While I am writing, exchanges facilitated by interpreters are happening all around us. A frontline in Afghanistan, a court of justice in Guatemala or The Hague, a hospital in Canada or in the United States, an international conference in Sydney or Bangkok, a market in Morocco or Senegal, multilingual assemblies from Pretoria to Brussels or New York, countless conversations in neighborhoods, at border crossings, hotels, travel agencies and other businesses … all require interpreters: oral or sign language, professional or not, remunerated or not, in situ or remote. Other chapters in this book will explore many of these situations. And it has always been like this: since prehistoric times, contacts through interpreters must have existed, with different levels of frequency and sophistication, all over the world, whenever mutual intelligibility failed. To clarify the title, I understand “history” as the branch of knowledge that will guide my

explanation of examples from the past along a chronological path; “interpreter” as a person who translates speech orally or into sign language for parties who speak different languages; and “profession” as a paid occupation or calling based on expert knowledge and often academic training. Many of the interpreters in these pages do not fit fully into these definitions, because (1) their duties went beyond interpreting, (2) they were not paid, and/or (3) they had no formal preparation. Is it then possible to write a history of interpreting and, if so, what for and how? In my view, it is possible, if we look in the primary sources for the function of interpreting rather than the current concept of the profession. As in medicine or law, knowing a profession’s history is the first step to getting acquainted with it. Cicero’s idea of historia magistra vitae may not lead to our ability to predict the future accurately, but it surely prevents a widespread tendency to invent the wheel every day. Besides, recording oral memories, in a mainly spoken job, is a tribute to our predecessors and a legacy to our successors in the profession or, as I have said elsewhere (Baigorri 2006: 103), a future for our past and a past for our future. What history? Historical records – numerous and of many kinds – will become facts of history only when aptly

questioned by historians. This requires, as Delisle (1997-1998) proposed, historians’ methods, tools and approaches – sometimes with the assistance of ancillary disciplines. The past can only be interpreted by historians from their present, that is, from their own time. So there are different potential pasts depending on the observer’s position, which will determine the approach, object of study, scale, and periodization. This chapter offers one of those potential pasts, the one I see from my rear-view mirror, that is, my concrete present, following standard Western periodization for the sake of expediency. It is impossible to present here an exhaustive list of the publications that have filled, parti-

cularly in recent years, some of the empty spaces in our history’s jigsaw puzzle. Some authors have written brief histories of interpreting with a “comprehensive” scope: Roditi (1982), Bowen et al. (1995), Van Hoof (1996), and Andres (2012), to mention a few. Others have written about the profession from a variety of perspectives or with a narrower focus (cf. Roland 1982; Kurz and Bowen 1999; Wilss 1999; Bastin n.d.; Delisle and Lafond 2002). The International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC 1996) and Bernet and Beetz (2005) published videos on recent history; and Delisle (2014) publishes a regularly updated directory of translation historians. All these are very interesting though fragmentary materials which can guide readers. However, a comprehensive and updated handbook or compilation on the history of interpreting – obviously a collective endeavor – remains to be completed. In my view, that work should include the generally overlooked proto-history of research by scholars from various disciplines, which goes back at least to the beginning of the 20th century. So far, interested readers need to resort to largely compartmentalized and scattered pieces of research, not always based on a theoretically sound historical background, and published – mostly in writing but also in audio or video – by scholars from various disciplines or by interpreters in different languages, and sometimes focused on very specific events or individuals. Trying to avoid repetition of previous compilations, I intend to foreground a few impres-

sionistic examples to illustrate various stages in the interpreting profession’s evolution, as seen by different authors, including myself, based on a variety of records and historical approaches, with frequent zigzags between past and present and among geographical areas.