Mongolian Rock

Did you know that Mongolian Rock is a thing!? I suppose it would be disingenuous to say that ‘Rock’ would be an exclusively Western product, despite it’s origins and cultural association largely framed by Elvis, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Metallica… you get the idea. The evolution of Rock, however, has largely included a lot of interesting new sounds, connections with the very roots of culture and the universe itself. Rock has a different sound and meaning to every person you ask – it is a fluid form of art that doesn’t limit one’s ability to express. A band I recently discovered take inspiration from across the world of rock and heavy metal, but more significantly, the elemental sounds from across the Eastern Steppe. They call themselves ‘The Hu‘, hailing from Mongolia, the band’s first two videos (“Yuve Yuve Yu” and “Wolf Totem”) immediately went viral garnering the band over 30 million views (about 40mil today on their most viewed). The band’s, ‘Hu’, is the Mongolian root word for human being.  They call their style “Hunnu Rock”, taking inspiration by the Hunnu, also known as the ancient Mongolian empire (the Hun) of Genghis Khan. Lyrical compositions include old Mongolian war cries and poetry, but they are known for fusing their lyrics with themes and elemental spirituality reflecting the vastness of the plains across the Eastern Steppe. In short:

‘The HU combines Rock Music with traditional Mongolian instrumentation like the Morin Khuur (horsehead fiddle), Tovshuur (Mongolian guitar), Tumur Khuur (jaw harp), guttural throating singing and the bombastic bass and drums of rock.’[1]

The Hu, Official Website

I discovered this band through YouTube, composing a soundtrack piece for the video game ‘Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order‘, but, this was so different from a series of stories arguably defined by the grand scores of John Williams: the band had worked with Lucasfilm to construct a new language for the Star Wars universe. Initially, the song “Sugaana Essena” [“The Black Thunder“] was written in Mongolian, then translated into a modern interpretation of ‘Tengri’ – the manuscript culture of Tengrism, the ancient prevailing religious origin of the Turks and Mongols dating around the fourth-century[2]. When I think of creatives imagining a new language, fusing nature and spirituality, I think Tolkien and his works for the Elves of Middle Earth: reading into the appendices of the LoTR broadened my appreciation of Tolkien’s attention to detail and the lore that was built around language as the impetus of the storytelling. The modern interpretation of Tengri as a language traces through Turkic Tengri, made famous by the 8th century Orkhon Inscriptions which present trace elements to Bulgarian, Azerbaijani, and Mongolian. Tengri was the supreme Sky God (Eternal Sky God) which dominated the steppe environment and steppe religion, with the sunrise, lunar phases and astrology all prime tenets of early Turkic, a brief history follows:

‘Protecting the purity of water was vital and impure objects or people were purified by various fire rituals… Tengri was supremely important in the imperial manifestation of Turkic religion under the Turks, Uighurs, and Khazars. Like the Chinese emperor, Turkic khagans (qaghans) were considered to rule by the favour (qut) of Heaven; the khagan and his consort the khutan were viewed as emanations of Tengri and Umay [the Mother Goddess]…’[3]

Nicholson, Oliver, The Oxford Dictionary of Late Antiquity (Oxford, 2018), p1533

The Hu’s lyricism of Tengri for “Sugaana Essena” seems to be based on Old Turkic/Orkhon alphabet – breaking down consonants and vowels through a rune-culture, largely discovered through historic work on Sanskrit and the origins of the Runic alphabet[4]. Being a student of history, I am simply compelled by the fusion of artistry, culture, emotional and expression, and I am stunned to be able to tie together Star Wars, the History of the Eastern Steppe, and Lord of the Rings in a single blog post. What unifies them is central to all peoples: language, whether written or oral, physical or spiritual, represents connections, commonalities and nuances in the histories of people. And here I was thinking of this, something that had I discovered it sooner, I thought anyway, would have made the perfect study into transnationalism – like Esperanto (without being disrespectful) – constructed languages like those discussed above have the power to bring people together from across the world. After listening-in on a ‘Transnational Mondays’ seminar, hosted by the Institute for Transnational & Spatial History (ITSH), back in early April, I thought of an important question of the conditions for tracing Esperantists. Aside from the customary methods of ‘tracing’ individuals across the world, what stands out from a transnational perspective is the exchange and adoption of cultural markers, aspects of identity and association. Modern pop-culture, like some of the more famous literature from the 19th and 20th centuries, is a uniting force that can reach just about anyone anywhere. Maybe, just peripherally, that is the great triumph of ‘modernity’ as a social construct: we are all eminently closer. The implications of that statement are vast and quite contentious, and a lot of the theory perhaps plays in nicely with what I am currently writing at a more laborious level than what a simple blog post can present. My point simply is, this is a prime topic that I think represents a niche but extremely interesting example of ‘Doing and Practicing Transnational and Global History in the Late Modern World’, it is about people and the simple ideas of community and individuality.


[1] https://www.thehuofficial.com/

[2] https://www.revolvermag.com/music/how-mongolian-band-hu-made-song-star-wars-alien-language

[3] Nicholson, Oliver, The Oxford Dictionary of Late Antiquity (Oxford, 2018), p1533

[4] Omniglot, the online encyclopedia of writing systems & languages <https://omniglot.com/writing/orkhon.htm>

Ideas In Review

The Student Project has stood out to me as something that has challenged our ability to both think critically and originally. Our brief was to discover something unbeknown to the larger audiences that historical scholarship traditionally caters to, and do our best to frame our research in a transnational and global framework for further analysis. At least, that’s how I’ve come to understand it, but although extant debate still exists on the requirements of defining a truly ‘global history’, the transnational component of our work is clearly expressed by the variety of stories and lived experiences we all brought to class, and how that reflected on the research behind our projects.

