Translation is the life-blood of scientific communication as well as historical research. Without translators — often uncredited, and many of them women — new scientific ideas would not have been able to travel around the world. Reflecting its commitment to international learning, the BSHS is delighted to support an exciting new series of scholarly on-line translations, available to all completely free of charge.
The timing of this initiative corresponds with the rapid growth of a relatively new area, translation studies. Whether the text is a scientific article, a poem or a mathematical treatise, translators are not simply neutral transmitters, but play key roles in influencing how texts are received and interpreted. Important decisions have to be made. Should older terms such as germ plasm or vis viva be retained, or should they be updated into their modern equivalents? Should a verbose description of a problem in mechanics be condensed into a pithy formula? How should colloquialisms or specific cultural references be rendered for a readership very different from its original intended audience?
As a general principle, modern historians of science aim to contextualise documents and artefacts of the past, aspiring to reconstruct how they would have been understood at the time. Gregor Mendel’s “Experiments on Plant Hybrids” (1866) – the inaugural publication in this new series and, at 150 years old, still revered as laying the foundation for the science of genetics – has, of course, been translated before. But from the outset, our translators, Dr Staffan Müller-Wille (University of Exeter) and Dr Kersten Hall (University of Leeds), were determined to present a version as close as possible to the original in style and content, supplemented by meticulous footnotes exploring the full range of interpretative question and problems that Mendel’s text raises. For anyone interested in Mendel’s work and its legacies, their sparkling translation and commentary provide the experience of reading an original document in full awareness of the challenges to be confronted, and the rewards to be gained in doing so.
On behalf of the BSHS, we would like to express our deepest thanks to Staffan and Kersten, and also to the site designer Michel Durinx, for helping us launch this new endeavor in such a scholarly and stylish way.
To access our new Mendel translation, please click here.
—Patricia Fara (President) & Gregory Radick (Vice President), December 2016