So our question today is why use multiple editions of the same source in your research and why include it in a bibliography. I wrote this, as I often do, in response to several comments I received over the last couple of years. When we present research we expect questions. It’s the ones like this that really test our skill as teachers and writers. I remember that I was just chatting online with someone casually, about this. It is, in fact one of the top 5 questions that RoseAnna and I get regarding our research. They had been looking over one of our bibliographies and were puzzled by one thing and so they asked: Why do you have multiple sources of [book name here]?
So, why should you have multiple sources of [book name here]?
Over the years, we have gotten a lot of comments on this given. This is, in part, because we have 4 books in bibliographies for Japanese Research listed multiple times with different editors. The comments over the years have ranged from simple curiosity, to questions about the translations to wondering if we were padding our works cited. (HINT: we aren’t… when you have over 200 sources, you don’t need to pad ).
So, then, why do we have multiple copies, for example, of “The Pillow Book” or the “Tale of Genji” in our Heian Research. OR different publications of a Shakespearean play, in my own Shakespeare research? In our case, it truly comes down to translations. Each person who translates our one of our primary sources adds something new to it.
Each interpretation is seen through a different Lens and multiple editions show this.
While the translations do count as Primary resources each translation contains unique information to that editor and that is true for anything researched. (HINT: remember, however, that it is important to vet your sources). The translator’s lens–their perspective, experiences, and background– matter and do have an impact upon their interpretation of a source.
Our best example for the importance of keeping abreast of research and new publications is two translations of “The Pillow Book” by Sei Shonogon. Ivan Morris’s 1991 translation was widely considered the most complete and best translation up until, in our opinion, Meredith McKinney published her translation in 2006.
Both RoseAnna and I could probably go on for hours on why we prefer McKinney. If you really want to know, just ask us. For now, I just want to discuss some of the reasons we read multiple translations and what benefits you can gain from doing so. In this instance, there seems to be one major thing that impacts our research because we have read both translations. That is the lens through which the editor saw the information and thus created their translation.
So what do we mean by “Lens” when talking about multiple editions of sources?
In the classes we teach, we spend a lot of time talking about the “lens” through which we see and process information. As Anthropologists, we hold great import on the lens. Everything is seen through a lens that reflects your personal background, your gender, education and social status. It is impossible to avoid and should not be. What is important as a researcher is how to interpret that lens, to be aware of it and to make an educated judgement of its weight upon your research.
With the “Pillow Book”, gender is the most critical lens difference that has had the most impact upon our research. Male vs. female interests and perceptions. Neither translation is considered an absolutely complete English translation, although both are viewed as the closest of dozens. Morris was not very interested in the day to day minutiae of how the robes were made, what little things with the dolls were done, how games were played, the things seen on a walk about the palace grounds, etc. He very much focused on Sei Shonagon’s incredible wit and poetry.
McKinney pulls more of the daily life into her translations. She also appears to acknowledge the differences between the Japanese written and spoken by women of the time. In comparison to today’s more modern version of Japanese , this is a huge difference from Morris. There are several words he used that were almost exclusively used by men. The Pillow Book was written by a woman. In McKinney’s translation where she takes her translation from the more female language of ancient Japanese, many of the sentences change significantly. They shine a new light upon both the book and the time period.
Often the bias we bring as editors and translators can make a huge difference in the translation of sources.
Almost all of the literature written during the Heian era was written by women. It stands reason, then, that when a woman finally translates the book, she sees it through a different lens that perhaps is closer to that of the women who wrote the diaries.
We have learned so much from both translations. Each can hold up to vigorous examination as well as provide invaluable information. In the 15 years between translations, more information became available to McKinney. She was able to provide fresh insight on the book, including the possible given name of the author who is mostly known by her court rank and her father’s name, a common Japanese tradition at the time.
The editor notes are also a great resource and reason for multiple editions.
So, this is the big reason we both tend to examine multiple translations and editions, but how about another one: the translation editor notes. Both books have pages and pages of notes written by the translator/editor. These insights are just as important to research as the primary sources are. We read all of these so as to learn more about the culture, the editor’s perspective and research journey. It often gives us more ideas on avenues of research to explore.
So, when you see multiple citations of a book, or if you want to cite more but are not certain you can, please, go for it! Read the other translations, learn and be informed and enjoy!
The Researcher’s Gateway
Explore more of our Research Articles
- Primary Sources and the Lens of Research
- What are Secondary and Tertiary Sources?
- Written and Visual Accounts as Primary Sources.
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