Transcendental Translations: The Making of New England’s Literary Culture
Translation was central to New England Transcendentalism, the literary culture of antebellum New England. This project focuses on how its translation activities shaped American literature and politics. It pays particular attention to translations from European Romanticism and German philosophy, movements central to this culture’s development. While American studies has resituated this culture within transnational contexts, this project contends it should be understood as a situated cosmopolitan formation—a regional culture articulating itself through translations aimed at shaping national and regional debates on literature and politics. Within this context, translation is a form of vernacularization—the creation of a vernacular literature or politics according to cosmopolitan models.
This project has two aims. The first is to map the translation activities of the Transcendentalists Charles Timothy Brooks, James Freeman Clarke, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Frederic Henry Hedge, James Marsh, Theodore Parker, and George Ripley. It mapping these activities, I attend to the publishing efforts of Transcendentalism’s translation culture, and the types of translations it produced, which included paraphrases, summaries, adaptations, and unacknowledged translations. The second goal is to investigate how these translations mediated between transnational and local debates on education, feminism, slavery, and literature. I argue that translations vernacularized for New England an organic model of culture and freedom to which the nation is central. This vernacularization process altered New England’s understanding of citizenship and culture: the citizen is reimagined as a self-generating subject; social reform movements multiply; and literature is identified with the nation and freedom.