Write in German: Get Ignored

Sorry for my absence; I have been sick and editing proofs for an article I have written on Procopius that will be out next week. I have been very pleased with the efficiency of the journal that will be publishing it (parekbolai 4). I sent the pdf off three months ago, and last week out of the blue a beautifully formatted version of my piece arrived on my desktop. I was happy to see that it had cleared peer review with no changes. The internet age has certainly made the process easier and more enjoyable…despite the acerbic comments of some reviewers who I imagine are troll-like figures sleeping under a damp bridge.

The world of academia is in the midst of a revolution. As I have discussed in previous blogs, scholars, like musicians before them, have begun to find numerous outlets for their scholarship. Despite the strong stand from the old-guard of journals to hide this research behind paywalls, leaks are slowly eating away at the dam. Scholars tired of the long waits and limited audience found in these closed mediums, have shown a tendency to place their work in open-access journals that are still peer-reviewed, but attract a larger audience. Since scholars do not get paid for their toil, many….myself included… prefer this larger dissemination to the greater prestige offered by the old guard journals. Some have argued, that the days of sites like academia.edu are numbered, yet I would suggest the opposite. As more and more top scholars turn to open-access the edifice of the old school ebbs away.

Certainly, there is a more sinister side to this development….at least for those who do not have English as their first language. Increasingly these open journals are in English. While journals in German, Spanish, and other languages continue to be published they are having a more and more difficult time disseminating this non-English scholarship to an English audience. Of course there are exceptions, so too can google translator can help for those whose German and/or Russian and French remains limited. So too do sites like academia.edu translate their content. Though garbeled these translation still are easier for someone with only two years of a certain language.

Yet, as Geoffrey Greatrex has recently pointed out,  the bulk of the audience seems only too happy to just ignore the evidence published in non-English sources. As my own personal experience teaches me as well, two years of a language does not give you the ability to digest dense articles in a foreign language.  Unfortunately,  for many of these non-English scholars this reality has forced them to compose many a paper in, at times, laboured English prose.  Another consequence is the rise in dominance of scholars whose first language is English.

For example I specialize on a sixth-century Byzantine historian Procopius. Many graduate students in the field of Late Antiquity would be familiar with the important works of Peter Brown, Averil Cameron, Michael Whitby, and Anthony Kaldellis, yet the equally important scholarship of Dariuz Brodka, Henning Borm, and Mischa Meier in German is left in the margins if consulted at all.


What does the future hold? I would suggest that the growing dominance of English will continue. So too will translators improve so much in the next few decades that actually learning a foreign language may become obsolete amongst the majority. Of course this means that much subtlety and nuance will be lost in translation. Any thoughts?

7 thoughts on “Write in German: Get Ignored

      1. crafty theatre

        The internet is the new Agora. As forums come together it will be interesting to see if they are open or closed to comments, what sort of initiation will be needed to present a “paper” and how successful they are in progressing knowledge.

  1. Lucas

    Geoffrey is absolutely right that non-Anglophone scholarship is increasingly being ignored by Anglophones. I suspect that the problem lies in the university system itself, and particularly the neo-liberal turn it has taken in recent decades. Fewer and fewer graduate students are going to grad school with the necessary ancient language skills, not to speak of the modern ones. When I started my MA I started asking around the department about taking courses in reading French and German. First, they refused to believe that I couldn’t read French, despite not having any second-language training until Latin at university. Second, they made it clear that no such courses for reading knowledge were offered, and that if I wanted such a thing I’d have to do it from a book. I took both intro general French and German classes, but they ignored grammar and focused on speaking and aural skills, and were woefully insufficient for the purposes of doing research. This was at a major Canadian university. The professors did not seem to care that these language skills were not available, and dismissed my concerns by saying that I have to do it on my own. I organized and led a German reading group, but even then the department could not be bothered to find us a space to meet twice a week for an hour and a half. The apathy displayed by notable and tenured academics towards this problem was appalling, all the while they complained about poor graduate language skills.

    Still, I avoid French material if I can, and really can’t read German at all. Graduate programs that are unable to offer the expected language training really need to make it clear to prospective students, particularly at the MA level, where one is expected to build the advanced research skills that are needed for the doctorate. And this is just French and German – how many Byzantinists actually read Russian these days?

  2. mikeaztec Post author

    I agree. Here in Australia even Latin and Greek were hanging on by their finger-nails for a few years. I increasingly believe that many scholars are faking it. I was one of those who took four semesters of Russian, but reading articles is beyond my skills. My French is better, but like you I made the mistake of leaving German off my list. I had a great conversation with Henning Borm about this the other day. The translators at least give me the gist of his articles. I have found the internet the best way to interact with this scholarship as scholars like Brodka and Borm are understanding of this marginalization. In my recent article on procopius I could have made reference to German articles, but felt I was cheating somewhat since I was unable to consult them in any real detail. By the way what topic are you working on?

  3. Lucas

    Likewise, I have to use machine translators to get through anything other than the most simple German. This is a problem, since I would really have liked to make a Ph.D. proposal on 8th c. political history. The Anglophone scholarship on this is almost non-existent, but there’s a decent bibliography in German, none of which I can read.

    Now that I’m pretty much finished up my work with Geoffrey, I’ve started doing some groundwork for my next thesis. I’ve had enough of late antiquity for the moment (or at least, but its most narrow chronological scope) and am moving to the tenth century, where I am looking at tradition and reality behind the manual “de Velitatione”. And if the book ever shows up, I’ll be reviewing Simpson’s new work on Niketas Choniates. How about you?

  4. mikeaztec Post author

    At the moment i am working on a paper for the 18th AABS conference called Breaking Down Barriers Eunuchs in Italy 400-625 , with a focus on Narses. If you are interested some of my recent work is here: https://uq.academia.edu/MichaelStewart. Geoffrey is a model scholar, I remember way back in 2002 he was a great help on a MA thesis I did on Procopius. Keep in touch.


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