The art of translation

What do you get when you cross a multiple scholarship winner with an Oxford graduate, Doctor of Philosophy, Master of Translation, senior analyst for the Canadian Privy Council Office, published author and an accomplished musician? You get one remarkable guy by the name of Blair McMurren (BA '96), who just happens to be the U of L's 2010 Alumnus of the Year.

Born and raised in Lethbridge, McMurren graduated from the U of L with Great Distinction, receiving the Faculty of Arts and Science Gold Medal and the Governor General's Silver Medal for Highest Undergraduate Class Standing. His pursuit of academia didn't stop there. McMurren was selected as a Rhodes Scholar and immediately went to Oxford University to pursue graduate studies.

Dr. Blair McMurren, at home in Ottawa.

An English major at the U of L, particularly fond of the works of James Joyce, McMurren focused his attention at Oxford on furthering his understanding of English literature. He earned an Honours BA in English language and literature, and went on to earn a Doctor of Philosophy in comparative literature as well as an MA in translation from the University of Surrey at Guildford.

Ask McMurren what he initially planned to do after completing his education, and he'll admit that he wasn't really sure.

"Some far-sighted senior officials with the federal public service came recruiting at Oxford, and they made a compelling pitch for returning to Canada and making a difference in public policy," he says. "The idea of working on a variety of key files and having some influence on what would be happening in my country resonated with me."

McMurren returned from the U.K. in 2002 to begin work with the Department of Canadian Heritage. He also helped to launch a government initiative that has since become the Recruitment of Policy Leaders program. Since 2009, McMurren has been a senior analyst with the Priorities and Planning secretariat at the Privy Council Office – the department that supports the Prime Minister and Cabinet in all policy and decision-making actions. He is the lead analyst responsible for briefing senior officials and engaging with federal departments on Cabinet decisions related to climate change, clean energy and the environment.

McMurren concedes that the connection between English literature, translation and public policy isn't obvious, but says that his academic background fostered intrigue for the work he does today.

"Closely examining James Joyce's approach to translation is where many things started to come together for me," says McMurren. "So much of human history comes to us through the lens of translation. Freud, Marx, the Bible, what have you – all history-shaping works, and all are translated. Joyce was obsessed with the concept of translation, which ultimately got me thinking about how cultural politics work, and how ideas and issues move from one cultural context to another. It's not a huge stretch from there to cultural policy, which is all about how you tell your story as a country. It's a complex task, and in Canada we do it bilingually and multiculturally, which makes it richer but even harder."

While McMurren intends to continue his career in public policy, he would also like to branch out, perhaps by teaching sessional courses at a university. He's also very keen to give back to the school where his illustrious career began.

"I'd like to help U of L students find out all that's available to them after they leave the university," he says. "This award is a very humbling thing. I'd like to offer my experience to students and perhaps do something to help bridge the famous policy/research divide. I think we all have an interest in getting a broader, better dialogue going about the issues facing Canadian society."

Call for Nominations

The Alumni Association is now accepting nominations for the 2011 Distinguished Alumnus of the Year and Alumni Honour Society awards.

To obtain a nomination form, contact Alumni Relations: e-mail or call toll free 1-866-552-2582.

The nomination deadline is Feb. 1, 2011.

For a look at the full issue of SAM in a flipbook format, follow this link.