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The transnational mobility of cheap print: British chapbooks in Italy, 1800-1850

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - CHAP (The transnational mobility of cheap print: British chapbooks in Italy, 1800-1850)

Reporting period: 2015-09-01 to 2017-08-31

Inexpensive ephemeral literature intended for a broad audience has always constituted a significant portion of the publishing business in Europe. Between the 16th and the 19th centuries such literature largely circulated in the form of chapbooks and broadsides. Chapbooks were booklets often issued unbound containing jokes, riddles, songs, practical advice, almanacs, stories of bandits and murderers, lives of saints, prophecies and tales inspired by medieval romances. Broadsides consisted of a single large sheet printed on one side and commonly contained ballads, proclamations and edicts, reports of trials, death sentences, and news. Chapbooks and broadsides frequently incorporated illustrations. They were often peddled in the street of urban and rural centres and read aloud during public events. Book historians have studied these publications in depth, stressing their social and cultural relevance and noticing that the chapbook and broadside repertoires of different European countries share genres, characters and themes. This study makes a first attempt to concretely and comprehensively explain how these similarities came about.

The study is built on two complementary premises. The first is that translation played an important role in making chapbooks and broadsides the carriers of the same narrative across different cultures and languages. The second is that the theoretical, methodological, conceptual and analytical tools devised in literary translation studies offer an optimal framework to explore the relationship between translation and the transnationalisation of chapbooks and broadsides. Translation studies has so far restricted its focus to ‘canonical’ works in the form of books. This project showed that by extending the attention to translation of cheap ephemeral publications, we can achieve a better understanding of the processes that led to the formation of a shared European heritage of non-canonical forms of literature. By doing so, it contributed towards more genuine and fuller representations of the transnational life of print culture.

The project’s objectives were primarily achieved through the analysis of a corpus of 19th-century Italian chapbooks and broadsides and their respective transnational correspondents. The texts included in the corpus represent a range of textual genres and translational relations, giving a good idea of the variety that underpins the relationship between translation and the cross-cultural mobility of cheap ephemeral print. Their examination made it possible to closely observe how translation of chapbooks and broadside literature linked the 19th-century Italian cultural and literary repertoire to that of other countries while enriching and diversifying it.
Extensive review of relevant secondary sources and participation in research training courses at NUI Galway helped the researcher to develop a good knowledge of relevant research approaches in book history as well as a critical understanding of chapbooks and broadsides and their relationship to the increasingly problematised concept of ‘popular’. The fluidity with which book history perceives literary and cultural production shaped the researcher’s call for literary and translation studies to abandon hierarchical and discriminatory classifications of literature and appreciate the cultural and social relevance of print in the non-traditional book format.

The researcher took regular trips for archival research in various libraries, namely Trinity College Library in Dublin, the Biblioteca Braidense and Biblioteca Sormani in Milan, the Biblioteca Valdese and Biblioteca della Società di Studi Valdesi in Torre Pellice, the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Florence, Chetham’s Library and the John Rylands Library in Manchester, and the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford. This made it possible for her to gather a corpus of 152 Italian texts, which were classified using Gideon’s Toury categorisation of ‘genuine’, ‘assumed’ and ‘pseudo-’ translations. The frequently uncertain origins of chapbook and broadside literature led the researcher to confront the restrictiveness of current definitions of translations, which largely revolve around the idea of one text bound to and directly comparable with an identified or identifiable source. Such limitation reinforced the researcher’s call to extend the domain of translation studies towards interpretations of translation adequate to represent the whole of printed matter.

This call and the finding that emerged from the comparison of the Italian texts and their foreign counterparts were presented at eight international events, two of which were organised by the researcher and held at the host institution. The conference papers provided solid foundations on which to base articles and essays which will be issued in the coming months/year. By the end of this academic year, the researcher will have produced three articles and one book chapter based on the results which emerged from the project. During the last phase of the fellowship, the researcher created the website ‘Cheap Ephemeral Print in Translation’ (see link below) which will grow in the coming months and years. The website is intended to promote the researcher’s project and its future developments while encouraging and facilitating research on the cross-cultural dimension of ephemeral cheap print.
The fellowship made a significant contribution to the understanding of the transnational character of print while greatly enhancing the potential and future career prospects of the researcher. The knowledge that the researcher gained through her intensive research into the cross-cultural mobility of cheap ephemeral publications and the training that she underwent in book history, digital humanities and textual studies considerably boosted her interdisciplinary skills and expertise in transnational cultural studies. As the first scholar to apply translation studies to chapbook and broadside literature, the researcher has made and will continue to make important progress towards deeper understandings of the impact of translation of cheap print on the inter- and transnationalisation of the publishing and cultural landscape. The project showed the importance for translation studies and book history to increasingly work in tandem towards inclusive delineations of the transnational dimension of literary and cultural products that challenge counterproductive oppositions between ‘high/canonical’ and ‘low/non-canonical’. By promoting this stance the project has raised an awareness of the relevance of literary and cultural forms which, like chapbooks and broadsides, have traditionally and carelessly been dismissed as secondary. The project has also made an important contribution to the history of publishing and reading in Italy through the recording of previously unclassified Italian chapbooks and broadsides and the compilation of a list of 163 19th-century Italian publishers/printers dealing in cheap ephemeral publishing. Most of these publishers were previously unknown. The researcher’s frequent interventions at conferences and seminars showcased the originality and importance of her work. Her forthcoming publications will consolidate her position as a leading researcher in the field.
This is the homepage of the project website