Global Chaucers (GC) is a multi-national, multi-lingual, multi-year project to locate, catalog, translate, archive, and analyze translations and appropriations of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. This website, which will expand in scope and capacities to meet the needs of the GC project as a whole, will provide a searchable online database of non-Anglophone adaptations dating after 1945.
Answers to Frequently Asked Questions:
Why the focus on non-English adaptations?
Chaucer’s literary output has been considered since its appearance as the foundation of English literature and Chaucer himself the father of English letters. Consequently, as the British established colonies on every continent, Chaucer’s poetry went with them. In addition to being found in easy-to-carry pocket volumes that British expatriates could read in their leisure, Chaucer’s verse was also part of the colonies’ school curricula taught to both British and indigenous children. As a result, Chaucer’s poetry, especially The Canterbury Tales, has been taught to young readers around the world and helped shape the literary imagination of those reared in colonial British schools for the past two centuries.
Although extensive scholarship has examined and analyzed Chaucer’s reception in Britain, Australia, and the United States, little work has been done with his reception outside this inner circle of English-speaking countries, and even less in non-Anglophone cultures. The primary reason for this gap in scholarship seems to be not the lack of interest but the lack of accessibility. No one really knows the full extent of the Chaucerian translations and appropriations — and few of them have been re-translated back into Present-Day English (PDE), the language in which most Chaucer scholarship is conducted. In order to understand the extent of Chaucer’s influence in non-Anglophone literatures, these global Chaucers need to be located, cataloged, translated, archived, and analyzed.
The idea of a large-scale international collaborative project organized around a single medieval or other early foundational literary figure is not entirely new. The Princeton Dante Project (2.0) provides a facing-page translation of The Divine Comedy and other works that allows the user to toggle among multiple previously-published commentaries. DanteWorlds situates the author’s work in a broader social context through a “multimedia journey” including post-medieval illustrations of Dante’s works over time. The Decameron Web provides access to the complete text of Boccaccio’s Decameron in a previously-published Italian edition and two English translations (along with links to maps and other pedgagogical tools). As far as English authors are concerned, the Global Shakespeares website provides (among other things) an extensive digital archive of audiovisual recordings of modern Shakespearean performances around the world.
GC is a unique endeavor in many respects. First, it addresses a real gap in scholarship worldwide: as noted above, many different post-1945 adaptations exist, but they are obscure or difficult to access and nobody has even thought of gathering all of them together in one central place. Establishing this Global Chaucers database allows for collaborators to speak to one another and begin the process of collectively creating an archive. Second, the “place” of Chaucer in global literary history is qualitatively unique. Unlike Shakespeare, who is in many ways a global literary icon and enjoys a privileged status as a “universal” and common reference point across cultures, Chaucerian reappropriation in different settings are much more idiosyncratic, haphazard, and seemingly random. Since the adaptations we have begun to collect draw primarily from The Canterbury Tales, we discern an overriding interest in polyvocality and multiple perspectives, intricate styles and layers of narrative, and an acute awareness of the ways stories are always-already mediated via many previous sources. Chaucer, the poet-translator and ironic narrator, just might be a great figure for different people – translators, poets, novelists, graphic artists, librettists, and dramatists – to work through disparate notions of cultural orientation and perspective.
I’m an educator. How might GC support my teaching?
This project’s implications for teaching and learning are substantial. First, this project seeks to make the widest range of Chaucerian adaptations online. Many people now lack the language skills and/or financial resources to study these materials will benefit from the website as a central resource. The website also opens up the possibilities for creative and meaningful use of Chaucerian adaptations in classroom instruction. For instance, undergraduates can examine how a particular passage or narrative is transformed across multiple contexts, and discussing the differences among diverse adaptations will help students better hone their close reading and critical thinking skills. Graduate students with the relevant language or area experience can contribute to the work of translation, archiving, and data management. On any level, students can gain important perspectives about cultural values and believes by comparing different adaptations of shared Chaucerian material. An appreciation for diversity and cross-cultural understanding serves the wellbeing of all students and cultivates the growth of engaged citizens in our increasingly globalizing world.
So what’s the plan?
We expect this project’s outcomes will move in any number of directions, but we are primarily interested in these tasks:
Locate and catalog. Our first step is to simply to collect data on everything that is out there. This means soliciting information from professional colleagues, language specialists, or interested readers around the world. Anybody can submit their suggestions through this website (see the “submissions” tab), and the information will be incorporated into the online database (see the “sample entry” tab). In time, we hope to create a user-friendly interactive website that you can search by entering common sense keywords.
Translate. While the initial push will be to locate and catalog adaptations of Chaucer from around the globe, an important function will be re-translating them back into Present-Day English (PDE), the language common to all scholars working on Chaucer’s modern reception. Approaches to translation would be determined on a case-by-case basis and guided by common sense principles. A recording of a theatrical performance would require simple and accurate subtitles, while a novel or collection of short stories would require more time-intensive translation into prose. Works of poetry would require more careful consideration; for clarity’s sake it might be useful to translate works of poetry into prose rather than verse.
Archive. The best way to provide an archive readily available to a broad range of scholars is to gain permission to digitize each adaptation of Chaucer, store it, and provide links on this website. If we are unable to receive permission, we will aim (whenever possible) to provide a links to the materials in some other fashion.
Analyze. The primary GC collaborators (see “about the team” tab) are already making plans to publish an initial review essay. Subsequent scholarship will be solicited and collected for publication. While we will take advantage of all that an electronic archive can provide scholars, we will ensure that this scholarship is recognized as legitimate by publishing essays generated from this project via traditional peer-reviewed venues, either as an essay collection published by a university or academic press, or as a special edition of a respected journal.
Collaborate. We very much hope this project will expand and grow over time. In fact, it is the sort of project that improves with collaboration, as shown by DanteWorlds and Decameron Web, other international collaborative online ventures centering around a major medieval literary figure. It is, however, not a project that any single person can instigate, organize, and maintain. It will require collaboration from scholars, readers, authors, and translators from every continent and fluent in many languages. This sense of collaboration has marked Global Chaucers from the moment the project was announced at the 2012 New Chaucer Society Congress. There, numerous Chaucerians immediately volunteered to contribute to the project as needed. The primary collaborators will next need to reach out to scholars in other fields. Because Chaucer’s work has been transformed into films, dramatic enactments, graphic novels, children’s illustrated books, and web-based hypertexts, the project will need scholars who usually do not work with Chaucer. Global Chaucers will also need to include web designers and information technology specialists able to display and maintain the collection.
How can I get involved?
See the “Submissions” tab on this website.