November 30, 2018

Linguistic diversity and Ad-hoc translation of the Programming Historian’s lessons

Anna-Maria Sichani

One of the interesting findings of the Programming Historian 2018 Community survey we conducted earlier this year, as part of our community engagement strategy, was that our readership expands and diversifies organically in terms of place of origin - from India to Russia and from Brazil, to Poland and Italy - and native language. This is of course a well-known aspect of open educational content: you never choose your readership – even if you have planned things differently.

When The Programming Historian launched its open access tutorials in digital methods and tools back in 2012, English was easily chosen as the main language: the editorial board was North American English-speaking historians, having in mind a readership similar to their English-speaking peers, and the initiative was initially funded by a Canadian institution. But this is not, I am afraid, a project-specific strategy: “historically, DH has developed in a very anglophone environment as English became the language of the Internet (with ICANN) and the lingua franca of the Web (with the W3C Consortium), along with the domination of the ASCII code” (Mahony 2018: 372). Moving digital scholarship beyond the anglophone sphere has been and still is one of the biggest and constant claims of the Digital Humanities community, from the ADHO’s Multi-Lingualism and Multi-Culturalism Committee (MLMC) and the multilingual policies in place in DH conferences, to the emergence of national DH initiatives and associations with associated non-English publications, projects and activities (eg French, Nordic, Italian, Spanish).

At The Programming Historian, as of 2016, linguistic diversity and multicultural inclusion sits at the core of our research, communication and pedagogical approach. We took gender, ethnicity and origin balance as for our editorial board very seriously, by adopting a diversity policy to ensure that members from any one gender or any one nationality do not comprise more than 50% + 1 of the members on the board. As part of our internationalization strategy, we encourage authors to write for a Global Audience by making choices (methods, tools, primary sources, bibliography, standards) with multi-lingual readers in mind while also being aware of cultural differences.

Since 2017, we launched The Programming Historian en español, with Spanish translations of existing lessons (39 as for now) and original lessons in Spanish, initially started at the Bogota workshop. In early 2019, we are also thrilled to prepare the launch of The Programming Historian en français. These new full-language initiatives stand as huge milestones in our linguistic diversity strategy but at the same time they are big challenges in terms of our technical infrastructure and our overall operation as an Open Access scholarly publication. The Programming Historian is now a proudly multi-lingual project involving a large team, and so translation requires extensive teamwork among the language sub-team and coordination across our editorial team. Furthermore, as we are developing our lessons as openly reviewed Open Access scholarly publications of high standard, there is an extensive set of technical, editorial and administrative processes and policies in place (from peer review, technical infrastructure to ISSN and indexing), we need to make sure new language sub-teams joining the project are well aware of these policies and requirements, are prepared to adhere to these and well-supported by the rest of the project. To this end, we put in place the Additional Language Sub Teams Policy and we are generally very careful when deciding to integrate a full translation initiative as this demands a huge effort and commitment both in terms of development and maintenance.

On the other hand, if you are interested in translating a (part of a) Programming Historian lesson, the procedure is much more easier and we actively support and encourage such ad-hoc translation initiatives. Actually, as an Open Access publication, all of our lessons are published under the Creative Commons ‘Attribution’ licence (CC BY) and this allows anyone who wants to distribute, remix, reuse and build upon the lesson as long as the original source is credited. By choosing the most liberal of the CC licences, we allow derivative works of the lessons, including translations (and even more creative adaptations of them e.g. in graphic novel!), and we enable onward reuse.

Why to embark on an ad-hoc translation? Here are just a couple of ideas:

So if you are thinking about starting to translate or you have already translated a Programming Historian lesson to a language different from the ones currently supported by the project, please do let us know! Unfortunately, we are not able to host or support ad-hoc translations as part of our own infrastructure, but we are more than happy to share with you information and tips on the translation process based on the existing language initiatives. Through ad-hoc translations, we will be able to celebrate once more the benefits of Open Access educational content, to map our audience’s linguistic diversity as well as the creative reuse of the project’s lessons.

Make Programming Historian truly international and multilingual !!!

About the author

Anna-Maria Sichani is a literary and cultural historian and a Digital Humanist. She is currently a Research Fellow in Media History at the University of Sussex.