For Izzy’s presentation ‘How has the Rhodes Scholarship influenced an academic study of race?’, I had several general thoughts on the Rhoades Scholarship in a post-colonial studies sense, namely  ​why is there a retention of the title ‘Rhoades Scholar’, and why is this an aspirational acclaim? (Otherwise, why hasn’t the title been changed/replaced?) I’m curious to further explore the reception of the Commonwealth in its early days and how it started to move past colonial connections to the worst parts of the British Empire. Some other thoughts I had were thus what are the extant rhetorical problems with the retention of the title today?

Following that question orientated around post-colonial studies, a thought I had after viewing Olivia’s presentation – other than my serious realisation that I’ve never read Moby Dick! – is does transnational wailing deserve to be a separate entity to colonial and postcolonial studies? Especially when being placed in a study of gender?

Luke’s presentation left me with an interesting question on how we place slums in the modern model of a living environment that we are all accustomed to: The slums having a ‘functioning’ – is this as in the day to day functioning of a collective of people within a densely populated ‘suburban-esque’ area – are we challenging the suburban, the root unit of socio-economic value of a populated area? Is the issue that slums have been depicted within, or in opposition to, a metropolitan structure (inner-city/central; suburban/developed; exurban/fringe)?

Grant’s presentation touched on something I had considered in my previous bouts of research in the module, that is how intellectuals and institutions relate the narrative of the history they produce to that of the state. When looking at Wendell L. Willkie’s use of One World Utopia, and global self-determinism for all peoples, I immediately thought of the Harvard Department of Social Relations; Modernization Theory; and the great rush to historicizing foreign policy by the United States from Monroeism through Hooverism to Reaganism. As far as Willkie’s use of Shu’s term and the history, and its use in Liu’s Tokens of Exchange, could we say that historic translations are highly reflective of the time of the author? The cultural background and influences on the author are also extant in the work, can historians – and translators – avoid being disingenuous when trying to create legacy works in Intellectual History? Is Liu being a positivist with her statement on the process of translation?

Adam’s presentation reminded me of my early fascination with the background history of WW2. Much of the focus in a student’s early years of studying the history of WW2 centers around the war itself and the destructive period: what caused it, what happened, and what did it change? The history of post-war Germany is also fascinating and extremely important for establishing the period that would become The Cold War, though I feel that has largely obscured discourse on the dissolution of the Third Reich’s hierarchy in the years following the war. I watched Valkyrie a long time ago and even wrote one of my first ‘essay’ style papers on the consequences of such a daring operation for German society internally, and  externally to the Allies (it wasn’t very good at all, even for a fifteen-year old’s effort). The main question I have as a takeaway form this presentation is something I heard some while ago in a critique of the film: The ‘July 44’ plotters were concerned about saving Germany, true, but their desperation was out of fear for the fact that Germany’s military position was unattainable and they were in an unwinnable war – where did their political attitude rest? Did they see Nazism as a failed civil project (Despite it obviously having a major economic boon in the late 1930s)? How does the attitude of ‘weren’t they still Nazis?’ impact the historical importance of the ‘July 44’ – and the numerous others I may add – attempt on Hitler’s life and the desire of these men to end the Second World War?

These are some of the questions that stood out for me in discerning similarities to my own research and historic interests. When reflecting on my own work and research project, I am considering – more than anything – the wording of how I express my objectivity without being objectively conclusive. In other words, I know what I want to communicate on why consumer culture – in the context of the late twentieth century and the period of 1959 to 1986 as exemplar – deserves to be recognised more robustly as a true ‘global history’. But, I’m just not entirely sure how to write it to be satisfactory whilst also leaving a sense of desire to pursuit the topic further in the way I ascribe.

Doing transnational history … By cooking?

Its not even been a week since the official end of MO3351 (and the end of my third year), and I’m already bored. Between trying to find a job, keeping up my Duolingo streak (trying to stay in the top 10 of the Diamond League is really hard), and doing the occasional spot of exercise, I’ve spent most of my time thinking of ways to occupy the next three – or more – months. I’ve whittled down my options to berry-picking, getting a drivers’ license, and researching for my dissertation. But – and please don’t tell my supervisor – I’ve also been leaning towards the idea of starting yet another research project in transnational history.

Specifically, I’m thinking about researching on food.

My 素菜包 sou choi bao, which are vegetarian steamed vegetable buns.

The idea came to me the other day when I was making 素菜包 sou choi bao, steamed vegetable buns. As a homesick student that really likes to cook, I had challenged myself to recreate dim sum in my home in St Andrews. However, I was faced with a problem – I had to make a few substitutions in my ingredients. St Andrews doesn’t have an Asian grocer, and the nearest one is in Dundee. Going to Dundee is completely unfeasible at the moment; I couldn’t justifying it as an essential trip when I’m five minutes from Tesco and Sainsbury’s. So I made do, swapping out bok choy for blanched kale and peas. The dried shiitake mushrooms and wood ears were traded for fresh chestnut mushrooms, sautéed until crisp with soy sauce for an extra boost of umami. The whole affair was then mixed together with half an inch of grated ginger, a dash of sesame oil, and a bit of sugar and salt to taste. As for the bun itself, that was fairly straightforward. Flour, water, yeast, salt, and cornstarch are all readily accessible in the UK. The only unconventional thing I added in was pandan extract, which I brought back with me from Hong Kong, to make the tops green.

