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Lost in Translation: Carsten Niebuhr, Robert Heron, and Orientalism in the Eighteenth Century Open Access

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In 1772 Carsten Niebuhr published his first book, in German, about his travels in Arabia as part of the Royal Danish Expedition to Felix Arabia. In the following six years Niebuhr would publish two more detailed accounts of his travels. In 1792, twenty years after Niebuhr’s first publication, Robert Heron completed his translation of Niebuhr’s two first works. To this day, Heron’s translation remains the only English language intermediary to Niebuhr’s text. However, as this thesis will show, Heron’s translation is a poor substitute for Niebuhr’s groundbreaking work. Heron’s translation is still widely circulating in modern scholarship, which causes unfortunate misconceptions about Niebuhr and how he described the religion, manners and people of the Arabian Peninsula. Besides a critical engagement between translation and the original publication of Niebuhr’s work, this thesis places the two writers in the broader field of Orientalism and proposes a new understanding of this intellectual movement in the eighteenth century: not as divided by borders between nations with different political projects, but rather as a result of the wide transmission of knowledge that crossed national boundaries and informed individual scholars and shaped their field.

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