Society for Italian Studies – Translation centre stage with Susan Bassnett and Jhumpa Lahiri

The Italian department at University of Edinburgh have just hosted the Society for Italian Studies conference, also as a way of marking the 100th anniversary of Italian Studies at Edinburgh. It is a real tribute to the department that they’ve organised this major conference just as the academic year draws to an end: thanks to Federica Pedriali, Davide Messina, Nicolò Maldina, Carlo Pirozzi, and all the others on the organising team!

As a first-timer at a SIS conference, it was an excellent (and intense) few days and a great way to meet up with old friends and new. Highlights for me were definitely the keynote speakers on the first day, and in particular Professor Susan Bassnett and Jhumpa Lahiri.

Both Bassnett and Lahiri spoke about translation. Bassnett from a personal point of view, with particularly telling details regarding the fact that as a young academic she was told not to include translations on her CV since they were regarded as incidental to an academic career, akin to “hack work”. She mentioned that Tim Parks – also a prolific translator and author – had been repeatedly “bocciato” (turned down, failed) when he presented himself for academic posts in Italy because it was deemed that he wasn’t doing any “serious” work! Translation was – and, possibly in some circles, still is – seen as a “fringe” activity.

Bassnett has dedicated her career to working on the cross-cultural movement of texts and authors, and of course here translation is key. However, she pointed out that cultures translate according to need, and this helps to explain why the number of translated texts has varied so strikingly at different moments in history.

“All my life I have had more than one language in my head. I translate to build bridges between languages and cultures, and I write to understand the processes of bridge construction, today and in previous ages.”

Susan Bassnett
profile on Literature, British Council

The evening reception “Speaking in Cultures” at the Scottish Parliament was hosted by Linda Fabiani MSP, who was wonderfully welcoming to all the academics and special guests, including the broader Italian community, the Italian Consul-General and other key figures like Tony Crolla of the Vittoria Group, Edinburgh, sponsor of the Gadda Prizes.

Before the prize-giving event, Jumpha Lahiri gave a masterly lecture on translation and writing, a subject on which she’s eminently well placed to talk. She took Ovid’s tale of Narcissus and Echo as her guiding thread – an ingenious choice – and I very much hope the lecture will be published in due course because it was brilliantly executed with some truly unique insights into both creative processes. Writers, she argued, are enriched by translation since it forces them to break the bounds of self-reflection.

J. W. Waterhouse, Echo and Narcissus, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Earlier in the day Jhumpa Lahiri also presented her most recent publication, The Penguin Book of Italian Short Stories (March 2019). A third of these are new translations, including a number by Lahiri herself.

CFP for International Conference “Historical Fiction, Fictional History, and Historical Reality”

Circulating this CFP and there’s still time to submit – deadline 30 November 2019.

International Conference “Historical Fiction, Fictional History, and Historical Reality”
Call for Papers

FCSH-Universidade Nova de Lisboa
Lisbon, Portugal

6-8 March 2020

Organised by CETAPS and CHAM

The most pellucid pearls of historical narrative are often fount in fiction, long a major component of historical understanding. More people apprehend the past through historical novels, from Walter Scott to Jean Plaidy, than through any formal history.
David Lowenthal, The Past is a Foreign Country (1985) 224

Historical fiction has been riding a crest of popularity, and, to a certain degree, it was that popularity that motivated (or forced) the academic study of the genre. Our conference aims to discuss the most recent findings regarding the study of the historical novel. The title of our academic meeting is taken from Hayden White’s introductory text to a special issue of Rethinking History (2005) dedicated to “historical fiction, fictional history, and historical reality”. 

Working languages: Portuguese, English, Spanish. No translation will be provided.

We will privilege comparative and transdisciplinary approaches. Potential contributors are invited to submit a 300-word abstract on themes related to any of the following conference tracks:

– (re)defining the historical novel: potentials and boundaries;
– postmodernist innovation of the historical novel;
– Writing Back from (or into) the Past: Literature, History and ideology;
– History and Literature (borderlands): accuracy, authenticity and fictional representation;
– from footnotes to maps: the function of paratextual elements in historical fiction;
– historians, novelists and the historical novel;
– historical metafiction;
– screening history: historical (period) films, television series and documentaries (reconstructions);
– (re)writing History;
– alternate history;
– historical fiction awards;
– narrating national and personal memories and traumas in literature;
– memoirs, family sagas and other autobiographical writing as/and historical fiction;
– historical mysteries;
– historical short stories;
– gender and historical fiction;
-representing and suggesting eroticism and sex in historical fiction;
– fictionalising historical change and the archives;
– historical novel and literary tourism;
– the historical novel, historical imaginary and (visual) cultural memory;
– Literature, history and the anachronism;
– phantasy in historical;
– dystopian and utopian vision in historical fiction;
– the historical novel and politics of technology;
– teaching history, literature and creative writing through historical fiction;
– fictionalising the (post)colonial;
– the historical novel and the publishing market, the (informed) reading public and Academia;
– historical fiction for children and young adults;
– historical fiction in/and games, comics and graphic novels;
– historical drama/history plays, opera, and other historical reenactments; 

Papers and panels on the above themes are invited. However, papers/panels on other subjects related to the above topics will also be considered. Participants will be held to a twenty minute presentation limit.

Please submit an abstract or a full paper (MLA style) and a bio note, by November 30, 2019, to:

Rogério Miguel Puga


To insure prompt notification, please include your e-mail address on your submission. If you are willing to chair a session, please note this at the top of your abstract.

Conference webpage: