This paper aims to highlight issues regarding the role of translation in the museum that remembers difficult pasts. Visitors often come to a site of memory with no means of accessing the voices spoken, stories told and perspectives proffered in the original working language of the exhibition. The provision of translated material facilitates that access, but it also sets in motion multifaceted negotiations across boundaries of language, culture and knowledge. According to Erll and Rigney, ‘“media” of all sorts [...] provide frameworks for shaping both experience and memory’ (2009: 1); the translation of that media then adds a further layer of complexity in terms of how the visitor encounters the legacies of the past. Paying particular attention to audio-guides, this paper will explore how translation works to sustain nuances, uphold multiple layers of opposing, parallel or intersecting narratives and encourage a dynamic response from the visitor. But translation also has the potential to close down spaces of understanding and engagement, and thus impede memory work. In order to better elucidate these issues, examples will be drawn from the audio-guide provision of several French museums that remember the ‘dark years’ of WWII. In short, I will argue that it is prudent to think through the implications of translation in the museum, not least in terms of visitor experience and the construction of ethical responses.
Dr Alastair Cole