Museums as Spaces of Cultural Translation and Transfer


Keynote Speakers:

Robert Neather

Robert Neather (Hong Kong Baptist University)

Robert Neather is Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Translation, Interpreting and Intercultural Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University. He was Director of the Centre for Translation there from 2013 to 2019, and currently leads the Arts Faculty’s Framing Public Culture research subgroup. His research has focused mainly on translation in the Chinese museum context, and has explored several areas of interest including verbal/visual interactions in translation, intertextuality in the construction of translated museum narratives, and issues of expertise and identity in the production of translations involving participants from different professional communities. He also has interests in Buddhist translation, in particular Buddhist contemporary translation communities. His work on museums has been published in a variety of venues including Meta, Semiotica and The Translator, as well as in a number of translation handbooks and encyclopedias. He was editor for Volume II of the late Martha Cheung’s Chinese Discourse on Translation (Routledge 2017), and for a number of years served as Executive Editor and Co-Chief Editor of the Hong Kong-based journal, Translation Quarterly.

Read the abstract of Robert Neather’s presentation here:

In the expanding literature on museum translation, the visitor experience remains an under-researched area. While an increasing body of work by Translation Studies scholars has explored such issues as multimodal interactions in the exhibition space, curatorial perspectives on translation quality, or the effect of shifts in the target text, there has to date been relatively little empirical evidence of the role of translation in the visitor experience – whether translation is understood in the sense of interlingual transfer or of broader cultural representation. Equally, in the Museum Studies context, while much has been done to explore the visitor experience, such work frequently comes from monolingual or monocultural perspectives.

Museums of diaspora form a particularly interesting focus for such enquiry since they raise a number of questions relating to the translation of identity in the exhibition space, and how visitors both from different linguacultural backgrounds and from different sectors of the home culture variously respond to the experiences of the diaspora in question. The present study focuses on museums of the Chinese diaspora in the US. Employing a mixed methods approach that includes detailed visit diaries and follow-up interviews, as well as online reviews, the study examines how the collective lived experience of the diaspora as “translated” in the museum exhibition is in turn translated in terms of the visitor’s personal experience through a series of intertexts that are “cognitively-realized” (Neather 2012). The study further considers how interlingual translation plays a part in shaping these visitor interactions.

Silke Arnold-De Simine

Silke Arnold-De Simine (Birkbeck, University of London)

Silke Arnold-de Simine is Reader in Memory, Media and Cultural Studies in the Department of Film, Media and Cultural Studies at Birkbeck, University of London. Her research is located at the interface of museum, memory and digital media studies with a special interest in the remembrance and commemoration of difficult, dissonant pasts and their ethical, political, psychological and aesthetic implications. Her research focuses on the question of how personal and cultural memory intersect most importantly but not exclusively in museums and heritage sites that favor immersive and experiential strategies and aim to produce empathy in visitors. Her many publications trace the pathways and the transcultural flow of practices of remembrance across different art forms, media outlets and institutions, with a special interest in immersive and interactive digital media technologies such as Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. She is the author of Mediating Memory in the Museum: Trauma, Empathy, Nostalgia (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan 2013, paperback 2016) and co-editor of Picturing the Family. Media, Narrative, Memory (London: Bloomsbury 2018) and Adapting the Canon. Mediation, Visualization, Interpretation (Oxford: Legenda 2020).

Read the abstract of Silke Arnold-De Simine’s presentation here:

Museums have moved on from talking at audiences in unidirectional narratives to providing immersive and interactive experiences in which visitors are encouraged to perceive themselves as participants. Their involvement is not only reflected in the audience’s contribution to the narrative that is being told but also in the moral imperative to see themselves as implicated subjects in the matter at hand.

This talk aims to explore the role of new technology, such as VR/MR, in this context, focusing on the remediation of testimonies from video to interactive 3-D format, aimed at international audiences. The Shoa Foundation’s (New) Dimensions of Testimony have been exhibited in both English- and non-English speaking countries around the world, similar projects have been conducted in the US, UK and Germany and the plan is to extend the project to survivors of other genocides and atrocities, with one survivor of the Nanjing Massacre in China having already been recorded.

This keynote will explore how the format of the testimony as it has been developed through film and video translates from analogue to digital, from in-person to virtual, but also from one cultural context to another as virtual testimonies become a common feature in museums around the world.