The end result was delicious; I think I ate three in one sitting. However, as I was eating, I started thinking about whether or not these buns could count as ‘Chinese food’ and, tangentially, what makes Chinese food ‘Chinese’. With the addition of kale, peas, and chestnut mushrooms, all of which are relegated to the ‘Western food’ section of Hong Kong supermarkets, the core ingredients that made up most of the bun were hardly Asian. The bun, too, wasn’t Asian a priori. There is nothing distinctly Asian about the combination of flour and water, with most cultures having claim to some form of bread in their diets. Yet despite these things making the bun inauthentic as Chinese food, it still felt like I had made Chinese food.

But, if that was the case, what made the buns ‘Chinese’? The most Chinese things I included were probably the ginger, sesame oil, and soy sauce (pandan is Southeast Asian). However, I felt that it was insufficient to call the bun ‘Chinese’ because of their presence; it wasn’t as if I went ‘ah yes, the flavours of ginger, sesame oil, and soy sauce are the only things that make this bun Chinese dim sum’. Instead, as silly as it probably sounds, it felt like the bun itself carried an essence of Chinese culture with it in the way it was prepared. Put simply, the preparation of food is bound up in national containers and cultures – even if the ingredients we use to make it aren’t necessarily ‘traditional’ to that culture in question. Food thus contributes to how we define and divide up the world.

In turn, this strong association we have between our food and our various geo-containers has some bearing on the way we understand migrants. After researching on Chinese migrants in Cuba this semester, I learned that food played an important role in signifying their status as insiders and outsiders. In the Apunte Histórico, Antonio Chuffat-Latour writes that the Chinese that helped rebel militias hide from the Spanish cooked them a meal of ‘arroz con pollo, plátano y boniato’, chicken rice, plantains, and sweet potatoes – classic Cuban food. [1] Chuffat-Latour used this meal to demonstrate that the Chinese had a place within the emergent Cuban nation, and that they were just as worthy of being called Cubans as much as your average, native-born José. In reality, of course, he had to make such assertions because the Chinese were subject to both anti-immigration laws, and Sinophobia, in the new Cuban nation. [2] Eventually, some of these Chinese-Cubans would go on to open their own Chinese-Cuban restaurants that would serve Cuban and Chinese food as ‘distinct but co-existing’ sets of dishes from which customers can mix and match, according to Lok Chun Debra Siu. [3] For instance, in La Caridad 78, a Chinese-Cuban restaurant in New York, you can order a ‘combo fried rice, plantain, and salad’ all on one plate. [4] This demonstrates that the Chinese-Cubans are bicultural, simultaneously insider yet also outsider.

In wake of this biculturality, it would be tempting to characterise the Chinese-Cubans, vis-a-vis their cuisine, as actors that hybridise and fuse together two cultures. However, Siu’s assertion that Chinese-Cuban food is ‘distinct but co-existing’ is an important one that demonstrates that there is more going on here beyond hybridisation. ‘Hybridisation’ is frequently used to refer to the mixing of cultures. [5] This is typified in our conception of fusion cuisine: the combining of ingredients, cooking techniques, or culinary knowledge from one cuisine into another. [6] One example of this fusion cuisine is seen in addition of baked goods into Cantonese dim sum, which brought together the British tradition of baking together with established ingredients and dishes in Hong Kong’s food culture.

This is a 菠蘿叉燒包 bolo charsiu bao, literally pineapple barbecued pork bun, that bakes char siu, Cantonese barbecued pork, in a brioche-type bun topped with a cookie crust. There’s no pineapple in it; ‘pineapple’ is only used to refer to the craggly-looking cookie.

Siu’s ‘distinct but co-existing’ seems to suggest that Chinese-Cubans do not necessarily hybridise and fuse cuisines with Cuba. If La Caridad wanted to produce a Chinese-Cuban fusion cuisine, they could have put plátanos inside the fried rice. Instead, they made the conscious decision to serve them to the side, separate from the fried rice but nonetheless part of the plate overall. To characterise this as hybridisation, therefore, is to ignore the conscious distinction made between the Chinese and Cuban cuisines. We also end up ignoring the agency and creativity of the Chinese-Cubans in their cultural production and reproduction of both Chinese and Cuban cultures. [7]

If food is bound up in national containers, and if food can be used to demarcate difference and coexistence, not just hybridity, then this means that food can be used to study how migrant cultures see and relate themselves to their home and host cultures. This opens the door to further research into the transnational history of food, and specifically its use as a door into the mindset of the migrant cook. These are some pretty interesting implications, and I’m still thinking of questions and ways to make this relevant to my own research within Global Intellectual History. However, I hope that this blog post may help transnational historians think about taking unconventional (for academic History) and everyday subjects, like baos, as food for thought in the future.

