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Textual Comparisons

About the French Edition

Besides many other aspects, the challenge of translating Humboldt’s text on Cuba starts with a basic question: which of the three original sources shall one to translate?

Alexander von Humboldt’s Essai politique sur l’île de Cuba—the Political Essay on the Island of Cuba—appeared in three different French editions in 1825 and 1826. The first two versions were part of Humboldt’s personal travel narrative, the Relation historique (Paris, 1814-31). One sold as an expensive folio (or quarto) edition, the other in a smaller, more affordable octavo format. The third version was a two-volume freestanding edition that appeared in Paris on October 28, 1826 under the title Essai politique sur l’île de Cuba par Alexandre de Humboldt. Avec une carte et un supplément que renferme des considérations sur la population, la richesse territoriale et le commerce de l’archipel des Antilles et de Colombia (Paris, 1826).

In an “Advertisement” included with the free-standing edition, the publisher explained the purpose of the separate rendering: “the lively interest that M. de Humboldt’s research has inspired about the territorial riches of the island of Cuba and about the population of the Antillean archipelago, compared to those of other regions in America, have led us to make available this knowledge to readers, who do not own the Relation historique.”

Volumes 11 and 12 of the thirteen-volume octavo edition of the Relation historique were published on the same date in 1826. These two volumes, along with Volume 9, which had already appeared on October 22, 1825, contain the main portions of Alexander von Humboldt’s Political Essay on the Island of Cuba.

In addition to Humboldt’s “Analyse raisonnée de la carte de l’île de Cuba” [Reasoned Analysis of the Map of the Island of Cuba] which was also printed separately in 1826, the two-volume version of The Political Essay on the Island of Cuba includes sections on sugar consumption and temperature, as well as a two-part supplement, in which Humboldt compares Cuba to the rest of what he likes to call the insular and continental Americas and contrasts different populations in the Americas.

Visualizing the Textual Genesis: The Multi-Layered PDF

A line-by-line comparisons of the three editions of the Essai politique sur l’île de Cuba reveals a long list of orthographical and syntactical variations, mainly between the quarto and octavo editions. Taking the freestanding edition as a basis, our PDF file renders the textual genesis visible, comparing the texts of all three versions (except for the additions in Vol. II). To make the textual variations searchable and useable for further analysis, we have created a digital facsimile (or annotated PDF) of the basis text. In this multi-layered file, which shows all textual variations without interfering with Humboldt’s text itself, readers can follow the textual genesis of Humboldt’s two-volume edition. The use of the file is explained in the following tutorial videos.

a.) Textual Comparison Files

b.) Tutorial Videos to Use the Multilayered PDF


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