UofG leads project aims to secure translations of Scottish Literature for future generations

A selection of  front covers books by Scottish authors translated into different langagues

How often has Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting novel being translated in another language? Which countries around the world have the biggest interest in Robert Burns? What has been the worldwide impact of Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe or Muriel Sparks’ The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie?

These answers can be found in the Bibliography of Scottish Literature in Translation (BOSLIT). With over 32,000 records in 104 languages, BOSLIT maps literature by Scots writers in all its forms from the Middle Ages to the mid-2000s including novels, short stories, poetry, drama, and a limited amount of non-fiction. 

Until 2018, BOSLIT was hosted by the National Library of Scotland, but it had to be withdrawn due to its outdated format. The raw database can still be downloaded from the NLS's DataFoundry.

Now librarians, academics, translators, and publishers, led by the University of Glasgow with funding from the Royal Society of Edinburgh, are to revive BOSLIT for future generations of Scots and those who are passionate about Scottish Literature around the world.

The two-year project called The Bibliography of Scottish Literature in Translation (BOSLIT): Creating Digital Futures & Networks aims to rescue and secure the future of BOSLIT by creating an update digital resource which will be easily accessible from around the world.

Professor Kirsteen McCue, the project’s Principal Investigator and Professor of Scottish Literature and Song Culture at the University of Glasgow’s College of Arts, said: “From Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island to the Sherlock Holmes series by Arthur Conan Doyle to Walter Scott’s first novel Waverley to the eponymous heroine Jean Brodie of Muriel Spark’s writing, Scottish texts have travelled the world across decades even centuries. They have ignited the imagination and represented the best of Scotland to the world.

“In the 1990s an amazing group of scholars and librarians decided to map these activities and the result was the Bibliography of Scottish Literature in Translation (BOSLIT) which today has over 32,000 entries of text and translations by Scottish writers from the medieval period up to the present day in over 100 languages.

“But in recent years BOSLIT has become a little bit invisible. Now thanks to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the University of Glasgow is launching a project to look at the digital future of BOSLIT. We hope that our project will help ensure this great reservoir of Scottish writing translated into dozens of languages will be protected and allow more people than ever before access this wonderful rich resource of Scottish literature.”

The new project aims to provide the bibliography with a new digital home to allow enhanced analysis of the database, paving the way for new publications about the global reception of Scottish Literature across the centuries.

By securing the bibliography’s long-term digital future, it is hoped the project will become a ‘case study’ for rescuing and developing similar bibliographic resources that may be at risk in the new digital world of the 21st century.

Dr Paul Malgrati, Research Assistant, based in Scottish Literature at the University of Glasgow said: “'I grew up and was raised in France. A key factor behind my decision to study and work in Scotland were the Scottish books I read in French translations. From Ossian to Ivanhoe and Kidnapped, it is through translation that I first began to love Scotland and its literature. Scottish writing is a staple of world culture, and it is important that the contribution of translators to this global success be fully acknowledged.”

Dr Malgrati added: “Scottish Literature has had a tremendous impact on the modern imagination - an influence which reached far beyond Scotland’s own border. BOSLIT can help us understand, quantify, and analyse this phenomenon and, as such, it is relevant for anyone interested not only in Scottish Literature but also in translation, languages, print, and publishing, cultural globalisation, and data collecting.”

The University has now launched a website to allow people interested in Scottish Literature and its translations to follow the project’s progress. It is hope that the new digital Bibliography of Scottish Literature in Translation will be launch in 2023.





The Bibliography of Scottish Literature in Translation (BOSLIT)

BOSLIT contains a total of 32,607 records in 104 languages, from the Middle Ages to the early 2000s. Coverage of the twentieth century is extensive, accounting for 70% of the bibliography. Data for nineteenth-century works is patchier, however, with gaps in the treatment of Walter Scott and no coverage of Arthur Conan Doyle; it is stronger for pre-1800 works. Finally, coverage of the 21st century remains to be achieved beyond the years 2004/05 – a task made harder by the exponential developments of online translation and publishing.

Works listed in BOSLIT account for literature in all its forms – novels, short stories, poetry, drama, and a limited amount of non-fiction.  Fiction is widely covered at all periods; poetry is always included when traced. 

Levels of coverage have inevitably been influenced by the availability of bibliographical sources and the accessibility of languages. Unsurprisingly, treatment of leading European languages has been achieved with better success than other world languages, especially those using non-Roman alphabets or scripts. Coverage of Asian and African languages is particularly difficult. Some major languages, including Chinese and Japanese, are well covered in bibliographical sources but others are not.

In more recent times BOSLIT decided to include translations between the three ancient languages of Scotland – Gaelic, Scots and English. It now offers fairly full coverage of translations (of Scottish authors) into Scottish Gaelic, including translations from English and Scots. It also includes translations from Scots into English (mainly of Robert Burns). A few translations from Scottish Gaelic into English (mainly recent) have also been added but in this area much work remains to be done. Learn more here - https://blog.boslit.glasgow.ac.uk/

  • Question: In how many languages has Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting been translated?
  • Answer: More than 30, including Korean, Hebrew, Japanese, Turkish, and Arabic.
  • Question: Which countries around the world have the biggest interest in Robert Burns? 
  • Answer: Outside the English-speaking world, Germany and Russia both enjoyed very successful translations of Burns by Ferdinand Freiligrath and Samuel Marshak respectively. Their masterful renditions of Burns led several of his songs to enter German and Russian popular cultures. 
  • Question: What has been the worldwide impact of Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe? 
  • Answer: Walter Scott's novels and Ivanhoe in particular had a tremendous impact on Romantic Europe. Translated into French by Auguste Defauconpret in the 1820s, Ivanhoe shaped the imagination of French and European Romantic writers, from Honoré de Balzac and Victor Hugo to Poland's national poet, Adam Mickiewicz. 
  • Question: What has been the worldwide impact of Muriel Sparks’ The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ ?
  • Answer: One of the biggest translation successes of twentieth-century Scottish Literature with 20 adaptations in different languages recorded by BOSLIT. These include Korean, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, and Catalan


First published: 5 January 2022

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