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K-State Today

April 3, 2017

Event and exhibit feature students' translations of WWII-era letters from Charles de Gaulle

Submitted by Sarah McGreer Hoyt

freedom papers graphic

Last fall, one group of Kansas State University students experienced WWII-era intrigue via K-State Libraries.

Thanks to a new course, Translating the Freedom Papers: Charles de Gaulle and WWII Correspondence, they created original English translations of several of de Gaulle's letters that were previously only available in French.

Professors Melinda Cro and Kathleen Antonioli used the French Freedom Papers from the Richard L.D. and Marjorie J. Morse Department of Special Collections as the course's central texts to teach the students — both undergraduates and graduates — the basics of the translation process.

Now visitors can view their work in a mini-exhibit, "Très Secret: Translating the Freedom Papers" by Hale Library's main entrance.

In conjunction with the exhibit, K-State Libraries will present an evening that details the fascinating, multilayered tale of the French Freedom Papers, which spans 80 years and three continents. The free event, 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 12, hinges on the letters' long journey to Hale Library.

It started with French spy Phillippe Thyraud de Vosjoli. The Libraries' special guest, Alan Greer, de Vosjoli's friend and attorney, will tell the unbelievable tale of de Vosjoli's journey from WWII underground operative to head of French intelligence for the western hemisphere. De Vosjoli gave the letters to Greer, who recently donated them to the Morse Department of Special Collections in memory of de Vosjoli and his own father-in-law, the much-decorated Lt. Gen. Richard Seitz.

Following Greer's presentation, some of the K-State students who translated the French Freedom Papers into English will share how these unique, valuable letters brought history to life.

According to senior Adam Hewitt-Smith, the letter he was to translate seemed lifeless at first. Eventually, though, the research he did about its contents gave him a nuanced understanding of evolving relationships between the French Resistance and the British.

"I started to see not just another inert, formal piece of wartime correspondence," Smith-Hewitt said. "Instead I saw a document representative of the care de Gaulle took in shaping perceptions of himself and the Free French during the war, and the rhetorical strategies he used to do so."

Finally, by the end of the semester, Smith-Hewitt was able to translate the letter, giving it a new life in English.

Several student translators said they would like to let Greer know how rewarding it was to work with such meaningful historic texts.

"Working with these documents was one of my favorite projects, either as an undergraduate or graduate student, because it required research into so many different topics to truly understand the letters or feel confident in our translations," said recent alumnus Ariana Guerin.

It was a gratifying experience for the professors, as well.

"I was so impressed by the students' ability to combine historical research, textual analysis and French-to-English translation in these projects," Antonioli said. "Their work illuminated the rich history of the documents in the collection, as well as de Gaulle's very particular — and sometimes amusing — tone and ways of addressing his British counterparts."

"This was one of the most rewarding experiences for me as a teacher," Cro added. "The students produced wonderful, professional and complex work … and also developed individually in ways that far exceeded my expectations. I am so grateful to the donors and to Hale Library for the opportunity to work with this fascinating archive."

The exhibit will be on view through summer 2018. To learn more about the French Freedom Papers, contact the Morse Department of Special Collections at libsc@k-state.edu

The April 12 event is free and open to the public. A 5:30 p.m. reception with hors d'oeuvres will be followed by a 6:15 p.m. program. RSVP to Darchelle Martin at martin05@k-state.edu or 785-532-7422.

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