The body in translation

– translation and the constitution of scientific discourses in the early modern period

About the project

Translation has recently emerged as a key word in the lexicon of a broad range of disciplines, and could as such be read as an index of current epistemological predicaments and the almost obligatory demand to cross disciplinary and cultural boundaries. While the humanities have taken a translational turn, in medicine translation has become a buzzword referring to practices such as 'translational research' (moving research from bench to bedside) and 'knowledge translation' (putting research findings into clinical practice). Our aim is to historicize present notions of translation by turning to early modern concerns with the human body. Thus, we will contribute to the current debate and theoretical development of translation in modern science by using historical perspectives.

This project will examine how different kinds of human bodies were constituted through translation in medical, religious and ethnographic discourses in the early modern global world. We are concerned with conceptual, physical and spiritual dimensions of the human body, and how these intersect with translation as a practice and a concept. Translation will be viewed as a part of historical processes - not simply a word with a history, but an epistemological and colonial practice having to do with the transfer of knowledge and power across space and time.


Theoretical objective

  1. to historicize present notions of translation
  2. to mediate between divergent notions of translation in current theory
  3. to develop new interdisciplinary theoretical and methodological approaches to translation by turning our attention to a test case at the interstices of nature and culture: the human body.

Historiographical objective

  1. to examine a sample of early modern examples of how the human body has been translated into, addressed and governed by, systems of knowledge that has turned individual bodies as well as social and ‘ethnic’ bodies (the human, or a sub-variant of the human, woman, the ‘savage’, the Oriental, healthy bodies, sick bodies) into prototypical objects of cultural discourse and science.
  2.  demonstrate the vast differences of the translated body and its epistemic, ontological and cultural value in different discourses, cultural genres and intellectual orientations in the early modern period.


  • Department of cultural studies and oriental languages
  • University of California Berkeley
  • University of Helsinki
  • University of Vienna
  • University of Bielefeld (UNIBI)
  • University of Tromsø


  • Institute of Health and Society
  • Department of cultural studies and oriental languages

Project start and finish


Published June 2, 2015 11:22 AM - Last modified Apr. 18, 2016 10:48 AM