research in cultural and cross-cultural communication, which, in collaboration with other literary associations and centers throughout the world, includes the development of writer and translator databases.
At about the same time the center opened, Schulte also launched the Translation Review, an academic journal that provides translators, scholars and readers a forum to dialogue about the importance of translation, to discuss the challenges in transplanting a text from a foreign culture into English, and to increase the visibility and status of the translator in the world. He also co-founded the American Literary Translators Association, a national nonprofit arts association that supports the work of literary translators and advances the art of literary translation.
Kratz said the work done by Schulte and others in the center has made a significant difference in how translation is seen by the academic community.
“He, in a very real sense, is the founder of translation studies as an academic discipline. There was a time when translation wasn’t taken seriously. But now, people get tenure for translating. Rainer in many ways singlehandedly fought this battle,” he said.
Schulte said the center is looking to the future, particularly at how digital media can help translators, researchers and readers. As an example, he said a poem could be further explored by offering links to multiple translations into English, interviews with scholars or other details that could improve understanding of the piece.
“Digital research is where the field of translation is headed, and I expect our center to be at the forefront of this movement,” Schulte said.