Translating to change the nation: The case of José Pedro Varela, a reformer in late 19th century Uruguay


  • Gabriel González Núñez The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley


translation, translation history, José Pedro Varela, education, Uruguay, reform


The history of translation in Hispanic America can be segmented into specific historical periods that differ from those found in Europe, namely: encounter and conquest, the colonial period; pre-independence and emancipation; independence and republic; and an ongoing period that started in 1920 (Bastin, 2006). A great deal of work has been done regarding the first three of those periods. Later historical periods, while still receiving some scholarly attention, have not been the focus of as much research (cf. e.g., Montoya, 2014). This paper hopes to provide further insights on translation practices during the Independence and Republic Period by focusing on José Pedro Varela, an educational reformer in 19th century Uruguay. Varela spearheaded the charge for educational reform in his native South American country, and he initiated the reforms that would forever change the DNA of public education in Uruguay. Much has been written about him (e.g. Hentschke, 2016), but relatively little has been said of the fact that a number of his most influential writings were, at least in part, translations. In light of this, the present paper will provide a portrait of Varela, highlighting his status as a popular hero whose role as a translator has fadedfrom the public’s view. By pointing out some of his most well-known translations and the role they played in his broader reformist strategies, this paper will also provide some historical perspectives on translation, including how it was conceptualized bysome of South America’s key intellectuals during the second half of the 19th century.