Things I learned (about history)

As a translator, all sorts of texts can pop up on my screen any given week. I have my fair share of the dull and the peculiar, but I mostly marvel at all of the interesting facts that this work allows me to come across. So here are some things I learned recently from translating an academic seminar about history:

  • Ancient history refers to all of recorded human history, spanning from the earliest known Cuneiform Script (around the 4th millennium B.C.E) until the Early Middle Ages. In French, it is known as the “Antiquité”– not to be mistranslated as ‘Antiquity’ which, although sometimes used more ambiguously and almost as a synonym of ‘Ancient History’, more often refers specifically to Western civilisation in the time of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome.
  • Protohistory (“Protohistoire” ) designates a period between prehistory and history, during which a culture or civilization has not yet developed writing but other cultures have already noted its existence in their own writings. “Protohistoric” may also refer to the transition period between the advent of literacy in a society and the writings of the first historians.
  • Those great barbarian invasions (“invasions barbares” )? The common maps we have in textbooks are highly contested by scholars; in fact, there was a whole academic trend from the 1960s which sought to negate certain “invasions”, preferring to see the historical changes as a result of acculturation or ethnogenesis (the process by which a group of people acquire an ethnicity).
  • The term archéothanatologie was coined at a French academic conference in the 1990s. You can also come across it in English as  “archeothanatology”, and it refers to the archaeological study of death and burial.
  • In the beginning of the 20th century, 20% of the population of Marseille was Italian. Many of these people lived in a neighbourhood called Crottes, which literally means “turd”… so you can probably imagine the luxurious living conditions.
  • BP stands for Before Present, just as BC stands for Before Christ. It’s a time scale used mainly in geology and other scientific disciplines to specify when events in the past occurred. Because the “present” time changes, standard practice is to use 1 January 1950 as a reference point for the “present” in this time scale. The French also used the acronym BP, although the French term is “avant le présent”.
  • The period of the Middle Ages is commonly divided up into three parts: Early Middle Ages or Early Medieval Period (5th-10th centuries AD); High Middle Ages or High Medieval Period (11th-13th centuries AD); Late Middle Ages or Late Medieval Period (14th-15th centuries). Confusingly, in French they are known under the terms: Haut Moyen Âge (5th-10th centuries AD); Moyen Âge « classique / central » (11th-13th centuries AD);  Moyen Âge tardif/Bas Moyen Âge (14th-15th centuries).

– So to recap: the ‘bas moyen âge’ comes long after the ‘haut moyen âge’, which is  totally NOT the same thing as its direct translation ‘high middle ages’… Not confusing at all.