The translation of a centuries-old German text — still relevant today to theater artists — has earned Carnegie Mellon University's School of Drama its first National Endowments for the Humanities grant.
CMU Associate Professor of Dramatic Literature Wendy Arons and her collaborators — Natalya Baldyga of Tufts University, Michael Chemers of the University of California at Santa Cruz and independent scholar Sara Figal — have received a $289,697 grant from the National Endowments for the Humanities (NEH) Scholarly Editions & Translations Program.
The grant will support work on the first complete translation from German into English of G.E. Lessing's "Hamburg Dramaturgy."
It marks the first time CMU's School of Drama, within the College of Fine Arts, has received an NEH grant. Arons noted that the proposal was one of a select few awarded the full amount requested.
"It's unusual for the NEH to support drama and theater projects, and it funds only a handful of translations every year," said Arons, who also serves as option coordinator of CMU's Dramaturgy Program.
"But the NEH has clearly recognized the importance of this text for both the humanities and the arts. Moreover, we believe the fact that our project featured the added component of digital publishing combined with traditional printing helped to make our proposal more attractive."
"Hamburg Dramaturgy" is a collection of 101 short essays published serially from 1767 – 1769 as critical commentary on productions staged at the short-lived Hamburg National Theater in Hamburg, Germany. It represents one of the first sustained critical engagements with the potential of theater as a vehicle for the advancement of cultural ideals, Arons said.
The only existing English translation of Lessing's text was first published in 1890, but it omits more than 30 percent of the original material. The full scope of Lessing's project has been unavailable to English-speaking readers.
Arons and her team of collaborators aim to rectify this gap in the theater historical and humanities record.
Each will play a different role in the project. As scholars of 18th century German literature and history, Arons and Figal will translate the nearly 600-page text. Theater historians Baldyga and Chemers will provide contextualizing annotations and bibliography. And Arons, Baldyga and Chemers will each write an introductory essay to the volume, helping to situate Lessing's project in its historical and intellectual context.
They will digitally publish the essays as they are completed throughout the three-year grant term, in much the same way Lessing completed his work. To do this, the team will use an innovative publishing model to bring the work into the 21st century.
The translation began appearing online in late September at mediacommons.org, a site committed to the promotion of open academic peer review.