Undergraduate Research

Alexandra Davisson ’23

OUR Featured Researcher: Alexandra Davisson ’23

Alexandra Davisson
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones '97

Alexandra Davisson (she/her) majors in Hispanic studies and religion. She conducts research under the mentorship of Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies and Comparative Literature Claire Solomon. Her project is titled “Translation As an Act of Friendship.”

Please describe your project:

I chose to undertake a creative translation project for my research in the Hispanic studies honors program. The project was inspired by two polar translation theories. These theories explore what can be gained from the practice of translation as well as the ethics of the discipline. Lawerence Venuti’s “Theses on Translation: an Organon for the Current Moment” argues that simply translating a work is enough acknowledgment of the culture that it comes from. Meanwhile, Emily Apter’s “What Is Just Translation” advocates for untranslatability: the decision to not translate things that simply cannot be understood outside of a specific native language and cultural context. I wanted to investigate the middle ground between the two works and write my own theory to unite them. I then applied my own theoretical conclusions in practice and translated 10 poems from a poetry book titled Terapia con animales, written by young Argentinian poet Daniela Ema Aguinsky.

More broadly, my project explores the benefits of the practice of translation and seeks to discover how translation can cultivate personal development through the knowledge of other cultures and languages. 

Why is your research important? 

This research is important to my field because translation is an essential instrument to cultivating an informed and therefore more tolerant society. The exchange of literature from different cultures and languages allows for this on a global scale.

What does the process of conducting your research look like?

My process involves multiple drafts of translations. I start with a draft translating word-for-word meaning. My second draft reviews stylistic choices of the poems and the equivalency of meaning. My third draft focuses on analysis of the poem’s themes. I also ask for input from the original authors, as my goal is to convey the content that is important to them.

What knowledge has your research contributed to your field?

My research has taught me that you can encourage the translation process while still accounting for cultural nuances. I have also experienced the benefits of having a collaborative relationship between translator and author.

In what ways have you showcased your research?

I have completed the first draft of the project, which is 55 pages. I also presented my research at the annual Oberlin Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Black and white photo, cover of Terapia con animalesHow did you get involved in research? What drove you to seek out research experiences in college?

The idea for this project emerged from the work I did in a Hispanic studies seminar on translation and world literature. I engaged with a topic that I was passionate about and was driven to continue exploring it beyond the bounds of that class.

What is your favorite aspect of the research process?

My favorite thing about this project has been looking into how aspects of my own life are reflected in a different cultural context. I found many similarities and was able to relate despite coming from a different hemisphere.

How has your research contributed to your professional or academic development?

Though the process has been challenging, it’s been extremely rewarding to construct a project from the ground up. It’s allowed me to engage with academics at Oberlin in a new and beneficial way, and I’ve garnered a newfound confidence in myself with this work.

What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field?

Lean into topics that interest you. Write down any ideas you may have because you never know where they will lead you.