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Essays are sought for a special issue of Annali d’Italianistica (2020) entitled “Nation(s) and Translation”. Contributions that explore how translation, as a cultural practice, has been inherently tied in Italian literary and cultural history to the politics of nationhood are welcome as are contextualized investigations and debates over the intersection of nation-building and translation by intellectuals from different periods of Italian cultural history. 


Starting with Dante’s conjoining of the idea of “Italy” in the Divine Comedy with the creation of a national language to bridge linguistic, but obviously political, differences in the De vulgari eloquentia, and moving through the questione della lingua that animated both Trissino’s translation of the latter text, and Annibale Caro’s impressive translation of another nation-building, foundational text such as Virgil’s Aeneid in the 16th century, translation has been deeply imbricated with ideas of Italian nationhood. This became even more obvious in the course of the 18th and 19th centuries when concepts of national genus, national character and national spirit that traverse the writings of Lord Shaftesbury, Montesquieu, Bolingbroke, Rousseau, and Herder, started to animate the translation agendas of Italy’s intellectual circles. As a result, translations from German, French and English became common as did those from Latin and especially Greek epics. 

Following the advent of the French Revolution, the upheaval of Napoleon’s Italian campaigns on the orders of the Ancient Regime, and the Restoration that ensued after the Congress of Vienna (1815), the peninsula’s long tradition of cultural nationalism became increasingly wedded to demands for political sovereignty, autonomy and self–determination. A growing cohort of writers rekindled the cultural nationalism tied to the Tuscan literary language and the Classical heritage while others pursued innovation in the Italian language by looking North instead of to canonical “Italian” texts, and the elitist and outdated linguistic strictures codified by the Accademia della Crusca. Perhaps no other debate illustrates the tensions of 19th century translation nationalism than the so-called “polemica classico-romantica” that took place after the publication of Madame de Staël’s “On the Manner and Use of Translations” in the journal Biblioteca Italiana in 1816. Spurred by her enthusiasm for Northern Romanticism, Madame de Staël encouraged Italians to abandon their revisiting of Classical languages and Graeco-Latin literatures and start translating the works of Northern European writers instead. While few intellectuals, such as Pietro Borsieri, sided with Madame de Staël, others were decidedly less favorable. Among the latter, were Carlo Botta, Pietro Giordani, Giovanni Berchet, and even the young Giacomo Leopardi. 

The Unification of Italy in 1861 only intensified these debates, as exemplified by Massimo D’Azeglio’s apocryphal phrase, “l’Italia è fatta, gli italiani sono ancora da farsi” and by the diverging positions upheld by the novelist and poet Alessandro Manzoni and the scholar Isaia Ascoli: the translation of dialects into the contemporary language of the educated classes of Tuscany—the famous “sciacquatura in Arno” of Manzoni’s I Promessi sposi—versus the translation into the literary language modeled upon 14th century Tuscan writers. But in the years when the “poetry” of the Risorgimento was steadily being replaced by the “prose” of the post-Risorgimento, translation from other European languages also emerged as a powerful tool to subvert and question a political and territorial unification that had defeated federalist, radical, republican, neo-guelphic, and democratic solutions to establish a monarchic government in the 19th century tradition of bourgeois liberalism.  In this complex socio-cultural milieu of fin-de-siècle Italy, translation continued to play a significant, if changed role.  Naples and Milan became the new capital cities of translation, issuing French and English social humanitarian novels by Eugene Sue, Dickens, Hugo, Balzac, the Goncourt, Maupassant, and Zola.  Translations of Fantastic and Gothic stories— the same stories that had been the target of the polemic that followed Madame de Staël’s article, became quite popular in Italian magazines and literary journals. These translations enabled, at least in part, the forging of the aesthetic program of the anti-establishment movement of the Scapigliatura between the 1860s and 1870s that played a crucial role in advancing post-unification culture.  In the abnormality and uneasiness elicited by unconventional plots and the uncanny “otherness” of pathological, abnormal characters cultivated by these genres, authors such as Tarchetti, Boito, Dossi, Praga, and Valera, among others, found a means to question the reality of the newly unified nation-state and the hegemony of an industrial bourgeoisie now in the making, becoming cultural mediators of writers ranging from E.T.A. Hoffmann, Mary Shelley, and Heine to Baudelaire, Murger, Theophile Gauthier and Edgar Allen Poe, whose works they read, translated, and disseminated.  In the process, however, the Scapigliati also opened another path in the cultural history of Italy: translation as an act of symbolic resistance against the inherited nation—a project that would become ever more compelling with the fall of the Liberal State following the appointment of Benito Mussolini as a Prime Minister in 1922 and the translation of American authors Caldwell, Faulkner, Lewis, Melville, Saroyan, and Steinbeck on the part of Italian writers Vittorini and Pavese.

In the post-World War II era, the forging of the first republican nation would once again draw upon a robust translation agenda, most notably of American literature, to reopen national culture after the autarchy of Fascism while pursuing  a difficult modernity and modernization. More recently, migrations and globalization have clearly evinced the tight bond that exists between nation and translation in a country where that bond has always been challenged by regional and political fractioning. Once again, translation is emerging as an essential gesture in imagining a nation that is irreducibly multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, diasporic, transnational and postcolonial.


Submission by September 2019. Publication expected by 2020.

All contributions will be refereed.  Essays, not to exceed 25 double-spaced pages, can be written in Italian or English.  They should conform to the style-sheet criteria set forth by Annali d’Italianistica for “Notes” and “Works Cited.”

Prospective contributors should address all inquiries to both Norma Bouchard and Valerio Ferme

For more information, please see here.

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