Translating History

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Just What Are We Doing Here, Anyway?

There have been times throughout history during which information created, disseminated, and stored by any given country has found itself, for a number of reasons, tucked away from view of the common citizen, only accessible to a limited few.  In the fullness of time, this information frequently finds itself no longer requiring the protection it once was afforded, and the veil of secrecy is lifted away.  Taken individually, these pieces of once-classified material can appear mundane, even trivial.  “This…THIS…was considered secret information?!”  But stepping back from the details of the information itself can often reveal – or merely hint at – a deeper meaning, the objective of reporting the material, or the sources and methods used in collecting it.  It’s like taking a single piece of a jigsaw puzzle and trying to make sense without having brought the other pieces together.

The primary challenge in dealing with declassified material in another language than our own is obvious from the start.  Unless we have more than a rudimentary understanding of the foreign language, we are even further away from understanding its potential value.  My decision to begin translating these documents was based on two approaches: first, I enjoy translating as a profession and as a hobby; second, I appreciate the efforts of others before me who have taken similar pains to make sure information is available to those who want or need it in a readable format.  The value of the information will vary, depending on the reader’s interests and goals; my self-imposed responsibility is to make it understandable in English and put it out there in a discoverable repository. 

There are hundreds of topics of interest in the world of declassified Soviet and post-Soviet era documents.  My initial efforts will be to explore those documents associated with World War Two, the Soviet GULAG system, additional Soviet human rights issues, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Translation can be a challenging affair, demanding a good deal of research of not only history, but also the current events and culture that was contemporary to the time in question.  It also involves working through rather difficult-to-read texts, as they often are represented by copies of copies of copies made in the pre-digital era.  As such, this will not necessarily be as prolific a blog as I would have hoped – that said, I will plug away with as many new pieces of translated material as my time allows.  I’ll also make it a point to drop bits of news on new releases of declassified material when that becomes available.  

On a final note, this blog would not be able to continue without feedback.  It’s crucial in allowing me to see that it carries value and is worth pursuing.  Drop a few lines every now and then, let me know if and how you are able to use the material, and what other topics you’d like to see explored.  Thanks for dropping by!  And don’t forget to subscribe!