Citations:

[1] Antonio Chuffat-Latour, Apunte Histórico (1927), p. 102

[2] Kathleen López, Chinese Cubans: A Transnational History (2013), pp. 136, 219

[3] Lok Chun Debra Siu, ‘In Search of Chino Latinos in Diaspora : the Cuban Chinese in New York City’ in Andrea O’Reilly Herrera, Cuba: Idea of a Nation Displaced (2007), p. 127

[4] Great Big Story, ‘The Last Cuban-Chinese Restaurant in NYC’, YouTube, 22 February 2017, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOckvBaOcLM> [Accessed: 03 February 2020]

[5] Tan Chee-Beng, ‘Cultural Reproduction, Local Invention and Globalization of Southeast Asian Chinese Food’ in Tan Chee-Beng (ed.), Chinese Food and Foodways in Southeast Asia and Beyond (2012), p. 40

[6] Ibid, pp. 31-32

[7] Ibid, p. 41

A Global Network of Private Members Clubs

I live about an hour outside of New York City. Every winter for the past few years I’ve taken a train to Manhattan and attended an annual networking event hosted by the St Andrews Alumni Club of New York—what’s our largest alumni club outside of London. These events are a great opportunity to engage with fellow students and alumni of our university while also enjoying some nice hors d’oeuvres. What interests me most about these events, however, is not the opportunity to hear my successful alma mater present themselves (nor to see my classmates suck up to them), but rather the venue. My first year, the event was held in a banquet room of the old Lehman Brothers building, a now defunct bank at the epicentre of the financial crisis. The next year the venue changed to the headquarters of the Women’s National Republican Club in Rockefeller centre and was held there again this year. Not only is this club in a highly coveted part of town, but it boasts both an impressive history and a swanky interior.

Board member at Women's Republican Club 'doesn't want' lesbians ...
The Women’s National Republican Club Foyer

Neo-Georgian in style, the clubhouse was built in 1934 on the site of a home owned by Fife native and robber baron Andrew Carnegie. Since then, it has offered several guest rooms and private dining rooms to its members as well as lectures and debates. They also have an impressive collection of artwork, books, and pieces of furniture owned by famous republicans male and female alike—I should know, considering I spent a good deal of the networking event exploring the place.

Event photos - Women's National Republican Club
The Women’s National Republican Club Library

Other than the beautiful building, air of elitism, and history of questionable policies, that’s about there is to the club.

So you may be asking yourself, Luke, what does this longwinded anecdote have to do with global networks? Well this week I was reading about the St Andrews Alumni Club in advance of my position as union alumni officer for next year and noticed a peculiar offer. St Andrews alumni, along with those from other select universities, have recently been granted the eligibility to apply for membership to the Princeton Club and the Penn Club. The clubs are fancy and operate out of large buildings in midtown Manhattan, offering many members only guest rooms, libraries, restaurants, and bars as well as private gym, pool, massage, and squash access. Not only must you be an alumni of an affiliated school, but you must pass the application process, be able to afford the membership, and adhere to a strict dress code. Both of these clubs, however, offer extensive ‘reciprocal’ memberships to similar clubs all over the world. This means that while traveling to another state or country you can present a membership to your home club and be offered often all the same amenities. While the Women’s National Republican Club has dozens of reciprocal clubs in nine US states and nine countries, the Penn has over 150 and Princeton has over 200.

A photo from the Princeton Club Website

What’s more is that these two ‘university clubs’ (which are not operated by the university and scarcely affiliated with them) share a majority of their reciprocals, meaning that once you become a member of one of these clubs, you become a member of many. I don’t really understand how this business model functions, especially since often the amenities available are cheaper and nicer than their public alternatives (like £2 pints of beer or hotel room under market price). I asked my brother who works in hospitality and he theorized that they probably make a great deal of their money through more invisible deals like donations, endowments, or data mining (in which a club might sell their members email and mailing addresses to purveyors of luxury cars, for instance). Suspiciously, these clubs are almost all registered charities (as they often do philanthropic things) so they also are tax exempt. This same sort of network is open to golf and yachting clubs which present perhaps an even worse case of discrimination as their membership isn’t bound to university—this topic is explored well in the famous 1952 film The Gentlemen’s Agreement in which an investigative journalist Gregory Peck pretends to be Jewish to investigate private members clubs in metro New York. Many of these clubs, like the women’s republicans, also have political affiliations and influence while also existing in places of influence such as Washington DC or Westminster—making their tax exempt status even more questionable.

Dining - The New Club, Edinburgh
The New Club, Princes Street, Edinburgh

It’s crazy to think that by being a member of one of these clubs you can find access to good lodging, wellness equipment, and work spaces all while surrounded by people from a similar educational and class background to you. And even those from less elite backgrounds who obtain membership are encouraged to act posh by through the dress code, club rules, and social norms. A Princeton Club member could travel to Bahrain, Scotland, Vietnam, Kenya, or Chile and find similar accommodations and similar people. What’s more is that this global network and community of elite people who dine, exercise, socialize, and travel all within their own little world. We can also probably assume that many of these people send their children to private schools and that they do business in private environments, making their lives as a whole both elite and gated (literally and metaphorically).

St Andrews has always been posh, but it’s interesting to see that their affiliation with the Princeton and Penn clubs is as new as 2015. I have to wonder if this is part of some scheme to help further our university’s brand as a home for the global elite.

What a Semester

            I went into this semester possibly overly optimistic, perhaps naively so. There was something about the beginning of this year (calendar year, not academic) that just felt like it was going to go right… then the world surprised us, as it always has done and will continue to do so. That said, there is little about this semester that I look back on and do not now view through the lenses of transnational thinking – I fear I have fallen down the rabbit hole. From this module, its content, then more broadly – this university full of students and staff from all over the world bring together different cultures and understandings – and now our world has changed due to a global crisis everyone reiterates as unlike anything experienced in living memory, something that is effecting the whole world, the effects of which will continue to affect us for a considerable period to come, everything appears as an interaction of different nations and how they work with, against and in spite of each other, and how now more than ever their decisions and actions affect all the nations and cultures around them.

