In AD 629, a Chinese monk named Xuan Zang set out for India on a quest for sacred texts. He returned with a caravan of twenty-two horses bearing Buddhist treasures and spent the last twenty years of his life in the "Great Wild Goose Pagoda", in present-day Xi'an, translating the Sanskrit manuscripts into Chinese with a team of collaborators.
In the twelfth century, scholars came to Spain from all over Europe seeking knowledge that had been transmitted from the Arab world. Their names tell the story: Adelard of Bath, Hermann of Dalmatia, Plato of Tivoli. Among them was Robert of Chester (or Robert of Kent), who was part of an elaborate team that translated documents on Islam and the
Dona Marina, also called La Malinche, was a crucial link between Cortes and native peoples he set out to convert and conquer in sixteenth-century Mexico. One of the conquistador's "tongues" or interpreters, she was also the mother of his son. She has been an ambivalent figure in the history of the new world, her own history having been rewritten in different ways over the centuries.
James Evans, an Englishman sent to evangelize and educate the natives of western Canada during the nineteenth century, invented a writing system in order to translate and transcribe religious texts. Known as "the man who made birchbark talk", he even succeeded in printing a number of pamphlets, using crude type fashioned out of lead from the lining of tea chests and ink made from a mixture of soot and sturgeon oil. A jackpress used by traders to pack furs served as a press.
These are just some of the stories told in Translators through History, published under the auspices of the International Federation of Translators (FIT). Over seventy people have been involved in this project -- as principal authors, contributors or translators and proofreaders. The participants come from some twenty countries, reflecting the make-up and interests of FIT.