A group of Oxford academics has translated essays about free speech and then published them as free e-books in order to mark the first anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris.
Lecturers and students have translated the works of Voltaire and other figures renowned for defending free speech to mark the murders of 12 Charlie Hebdo journalists last year.
Dr Caroline Warman, associate professor in French at Jesus College, has led a group of more than 102 students and staff at Oxford who sought Oxford academics to produce their own version in English of the collection of essays called Tolérance: le combat des Lumières, produced by French academics after the attack by Islamic extremists.
The professors and students translated the works of 18th Century writers and philosophers including Diderot, Montesquieu and Rousseau,â€¨as well as Voltaire, who all discuss topics including slavery, religious intolerance and the rights of individuals. The collection also includes Italian writer Cesare Beccaria.
Dr Warman wrote on the ‘Adventures on the Bookshelf’ blog how “posters of Voltaire” and some of his polemical slogans about the importance of religious tolerance appeared “in the vigils and marches that followed the Charlie Hebdo assassinations”.
She said, “Dozens of university lecturers in France who teach Voltaire and other 18th century writers, and who were all as distressed by the events and by the increasingly polarised politics that followed as anyone else, decided to put together an anthology of texts from the Enlightenment. This anthology would make available to everyone what writers of the time said about liberty, equality, and fraternity, about the importance of religious tolerance, about the rights of women, about the abomination of slavery, about the exploitation created by a system of global capitalism, and so on.
“We in the UK wanted to support and applaud this initiative, and we wanted to extend its readership. So we decided to translate it. And we thought, who better to translate this texts than our students? They are the citizens, female and male, of today and tomorrow, they are deeply engaged in our world, and they are brilliant at languages.”
On the subject of translating the works, Warman added, “Translation is a particularly intense way of reading, because to translate something you really have to get inside the text. It’s incredibly stimulating, because you’re both reading and writing at the same time.
“102 of us – tutors and their second-year students (who don’t have any exams) from lots of different colleges – translated the anthology this past summer term.’’â€¨
The anthology was published on 7th January 2016 to mark the first anniversary of the shootings. It was launched at the annual conference of the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, which supported the project, and it has received positive coverage in the press and online.â€¨
The e-books are free to download, including links to the original French texts and in some cases, the original eighteenth-century edition.
Dr Warman appealed to the “open-minded thinkers” of the future to read the texts.
Flora Hudson, a second year French and Russian student, commented, “I think it’s a very effective and moving way for Oxford to mark the anniversary. Instead of focusing on the pain and grief following the attacks, it promotes tolerance in society, which is so important for multiculturalism in French culture.”
â€¨Jake Smales, who studies French and Spanish at Pembroke College, told Cherwell, “I think it’s brilliant that everyone can access texts that are so important to the idea of free speech in France and across the world. Translation is in itself one step of bridging the barriers between nations and cultures, uniting all under the common values we share, both past and present.
“It reminds us all of the importance of the power of speech, ideas and freedom over violence, which it seems we need to remember now more than ever. I hope people are aware of the e-books and have a read a few; especially as they’re free! They should start everyone talking and thinking about very relevant issues.”