Lost in Translation? The Odyssey of “Digital Humanities” in French
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Lost in Translation? The Odyssey of “Digital Humanities” in French
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Claire Clivaz 
Affiliation: Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics
Address: Switzerland, Lausanne

By examining the case of the French translation of the expression “digital humanities” (DH), this article argues that cultural diversity and multilingualism could be fostered in digital culture. At first glance, the international success of this expression seems to contradict this statement: isn’t it a clear example of English language domination over other Western and non-Western languages? Used in written form for the first time in 2004, tirelessly discussed in DH conferences and works, “DH” has quickly been used in professorship titles, in undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, or to qualify centers, laboratories, and research projects. If other languages have been invited and forced to welcome this expression, its translations have to be studied since they could potentially have strong epistemological backwash-effects on it. French is an example worth examining: it can be demonstrated that the use of the outmoded French word humanités is the most significant element in the two French expressions humanités numériques or humanités digitales. This single word opens up a specific space for humanist approaches within the open-ended digital approaches. The introduction below aims to present the specific impact of a study of the phrase “digital humanities” and its translations within the general problematic of the phrase's definition. The second part of this article summarizes the main progressions and arguments in the discussions surrounding humanités numériques (humanities computing) and humanités digitales (digital humanities) in the French-speaking sphere. The third section examines the historical epistemology of humanités while the final section considers the resulting confrontation between the humanities and the “hard” sciences: this underlines their potential synergy and the proper role of the humanities. French-speaking sphere is reworking and transforming the English label “digital humanities”: “Les humanités sont de retour”, or les humanités are back, but reshaped by digital culture. Translated by Nataly Razdina (RANEPA).


digital humanities, terminology, history of ideas
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