Last chance to see the Bodleian's Babel: Adventures in Translation exhibition

Babel: Adventures in Translation | Weston Library, Broad Street | 15 February - 2 June 2019

17 May 2019

Visitors have just two weeks left to visit the Bodleian Libraries exhibition, Babel: Adventures in Translation, which is open at the Weston Library until Sunday 2 June.

Illustration from the Quran

The free exhibition explores the power of translation from the ancient myth of the Tower of Babel to the challenges of modern-day multicultural Britain in light of Brexit. Featuring a stunning range of objects from the Libraries’ collections, the exhibition shows how ideas and stories have travelled across time and territory, language and medium.

The Times Literary Supplement described the exhibition as “intriguing and frequently gorgeous” and notes how it “rescues translation from its worthy perch by revealing it at work everywhere.” Meanwhile the international art magazine Apollo described it as “a thoughtful exhibition of books, ancient papyri and tablets, and contemporary translation-related ephemera that … attempts to show what translation looks like.”

Thousands have visited the exhibition since it opened in February, calling it “a wonderful display of differences and unity” as well as “utterly fascinating, and beautifully presented.”

Black and white illustration of a towerBabel explodes the notion that translation is merely about word-for-word rendering into another language, or that it is obsolete in the era of global English and Google Translate. It shows how translation is an act of creation and interpretation, and has been part of our daily lives since time began. Highlights on show include a 3500-year-old bowl inscribed with a language that still resists deciphering, an unpublished Tolkien notebook revealing how the author created his own ‘Private Scout Code’ at the age of 17 while studying Esperanto, and an experimental 1950s computer programme designed to generate love letters.

In the Bodleian’s Babel exhibition, visitors can explore digital interactives including the opportunity to listen to texts from the exhibition read in their original languages, ranging from Tibetan and Sanskrit to Italian and German.

Following the closure of Babel: Adventures in Translation, the next exhibition in the ST Lee Gallery of the Weston Library will be Talking Maps which opens on 5 July and runs until 8 March 2020. In the adjacent treasures gallery Thinking 3D: From Leonardo to the present continues until 9 February 2020. The Bodleian’s Thinking 3D exhibition is accompanied by a range of other exhibitions and events across Oxford’s museums and gardens in 2019 as part of the Thinking 3D research project. For more information, visit

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