Plenary Speakers:

Ilse Feinauer

Ilse Feinauer (Stellenbosch University)

Ilse Feinauer is Professor at the University of Stellenbosch where she keeps a research chair in Afrikaans language practice. She teaches translation studies (Master’s and PhD) and Afrikaans linguistics. Her research focus is on Socio-Cognitive Translation Studies: Processes and Networks. She was taught at KU Leuven and the University of Ghent in Belgium, Humboldt University in Berlin and Melbourne University in Australia. Her most recent book-publication with co-editor Kobus Marais is, Studies in Africa and beyond: reconsidering the postcolony (2017). Her most recent publications are two Routledge book chapters both published in 2021 with co-author Amanda Lourens: “The distinction between self-revision and other-revision investigated in literary translation” in Revision and/or post-editing and “Who’s the boss? Power relations between agents in the literary translation process” in African Perspectives on Literary Translation. She is a founding member and board member of the Association for Translation Studies in Africa (ATSA). She is also co-founder of the PhD School in Translation Studies in Africa. She is the first African member of the Executive Board of the European Society for Translation Studies (EST) and has succeeded in bringing the 9th EST Congress to Africa in 2019, the first time that the EST has moved beyond Europe’s boundaries.

Read the abstract of Ilse Feinauer’s presentation here:

The words District Six are synonymous with some of the most horrible signs of the apartheid system for the vast majority of people in South Africa. District Six was established in 1867, as one of six districts in Cape Town. District Six was a vibrant centre with close links to the city and the port. People of all colours, races, religions – residents, immigrants, artisans and merchants – owned and rented houses. They lived in harmony and were close to their places of work, school, worship and entertainment. The equalizer between them was poverty.

In 1901 all the black people were forced to move out, and as the decades passed by it became a predominantly coloured community until 1966 when the apartheid government declared it a white area under the Group Areas Act. By 1982 District Six was a barren strip of land, and so it stayed for many years. In 1994, two years after apartheid was abolished, the museum was established in the former residential area of an old church. 

The speech will discuss whether the curatorial processes applied in this museum, indeed translate into people’s memory of the sad part of their history. Does the selection and display of personal memoirs and mementos tell of both a happier time before the bulldozers moved in and how the brutality of the apartheid state destroyed the community? It will also discuss whether interlinguistic and intralinguistic translation were utilised at all, to portray the multi-lingual and multi-cultural aspects of the former residents of this neighbourhood who are represented in the District Six Museum.

Linda Kaljundi

Linda Kaljundi (Estonian Academy of Arts)

Linda Kaljundi is a professor of cultural history at the Estonian Academy of Arts and a senior research fellow in environmental history at Tallinn University. She holds a PhD from the University of Helsinki and specialises in the transnational and entangled dimensions of Baltic history, historiography, and cultural memory. Kaljundi has published and edited collections on history writing, historical fiction and images, including “Novels, Histories and Novel Nations: Historical Fiction and Cultural Memory in Finland and Estonia” (2015, with Eneken Laanes, Ilona Pikkanen), “History in Image – Image in History: The National and Transnational Past in Estonian Art” (2018, with Tiina-Mall Kreem), and “Entangled Human-Animal Histories: Practices and imaginaries from the Eastern Baltic borderlands” (forthcoming, with Ulrike Plath, Kadri Tüür). She has also co-curated several exhibitions, including “History in Image – Image in History” (2018, with Tiina-Mall Kreem), “The Conquror’s Eye: Lisa Reihana’s In Pursuit of Venus” (2019, with Eha Komissarov, Kadi Polli), and the new permanent exhibition, Landscapes of Identity: Estonian art 1700–1945 (2021, with Kadi Polli) (all at Kumu Art Museum, Tallinn).

Read the abstract of Linda Kaljundi’s presentation here:


Based mainly on Estonian examples, Linda Kaljundi’s talk will focus on what might be called a global turn towards more entangled, transnational and transcultural histories – and ask how this has affected the representation of Baltic history and cultural heritage in museums. During the past decades, in Estonia, a number of mostly literary and cultural historians have argued for the need to approach Baltic history from a more transnational perspective, mapping and highlighting entanglements between different local communities, as well as the importance of transcultural transfers in the history and cultural heritage of the Baltic borderlands.

These new approaches, studies and debates have also increased museums’ interest towards transcultural and transcultural transfers, but also raised new questions concerning the role of museums in (re)mediating cultural memory. How to represent, narrate and frame critically cultural transfers, translations, and dialogue via different museum collections, exhibitions, and programmes? How to trace them in different archives, and how to rethink the canon?

Relying on her own experience of curating the new permanent exhibition, „Landscapes of Identity: Estonian art 1700–1945“ (2021) together with Kadi Polli at Kumu Art Museum (Tallinn), Linda Kaljundi will discuss the opportunities and challenges of adapting the entangled and transcultural perspective for museological and curatorial practices. While doing this, she will discuss not only the challenges of representing transfer and translation in museums, but also the transfer of ideas from history and cultural history to museum display, addressing the issues related to what we might call the translation of method and theory from humanities to museums. She will also briefly reflect on our experience in making the exhibition to speak to different communities, as well as the importance and specifics of translation as such in museums.