Recently the Museum of Danish America, where my daughter Cheyenne is the Archives Manager and Outreach Associate, received the donation of 41 original letters from Christian Peter Andersen, a Danish immigrant and Union sergeant in the 6th Volunteer Missouri Cavalry, to his immigrant sweetheart, Annie C. Jessen, (later married). Cheyenne was the one who accessioned the letters, and she knew I might be interested in translating them. Translation is like solving puzzles, in fact, it often literally requires puzzle solving. It also draws on my linguistics background and my skills as a writer. I love doing it, and it's also a lot of work. These letters are in Danish, in faded Gothic script, which is challenging for a first-language speaker of Danish to read, let alone for a second-language speaker like me.
Enter Anders Bo Rasmussen, Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of Southern Demark (SDU) and author of Civil War Settlers: Scandinavians, Citizenship, and American Empire. Because the intersectionality of Scandinavian immigrants and the American Civil War is a specialty area for him, I thought he could be interested in what the letters might teach us about the Civil War and that period in history through the words of a specific soldier. I thought Anders and I might collaborate in a transcription/translation project, in which he would do the transcription and I would do the translation, as translation can best be done by a native speaker of the language into which the work is being translated. Anders and I met at a conference this summer and agreed that we would like to work together.
We had already started by using this process with a sample letter, the first page of which appears above. It was important to know if these letters were simply romantic communication, or if they were of historical value. It was clear from the sample that, although there was certainly romance involved, coming from the battlefront, they contained a soldier's views on military engagements and also advice to his beloved about how the war could impact her personally.
Because the translation would involve a tremendous amount of work, I decided to apply for a Bodtker Grant from the Danish American Heritage Society to pay for my work. Anders was on board with the project and would not need to be paid because he would be on salary at SDU and would not have teaching responsibilities next semester.
This morning, when I opened my laptop at 5 a.m., I was greeted by the news that I had received the requested grant! I'm grateful and excited. We will be starting work in January, and I look forward to keeping you updated from time to time. One requirement of the grant is that I write an article that can be published in the historical society's journal, The Bridge. Anders will also write an article.