Bodies in Motion: Translating Early Modern Science

A small report on the “Bodies in Motion” Workshop hosted by the UBC Node.
Prepared by Anna Winterbottom, Post-doctoral fellow at McGill University's Indian Ocean World Centre. 

Bodies in Motion: Translating Early Modern Science
March 22-23, 2013
History Department, University of British Columbia

Led in spirited style by Canada Research Chair Carla Nappi, this workshop was an innovative balance of seminar papers and ‘master classes’ on translation. The theme managed to combine the too-often opposed disciplines of textual scholarship, material culture and antho-history by merging the analysis of bodies of scholarly work with the fleshy bodies that created them, carried them, had their ideas shaped by them, saw themselves depicted in them and translated and transformed them.

Professor Anthony Grafton led the way by connecting Erasmus’ philological work with the entrail-readers that scholar despised, through an examination of the creative leap or ‘divination’ that both engaged in. Seminar papers that I saw ranged from an exploration the multiple meanings attached to the dead bodies of a possibly mythical south Indian king; to a trip through ‘Algonquin London’, an eye-opening view of my native England; to reflections on Jesuit accommodation strategies through dress – when does a habitual disguise become more than skin deep, we wondered?

Despite enthusiastic urgings to do so, I was not quite brave enough to join the Chinese masterclass without knowing a word of that language. However, the discussion I joined around translating Buffon’s 1671 Memoires pour servir a l’histoire naturelle des animaux revealed the value of close collaborative attention to texts. It also left me rather more convinced about the closeness of my own scholarly practices to those old entrail-readers.