Emily Dickinson as a Global Figure: A Proposal to the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, MA

Emi­ly Dick­in­son has trav­elled around the world a myr­i­ad of ways since her death. As ear­ly as the 1880s-90s infor­ma­tion about her had been trans­lat­ed, through the Atlantic Month­ly, into Swahili.[1] By 1929, at least four of Dickinson’s poems had been trans­lat­ed into Yid­dish.[2] In between, her works had been trans­lat­ed at least once into the major­i­ty of Euro­pean lan­guages. In all, Dickinson’s poems have been trans­lat­ed into dozens of lan­guages, includ­ing Ger­man, French, Span­ish, Russ­ian, Pol­ish, Chi­nese, Ara­bic, Yid­dish, Turk­ish, Swahili, Por­tuguese, Japan­ese, Thai, Kore­an and even Amhar­ic. [3] Still, only a few few schol­ars have con­sid­ered her as a glob­al fig­ure or her poet­ry across lan­guages. As ear­ly as 1999, schol­ars have dis­cussed trans­la­tions of Dick­in­sons work into Chi­nese, and, as a review of trans­la­tions of Dickinson’s poet­ry into Ger­man notes, “the knowl­edge of Emi­ly Dickinson’s poet­ry in Ger­many, by now, sure­ly extends beyond the lim­it­ed cir­cle of a main­ly aca­d­e­m­ic audi­ence,” as many vol­umes of her poet­ry and even almost a third of her let­ters have been trans­lat­ed into Ger­man in the last two-and-a-half decades.[4] In 2009, Domh­nall Mitchell, and Maria Stu­art edit­ed a vol­ume con­nect­ing Dickinson’s impact around the world. From arti­cles on “read­ing Dick­in­son in Ger­man, Aus­tria and Switzer­land” and on trans­la­tions of her work across West­ern Europe, the vol­ume con­tains arti­cles on trans­la­tions of Dick­in­son into Hebrew, Ukran­ian and Japan­ese.[5] Emi­ly Dick­in­son is a glob­al poet, and she speaks to the needs of a glob­al world. There is already a vast poten­tial read­er­ship and audi­ence for trans­lat­ed mate­r­i­al on Dick­in­son and for infor­ma­tion on Dick­in­son in trans­la­tion.

At the same time, Mass­a­chu­setts his­to­ry is Amer­i­can his­to­ry, and Amer­i­can his­to­ry is being taught around the world. Peo­ple from across the world come to this area to learn about our nation’s his­to­ry. With even Bradley Inter­na­tion­al Air­port now fly­ing direct­ly to Dublin, a gate­way to Europe and Asia, the Pio­neer Val­ley is only going to get more inter­na­tion­al vis­i­tors.[6] More­over, the num­ber of Amer­i­cans over the age of five who speak a lan­guage oth­er than Eng­lish at home now exceeds 20%, and this coun­try is only becom­ing more mul­ti­lin­gual. In response to this trend, as an arti­cle in the New York Times notes, muse­ums across Amer­i­ca are broad­en­ing their mul­ti­cul­tur­al offer­ings, as more and more peo­ple are grow­ing up in homes where Eng­lish is not spo­ken as the first lan­guage and as more tourists are vis­it­ing from around the world.[7] Tourism from rapid­ly indus­tri­al­iz­ing coun­tries such as Chi­na is on the steep incline and across the coun­try, muse­ums have been inter­na­tion­al­iz­ing and trans­lat­ing their exhibits to keep up with, and draw tourists.[8] As one muse­um trans­la­tion ser­vice notes, “com­bined with trans­lat­ed exhib­it infor­ma­tion at the muse­um itself, estab­lish­ing your muse­um as an inter­na­tion­al­ly-friend­ly des­ti­na­tion could be the decid­ing fac­tor in whether or not a tour group adds you to its itin­er­ary.” As domes­tic fund­ing for muse­ums and non­prof­its decreas­es, and as grants, espe­cial­ly in the human­i­ties dry up, attract­ing for­eign vis­i­tors through con­tent catered to a glob­al audi­ence who are already inter­est­ed in Emi­ly Dick­in­son, may be a great way to gen­er­ate an alter­nate and more sta­ble income. By many accounts, the need for trans­la­tors and good trans­la­tions is grow­ing across all sec­tors.[9] As muse­ums of all sorts are glob­al­iz­ing, the Emi­ly Dick­in­son Muse­um will get to be on the fore­front of a move­ment to make Amer­i­can his­to­ry acces­si­ble to the world and to make muse­ums glob­al spaces of glob­al inter­ac­tions. [10]

Pro­pos­al (Briefly and in Three Parts):

Trans­la­tions of the 45 minute tour (the “She was a poet tour”) into:

  1. Ger­man
  2. French
  3. Chi­nese
  4. Yid­dish
  5. Span­ish
  6. Pol­ish

Pos­si­ble Addi­tions

  1. Japan­ese
  2. Ital­ian

Blue­print for future trans­la­tions.

  1. Begin­ning of a com­mu­ni­ty with a list of trans­la­tors logged in an excel file who they may be called upon lat­er by the muse­ums in the area.

Muse­um Exhib­it on Dick­in­son in trans­la­tion through the ages: pre­sent­ing a wide swath of Dickinson’s poet­ry trans­lat­ed through­out time and polit­i­cal con­texts around the world.

  1. For this exhib­it, I would like to choose a sin­gle poem, and com­pare how it has been trans­lat­ed across lan­guages, for exam­ple, If I can stop one heart from break­ing (6.), which has been trans­lat­ed into Ger­man, Ital­ian and Yid­dish, at least.
    1. Ide­al­ly, this could be done in con­junc­tion with the Yid­dish Book Cen­ter


[3] On the Euro­pean Lan­guages, see the Wikipedia Archive con­tain­ing her poems in trans­la­tion:’s_poems_in_translation On Chi­nese, see: and; and; for con­nec­tions of Dickinson’s work with Japan­ese cul­ture, see:; and; For an arti­cle on read­ing Dick­in­son in Japan, see: ; For an arti­cle on trans­lat­ing Dick­in­son into Ara­bic, see:; On Dick­in­son in Swahili, see:; On Emi­ly Dick­in­son in Thai, see: and;; on Kore­an, see and*Version*=1&*entries*=0; on Amhar­ic, see:

[9] For exam­ple,–07-03/the-translation-industry-interprets-recession-proof;;;

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