            More than the transnational and global connections though, this module has encouraged me to think and question the understanding that I have held of events and ideologies, how they are constructed and developed. When I think of transnational and global history now, I think I consider the significance of connections. The connections between people and countries and cultures, but also the connections between methods of study. Transnational history appears as so much broader than a method. There are so many ways in which other so called ‘methodologies can tie into transnational analysis – comparison, intellectual, micro, and likely many more. So, when I look at something ‘transnational’ in the future I think I will focus on the connections and value and significance of those connections, and the effects that these connections have on all involved parties.

            The nature of curiosity and questioning is one that this module has never failed to encourage, that is only too apparent in some of the areas that conversation and debate has strayed to in each session held. From OXO cubes to high intellectual theory debate to nudist history and back; from the high optimism at the beginning of the semester to the lows and the gradual builds; from those who seem almost intimidatingly knowledgeable and prepared (but super sweet when you finally talk to them) to the superbly skilled procrastinators who love a last minute panic (not) to two of the most dedicated, passionate and actually helpful tutors I (and I’m sure many of us) have ever had – it has been a pleasure to partake in this module for so many reasons. Now I am going to go eat some Haribos, and try work put some of the pieces of my project back together… Good Luck Kids!

St Andrews at the Periphery of the Reparations Debate

https://www.economist.com/britain/2020/02/08/british-universities-are-examining-how-they-benefited-from-slavery

A month or two ago I was listening to the Economist’s pretentiously named Intelligence podcast. Normally, this is something I play in the background while cooking or cleaning, but this episode was different. Early on it mentioned the University of St Andrews. With my attention grabbed I switched off both vacuum cleaner and boiling kettle, sat in an armchair and started from the beginning. But, to my dismay, St Andrews was not receiving praise, but criticism. That’s because while in the last few years there has been a movement growing in Britain to get universities and other institutions to recognize their involvement in the transatlantic slave trade—St Andrews has stayed silent. Meanwhile, virtually all of our competing universities (except for the perhaps equally orthodox University of Edinburgh) have not only made comments, but have launched investigations into involvements with the slave trade. But before I discuss the debate and its transnational aspects, let me back up and briefly summarize the history.

A close up of a map

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Graphic Map of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, Crispusattucksmuseum.org

Slavery was outlawed in Britain following the Somerset Case of 1772. But, slave trade within the empire continued until 1807 as did the ownership of slaves by British citizens until 1833. In 1833, however, the Slavery Abolition Act supposedly did away with Britain’s involvement with slavery. But, unlike in America where enslaved persons were legally emancipated from slave owners outright during the American Civil War, British slave owners were paid for their ‘property’. In doing so, the British government paid out over £20 million (£16.5 billion when adjusted to 2013 wages) to free some 46,000 slaves who toiled in the Americas and elsewhere.


Thus, Britons wiped their hands from slavery, but where did the money go? The wealthy families who had put all of their assets into enslaving people now found themselves with a considerable amount of liquid money—a type of stimulus perhaps not too different from those given to corrupt banks. While many of these families used their newfound fortunes to invest in trade, companies, or estates, others decided to pool their money to build and improve universities and colleges across the country. Evidence suggests that nearly all of Britain’s notable universities benefited from the slave trade, and many, including Britsol, Oxford, Cambridge, Nottingham, East London, and Aberdeen and Hull soon to follow, but “St Andrews and Edinburgh,” says the Economist, “are the rare silent exceptions”. This year, Glasgow Uni announced that they would invest £20 million to researching the slave trade in Britain and building a comprehensive catalogue of slave owners turned donors and others have pledged to do the same. Perhaps it’s not a surprise that St Andrews has made no comment on the matter while as it maintains a reputation for racial exclusion—boasting only 5.7% of its staff and 8.7% of students as black and minority ethnic (BME), while the percentage of those of Afro-Caribbean descent remains unknown.

Where this story becomes of transnational importance is not just in the cruel ballad of slavery and dirty money, but also in today’s transnational debate over if  and how reparations should be paid. You see, this debate isn’t new. In fact, it has been ongoing on American college campuses since 2000 when the first black president of Brown University (and even any Ivy League university), Ruth Simmons, assembled an interdisciplinary team of academics to investigate Brown’s involvement with the slave trade in what became known as the 2003 Slavery and Justice Report. Simmons discovered that even though university records showed little to no mention of slavery, that other primary sources contemporary to the university’s founding in 1764 paint a different picture. According to her team’s research, nearly every facet of trade in 18th and early 19th century Providence, RI was connected in some way to slavery and that many of the university’s donors were directly involved in the slave trade itself.

This work published at Brown University was the first of its kind and inspired an even more comprehensive report at Georgetown University a few years later in which researchers discovered that the grant which allowed for the construction of the Washington campus came primarily from the sale of 229 Jesuit owned slaves. This report identified the enslaved people who were in many ways responsible for Georgetown’s early success and has prompted the university to offer its own compensation and reparations to their descendants today. Other universities like The College of William & Mary, where I studied last year and whose campus is notorious for its involvement with slavery, has opted to match its many monuments to white donors with a more honest structure to honour those whose labour went unpaid.

Concept selected for future memorial

Memorial to African Americans Enslaved by William & Mary concept, 2019

Should British universities take inspiration from their American counterparts in their responses to this debate? Or should they form their own response? After all, their involvements with the peculiar institution are fundamentally different. In America, slaves quite literally laid the foundations of many campuses like William & Mary, whereas in Britain it was the enslaved peoples value as labour and a government bailout which allowed for them to indirectly build up British higher education. How does this debate compare to reparations debates elsewhere and over other controversies in places like South Africa, Australia, or Canada?

Anyways, if you have read this far then you should know that it’s exactly this question I’ll be following in Recording the Past next year. I’m going to be focusing more on the historiographical aspects of the debate than the historical involvements in slavery, but I hope I can at least encourage St Andrews to shed some light on the topic.

Building a Structure

            I am thinking about the structure of my project. I think the structure would suit an extended project proposal for an area of greater research potential. It is interesting thinking of it this way. While I think it will work better under this format now it is almost bittersweet to put it forward in this way. I don’t know if I am going to get the opportunity to look see the end of this and find answers to the questions that I cam across in a full enough way, but then are we ever really able to fully answer our questions on history?

            Anyway, I think this will work well as now there is little in-depth research and literature on the history of the Esperanto movement in Scotland. To do this I am thinking to structure the 4000 words something like the following.

            The first section will deal with the 7th World Esperanto Congress in Antwerp in 1911. I think it is fair to use this as a starting point as it was pretty much my own starting point with Esperanto, and the point from which my reading and research has stemmed from in order to better understand it. To do this I will first set a developed context, discussing the leading themes, aims and persons within the Esperanto congress at the time, thus indicating the transnational nature of the movement and the effect that this was having on some communities, specifically in Europe – branching out to the Scottish groups that can be found at the time.

            Following this I will have a section that I am hoping will essentially highlight why Scotland is an interesting case within the greater Esperanto movement and so deserving of further research and analysis. To do this I will be working primarily with comparative methods and data collected on the attendance of Scotland and other countries to the annual congresses preceding, including, and succeeding the 1911 Congress in Antwerp. This data comparison will highlight whether there were patterns to Scotland’s interaction with the Esperanto movement in the early 1900s. The use of comparison in transnational history, as well as my personal preference for it, will become apparent in this section, and may be highlighted if appropriate as a key aspect of research in any broader research that this project may propose. What early comparison of this data has already showed me is that there was a significant number of women each year in attendance of the conferences. I am ye unsure whether there will be a place for this to significantly contribute in this study, but it has been a striking aspect that I have stumbled across and so I would like to at least raise it at some point, perhaps with some of the ideas presented in a chapter by Roberto Garvia titled ‘Pacifists, Taylorists and Feminists’, that may have some pointers to the involvement of women in the movement – this angle will only be followed up if it fits in with the context of the rest of the project.

            Finally, there will be a section on the scholarship and prominent historiography surrounding the topic. This will indicate that there is a place for this commentary on the Scottish Esperantist, as most scholarship is focused on other European countries with little if any reference to the Scottish case. That said, it is possible that there are themes and ideas about the history of the Esperanto movement in these cases that could be applied to the Scottish example.

            By constructing these three sections, I hope to overall show 1. The context this project may find itself in; 2. That the Scottish movement is one of significance, deserving of study; and 3. That there is a gap for further research of this type.

What Happened Next?

   When we study transnational history, we so often look at different communities and cultures and the character and effects of their interactions. We look for the greater meaning and effect in these interactions and how they can inform our answers to some bigger, all important questions. I wonder if, that in doing this, we normalise and become de-sensitised to the real lives of these ‘transnational actors’ coming to only view them as characters who play a part in our studies and then are forgotten, no longer relevant to the ‘bigger picture’. However, surely much of the consequences of being a ‘transnational actor’ is that one’s view of the world has been affected by the interaction with another nation or culture, that this individual or group, comes through the event studied and is fundamentally influenced, perhaps changing their perceptions and thoughts on many aspects of their lives. Surely this is the lasting effect of being a ‘transnational actor’, and thus I am led to the question, what happens next?

            There is an article, titled ‘‘It’s the best place for them’: normalising Roma segregation in Madrid’ by P Gay y Blasco. It details events that took place in 2005 that were the eventual result of ethnic segregation policies that became viewed in the public image as the normal, even obvious, outcome. One of my main take-aways from this was that the practices and policies put in place construct a public image of things that becomes difficult to contest, we normalise to these facts of life and lack the interest or motivation to question them because that the way it is, isn’t it? And yet the article specifically suggests that these normalisations in society should be questioned more importantly challenged. Yet ironically it does what so many scholars are guilty of, and once the point that the people have exemplified has been made, we hear little about what happened next. Are Roma children in Madrid still segregated in their schools? Do they still stay where society has told them? Are there people working against this? What came next? The article has made its point, but there are still questions, still real people, whose lives have been affected by this, but that is not the point of the article.

            I don’t mean to suggest that we should follow up on all lives and interactions, for that would surely be impossible, and we must draw a line somewhere, otherwise it would never end and nothing would ever be published again. I think what I am trying to suggest is that there is always more to research and more effects of an event then we can likely comprehend. The effect that even talking to someone from another nation may have on a single individual could be untold, or it could mean nothing. I think what I am trying to suggest is that perhaps the long term effect on transnational actors and their ideas and judgements going forward could be just as significant as the immediate incident of interaction, and we, blessed as we are with the gift of hindsight should be looking not simply at the event or moment of interest, but the ongoing impact that this could have had. It seems worth asking the question at least? fffffffffffff

The Hour of Reflections – A Semester of Transnational Thought

Having been through an eventful and in many ways challenging semester, I am quite proud to say that my fellow students as well as yours truly are all rooted deeply in transnational perspectives and new units of analysis for our historiographical perspectives. To celebrate this, I decided to also conclude my series of blog posts with my reflections on our projects, discussions, and MO3351 in general. I will be typing for a whole hour without pause so as to elevate this endeavour to somewhat ceremonial heights.

Without a doubt my favourite aspect of the module was how we – and Milinda in particular – shed light in unison on how Anglo-centric the global intellectual landscape has been for the majority of history, and how it still is to some extent. Many of my childhood and adolescent frustrations were articulated rather clearly insofar as to challenge the Anglo-Franco hegemony in academia, intellectual history, and standards for normalcy. Indeed, Russian, Hungarian, Indian, and Near Eastern intellectuals have been in correspondence and close connection with the likes of John Locke, and Francis Fukuyama for most of modernity. And in fact, these towering intellects were not remarkable despite being from Russia or India, but because of their unique perspectives and often scathing criticism of the Western ivory tower. In general, they were extraordinary scholars in their own right and regardless of their nationality. I would like to reiterate from Haitian scholar Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s point, with which I also started the semester: Different groups and individuals have unequal access to the means of the production of history, and as such, some voices are silenced in historiography. For the first time since I came to St Andrews, this was not a colourful detail or a touch of intellectual inclusivity, but rather the base foundation of the module – the solid rock, upon which we built the Holy Mother Church that was MO3351. For this, I am quite grateful.

Furthermore, I also took immense pleasure in sharing the transnational elements of Hungarian history with the community. Being a Hungarian Jew is a cornerstone of the way I see myself, and it is something I derive a great deal of resilience and motivation from. I am glad that I was given the opportunity during discussion and writing blog posts to share elements of this identity, and elaborate on its respective transnational implications.

While I wasn’t present in person at the first two meetings due to illness, I spent a great deal of time immersing myself in the foundational literature of transnational history, and thoroughly enjoyed familiarising myself with the terminology and building up this new perspective of mine. The reason I wanted to become a historian is that the writing of history transcends time and space. By telling a narrative of Caesar’s conquest of Gaul the historian gets to be in charge of facts and figures, making the duty to report them accurately all the more sacred. Thereby I found it quite fitting that the historiographic craft can also transcend the limitations of artificial borders, and thereby abolishing the nation-state as history’s basic unit of analysis.

I also gained a degree of insight to the intricate difference between international and transnational history. Though it took me a bunch of time and effort to be able to articulate this, but I came to the conclusion that international history deals with global affairs between nation-states, whereas its transnational counterpart abolishes the nation-state as its unit of analysis altogether, therefore dealing with global trends and patterns without the restrictions of borders. I found this endeavour to be a rather liberating one, as well as quite worthwhile at the same time.

Conversely, the project I decided to undertake throughout the semester also aided me greatly in my long-term research effort, opening new horizons in exploring the global perception of German generals of World War II. Not only did the dichotomy of the international/transnational scopes of writing history help me articulate my thoughts on the matter much more clearly, but it also directed me towards new research on the subject, which will also prove to be invaluable while I undertake my dissertation. What’s more, I always knew that there were major discrepancies about how we commemorate Germany’s involvement in World War II, but it was MO3351 that helped me see the very global – and indeed, transnational – problems that these warped perceptions can and do lead to. There is a thriving neo-Nazi community in Mongolia. I’ll just let that sink in and move on, as my time is short.

Lastly, I would like to thank my fellow students of transnational history for their awesome work throughout the semester, for which I am also rather grateful. For example, I never thought I would be interested in the transnational history of whaling. And yet, by the time Olivia rolled out with her long-form presentation on the subject, I found myself harbouring ravenous amounts of anticipation to find out more about the matter at hand. In addition, I also really enjoyed Jospeh’s YouTube video about the transnational history of Maoism, and Ana’s wonderful research project about Ibero-American feminism. This is not to say per se that the rest of my fellow students didn’t do a wonderful job. Quite the contrary! They did such a wonderful job, that I simply haven’t had the time to immerse myself in their work to the same degree as I did with those I mentioned above.

To sum up – as my Hour of Reflection is running out – I found MO3351 to be an extraordinarily refreshing and intellectually challenging module. As opposed to some of my other modules that failed to grip my investment, I found these challenges posed by MO3351 to be less gruelling, and derived much valour and perseverance from them for my university studies in general. I relished the class discussion both in person and on Microsoft Teams, and I found Bernhard and Milinda’s dedication to the subject truly admirable and something I look up to. I would like to thank all of you for an exhilarating semester.

Spanish Flu in Spain, America, France, and… China?!

Although the Spanish Flu Project fell through this did not prevent me from preparing a blog post on the subject, as I found the topic rather fascinating even before the current pandemic. Having done further research on the matter I concluded that the parallels between Corrie O’Ronah and the Spanish Flu are even more striking than I previously assessed. Many people don’t know, but whether the virus originated from China is unclear in both cases. The Spanish Flu having claimed – according to some estimates – up to 100 million lives – which my dear friend Jerry DeGroot points out is more than either world wars – it is fascinating to study how it remains overshadowed to this day by atrocities that were consciously inflicted by people. Surely, if the Spanish Flu happened in any other century than the 20th, it would have been the single greatest tragedy of the period.

