Hans C. Erik Midelfort

Copyright: H. C. E. Midelfort
Copyright: H. C. E. Midelfort
Erik Midelfort began his academic career with the attainment of a doctorate in History at Yale University in 1970. In addition to professorships at numerous universities in the USA, Switzerland, Germany and England, he was employed as a professor by the University of Virginia from 1987 to 2009, where he has continued to be active as Emeritus Professor up to the present day. His literary publications include not only his own works on social history during the Early Modern Period in Europe and America, but also related translations from German as well as a wide range of articles in notable specialist journals.

Selection of translated titles:
  • Rainer Decker: Witchcraft and the Papacy (Die Päpste und die Hexen). University of Virginia Press, 2009
  • Wolfgang Behringer: Shaman of Oberstdorf. Chonrad Stoeckhlin and the Phantoms of the Night (Chonrad Stoeckhlin und die Nachtschar). University of Virginia Press, 1998
  • Peter Blickle: The Revolution of 1525 (Die Revolution von 1525). Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981
  • Bernd Moeller: Imperial Cities and the Reformation (Reichsstadt und Reformation). Fortress Press, 1972

Three questions to Hans C. Erik Midelfort:

Why did you choose to become a translator? Is it the profession you always wanted to have?
I occasionally translated from German into English from when I was a graduate student back in the 1960s. I found that it was something I could do, and it made me feel good that I was putting into the hands of scholars trapped in 'English-only' the works that I thought were of such importance that everyone should have access to them. The need for translations is real. Too few English speakers know or read German at all, and a great deal of research in the USA and Britain (as well as Australia, South Africa, etc.) proceeds in woeful ignorance of what German scholars are doing. So I translate and encourage translation as a contribution to 'Kulturaustausch' - not to achieve greater fame for myself, certainly, and not to get richer (even more certainly!). One side benefit has been that I've made good friends with the German authors whom I have translated. They could not have attained their current level of fame and international importance without having their books in English. I pride myself on getting the translation 'right', but I do not see myself really as much of a literary artist in my translations. I hope for clarity and force.

Which German book do you like the best and why?
I don't think I have a 'Lieblingsbuch'; but I do read many books in German that I like a lot. The trouble with many history books (which are what I mainly read), is that they are either aimed at an elementary student level (for which there would usually be little market in the USA) or they are so erudite and peculiar, so refined and elite, that they would never find readers in English.

Is there a particular book you would like to translate?
One book I think should be translated is Martin Mulsow's Moderne aus dem Untergrund (2002). But it's almost too refined and erudite. I doubt that it has found many readers even in German. So for an English version, we would need to enlist Mulsow's cooperation in adapting it for a broader readership. But it's a wonderful book: original, profound, thoroughly researched, and very well written in its erudite way.

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