Women Authors and Translators in the Age of Goethe: Challenges and Strategies

UNIL principal investigator

Prof. Angela Sanmann-Graf, Faculty of Arts

UNIPD principal investigator

Prof. Daniele Vecchiato, DISLL


Joint seminar / conference involving early-stage researchers


The proposed research and dissemination activities aim at an interdisciplinary exploration of the relationship between gender and translation practices in the so-called ‘Age of Goethe’ (1770-1830), an era of unprecedented intercultural exchange across Europe and of growing independence for female intellectuals.

While recent studies have commendably drawn attention to the activity of women authors and translators in the male-dominated book market of the time, they have often tended to essentialise gender as a category of analysis, reinforcing the stereotype that translation as a derived text is ancillary to original writing, just as women were considered as socially inferior to men around 1800. This project is marked by the methodological concern to be sensitive to the complexity of gender aspects as well as to other factors that influence textual production (such as social class, age, religious confession, literary genre, etc.), in order to gain a more nuanced understanding of the history of translation.

Starting with a more conceptual research seminar in Lausanne before broadening up to an international conference in Padua, the project sets out to define theoretical frames and methodological tools that will help analyse gendered dynamics in translation through specific case studies that avoid hasty generalisations. The corpus will cover literary texts written in or translated from English, German, French, and Italian. Early-career researchers from UNIL and UNIPD will be actively involved in both events: they will be offered the possibility to contribute papers to the sessions, and to be mentored by senior academics in practice-oriented workshops aimed at honing their analytical approach to translated literature.


In a first step, a research seminar to be held in Lausanne in May 2023 will bring together Dr. Vecchiato, Prof. Sanmann-Graf, colleagues from their respective universities as well as associated researchers from other European countries in order to set the theoretical and methodological basis for the upcoming activities. One of the crucial questions that will be discussed is how to avoid the risk of essentialising the category of gender in the analysis of literary works translated by women.

A series of brief impulse talks and a collaborative close-reading session on two case studies will allow the invited researchers to focus on the complex constellation of factors that need to be taken into account besides the category of gender: age, class/milieu, literary genre, etc.

Furthermore, the workshop is intended to coordinate upcoming archival work to be carried out in private and public archives in different European countries, in order to uncover and shed new light on the work of unjustly forgotten women translators.

The second step is an international conference planned to take place in Padua in November 2023 with researchers from different academic levels interested in the study of women translators in the late 18th and early 19th century. This conference will address, among other subjects:

  • the development of working conditions for women translators in the flourishing literary market around 1800;
  • the variety of translational strategies employed for different purposes;
  • the interplay between literary translations and their paratextual frameworks;
  • the role of archival research in the field of (women-interrogated) translation studies;
  • female authorship and the link between the activities of writing and translating.

Selected conference contributions will be published in a peer-reviewed volume. The volume will be submitted for publication to the editors of an internationally renowned series in the field, such as “Women and Gender in German Studies” (Camden House / Boydell & Brewer, New York) or “Intercultural Studies” (Winter, Heidelberg).

Potential for follow-up activities

The proposed activities will create a baseline of research and a network of scholarly collaborations that will be decisive for the success of future binational and multi-lateral projects.

In particular, Prof. Sanmann-Graf envisages to submit a research proposal on Women Translators in the 18th and 19th century to the Swiss National Science Foundation in spring 2023. This funding scheme would enable her to sustain the collaboration with Dr. Vecchiato well beyond the end of this initial project, and to expand the scope of the research programme to other colleagues across Europe, in particular to Prof. Vera Viehöver (University of Liège), with whom she intends to establish a Swiss-Belgian cooperation in the framework of the SNSF/F.R.S.-FNRS funding scheme “Weave”.

In turn, Dr. Vecchiato intends to apply for funding of the German-Italian Centre for European Dialogue – Villa Vigoni for a more specific project on the role of female translators and mediators in the context of German-Italian cultural transfer. This research project, which thematically fits in the funding scheme “German-Italian Cooperation in the Field of Humanities and Social Sciences”, would involve Prof. Sanmann-Graf and other partners from UNIL, as well as further European experts working on the topic, including Prof. Elena Polledri (University of Udine), Prof. Olaf Müller (Philipps University of Marburg), and Prof. Alexander Nebrig (Heinrich Heine University of Düsseldorf).

These follow-up projects will continue to actively foster the participation of PhD students and early-career researchers in the planned activities, thus ensuring fresh perspectives on the subject and at the same time offering new generations of researchers the possibility to be trained and mentored by established scholars in the field of Translation Studies.

Suivez nous: