Digital Humanities as Translation: Visualizing Franz Rosenzweig’s Archive

Special Issue: The Digital German Humanities

This article consists of a theoretical framework for and a demonstration of the process of visualizing the finding aid to Franz Rosenzweig’s archive at the University of Kassel, which contains metadata describing documents and letters pertaining to the German-Jewish philosopher, pedagogue, and translator. Its main contention is that much of the work undertaken by the digital humanities, especially data conversion, refinement, and visualization, involves salient yet undertheorized moments of translation. Indeed, Rosenzweig’s own theory of translation, which advocates radical formal fidelity to the original, offers a revealing lens to understand the potential and limitations of visualizing the metadata of his archive – a lens I use to guide my translation of the archival metadata. As I show, the visualization’s inclusion of peripheral voices in his archive implied by such fidelity exposes a correspondence between the journalist Siegfried Kracauer and educator Ernst Simon that calls the ideological implications of Rosenzweig’s theory of translation into question. This dialectical movement between theory and praxis, metadata and material archive, I contend, is the promise and productive threat that the digital humanities represent for German Studies: as much as the digital humanities pave new inroads for research, they also require and return us to critical concepts central to German literary and cultural discourse, such as translation.

“Digital Humanities as Translation: Visualizing Rosenzweig’s Archive,”
in: TRANSIT, vol. 10.1, ed. Jon Cho-Polizzi. Special Issue: The Digital German Humanities (2015).