Campus News

Teaching in the New Normal: Translation Symposium

April 26, 2020
Communications Staff
Griffin Nosanchuk.
Griffin Nosanchuk translates “Sonnet IX” by Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz during the 2020 Translation Symposium that took place virtually, on Zoom. Photo credit: Courtesy of Kirk Ormand

These days, the classroom has taken on new meaning for both faculty and students at Oberlin. In this series we are sharing stories from faculty on how they are navigating this new normal. How have you adapted instruction to a remote learning environment? How have students shifted how they learn and participate? What’s changed, what’s stayed the same, or what has come as a pleasant surprise? Please share an example or anecdote that addresses one of these areas.

Kirk Ormand, Nathan A. Greenberg Professor of Classics, describes how this year’s Translation Symposium looked different than in years past—most obviously in format but also in the absence of the event’s beloved founder Jed Deppman. Ormand explains that even with these challenges, the symposium continued and student translators shone. 

Says Ormand: 

Every year since 2002, the comparative literature program has held its Translation Symposium—an opportunity for students to gather and present brief translations of literary works. The range of works is always impressive, from well-known pieces by canonical authors to little-known poems by artists whose work has remained politically or poetically on the edge.  Each presenter has only five minutes to do three things: read a passage in the original language, read their own, original translation into English, and then say a few words about their process of translation. Translations can be as literal or as poetically free as the translator wishes; a central principle has been the assertion that translation is itself artistic creation. The event is polyglottal, multilingual, and polyvalent, and it showcases some of the most creative work of our highly talented majors. 

This year marked a special moment in the history of the event.  First, and most importantly, this year the symposium was officially named after Jed Deppman—the recently departed, much beloved, and much admired—former chair of comparative literature, who founded the event more than fifteen years ago. Jed passed away this summer, after a long battle with advanced cancer. As Stiliana Milkova, assistant professor of comparative literature and Italian, said in her opening remarks, “This is the first time we are organizing the translation symposium without the brilliant, inspiring presence of its founder, Professor Jed Deppman…He was a remarkable scholar and an exceptional teacher worshipped by his students. And he cared profoundly about literary translation….Professor Deppman inaugurated the first Translation Symposium in 2002 and since, it has become our signature event, our annual recognition of our students’ linguistic virtuosity and creative talent. To honor Professor Deppman, we have renamed the translation symposium in his memory. In this way, he will always be part of it.”

Second, and more obviously, this year we had to reimagine the event as a webcast. With the able help of Abe Reshad of the Cooper International Learning Center, we were able to hold the event over Zoom with a simultaneous livestream over YouTube Live. The sound quality was not perfect, and the video quality is limited by each of the participants’ technology and broadband.  But as always, our student translators shine in their brilliant, evocative, sympathetic, funny, and resourceful transformations of literature from eight different languages. 

Listen to a sampling of student translations from the symposium:

  • Joshua Reinier translating “Au Lecteur” from Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs de Mal 
  • Griffin Nosanchuk translating “Sonnet IX” by Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz
  • Antonia Offen reading a translation done with Mumi Vélez of Jorge Drexler’s “Codo con codo” 
Photo of Kirk Ormand

Kirk Ormand

  • Nathan A. Greenberg Professor of Classics
View Kirk Ormand's biography

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