That said, a pandemic like the Spanish Flu would have been impossible without the interconnected and indeed, very transnational global context of the early 20th century. The Black Death™ or Justinian’s Plague killed off higher percentages of the population than Spanish Flu, but took place in a world much less interconnected than post-WWI Europe and it is modern research that shows that those pandemics were Eurasian phenomena, as opposed to the contemporary perceptions of it. The Spanish Flu was perceived – and rightly so – as a global health crisis, and I would argue as the first one of such kind. Soldiers returning from the front, travelling on crowded vessels across the oceans, and en masse unsanitary conditions across the trenches, no mans lands and mass graves of Europe, as well as the general lack of orderly procedures facilitated – if not caused – the Spanish Flu pandemic, the spread of which was further perpetuated by a global network of trade, migration, and other forms of interaction.

However, the above-detailed interconnectivity of nations on a global scale also bred enquiries into where this deadly virus originated from. Accusations were made, boogeymen were designated, and old frustrations and prejudices were resurfacing, hinting at yet another one in the striking line of analogies with COVID-19.

The first of these nations, on which particular blame was placed was the titular country of Spain, indicated in the name we use to refer to the Spanish Flu. While we know for sure with the power of hindsight that Spain was most definitely not the origin of the virus, it is quite intriguing to evaluate why it was designated as such. There was a sentiment in the newly forming global community, which slowly evolved into the League of Nations by 1920, that the blame must not be placed on countries that were belligerents in the preceding conflict, which was then perceived as ‘the war to end all wars’. Thereby it was neutral Spain that reached the top in the long list of countries involved in the litany of theories revolving around the origins of the pandemic. This is not to say that at the time other theories weren’t present, in fact quite the contrary was true. In addition, there also seemed to be solid clues as to why Spain could have been the country of origin for this killing export. However, as we all know, those who control the language wield quite the power. And as such, it was a matter of diplomacy, rather than that of science that the terminology of the Spanish Flu was determined in the way it was.

Moving on, the next suspect on the list was France, and more precisely the Brest area that attracted particular attention in regard to the suspected origin of coronavirus the Spanish Flu. Perhaps it requires little explanation for why the masses of soldiers living right next to the corpses of their dead comrades bred suspicion as to the origin of the virus. Furthermore, even in the direct wake of the war, there were myriad – from a current perspective – necessary health regulations sacrificed at the altar of returning to normalcy. Soldiers were crammed together in barracks at a scale never seen before, and as they returned home they scattered the germs accumulated across the frontlines all over the world. Australian, New Zealander, and Indian, as well as Maghreb and Sub-Saharan soldiers all fought in the trenches of Old Europe, and many of them weren’t here to stay. In fact, their travels back and forth across the oceans, along with the mass transport of around one million American troops probably served as primary conduits for the spread of the pandemic.

Another theory, and indeed the one we hold to be the most likely one today was that the Spanish Flu originated from a military pig farm near a military base in Kansas. Given that we now know that the pandemic was a strain of H1N1, which often originate from swine, we have the scientific tools to be able to tell based on patterns in the spread of the virus and in the international reception that Patient 0 likely ate from a communal meal at that military base, infected by a mutated pig that carried the virus.

However, given the current state of world affairs, the most striking theory is that the virus originated from China. Given the early 20th century’s constitutional malarky and War Lord Period in China, the documentation of the pandemic lagged behind. Indeed, an unusually mild flu season was reported in China in 1918, which might have been the result of poor documentation on the account of the the above-mentioned reasons. However, many at the time, as well as the renowned epidemiologist Claude Hannoun in 1993 speculated that the virus must have originated from China, then spreading to the United States, and then Brest, with the Allied forces being the primary carriers for the disease. This was reinforced by the notion of the mild flu season in China, which Hannoun argued could have been the caused by the Chinese population building up immunity to the Spanish Flu, and unknowingly carrying it to America and Europe. This theory seemed to be supported by the tens of thousands of Chinese workers behind the frontlines in Western Europe. Humphries in 2014 also unearthed documents suggesting the spread of a respiratory disease in China in 1917, feeding into the theory of early immunity. A year later in 2016 however, further evidence was found of the circulation of the Spanish Flu in Europe even before the Chinese records. Thereby it is unlikely that China was the origin of the Spanish Flu.

In conclusion, many speculations can be made as to how relatively recent accusations regarding the spread of the Spanish Flu feed into anti-Chinese sentiment in the West today, and as well as to how the current Chinese regime deflects blame based on these recent findings being false. With the current pandemic going on however, it would be unwise and irresponsible to articulate said speculations. What is relevant from a transnational standpoint is that in the globally interconnected age if a pandemic shows up on the radar, the community will start pointing fingers. And where those fingers are pointed have a lasting effect on how we preserve the memory of such tragedies.

Last Blog Post – Final Thoughts

           My last blog post is more of a thank you, though it unfortunately is nowhere near as thrilling as Grant’s amazing haiku. This module has been a wonderful experience, both because of the people in it as well as the content itself. It has been nothing like any other module at St Andrews that I have taken, and I am incredibly grateful to have taken a hold of this opportunity. I remember early at the beginning of the semester I wasn’t sure if this was a path I wanted to go down, as with all the theory we were getting into, I was feeling a bit out of depth. But now, I realise that the theory-intensive weeks were an appropriate way to start the semester. Articles such as the AHR Conversation were great ways to gain understanding about the debates surrounding the fields of transnational and global history. Having the base of theory and then moving on to case studies made for a smooth transition of understanding how the theory/methods/perspectives could be utilised with actual concrete examples. All of this then contributed to the preparation to pick project topics. Although the possibilities were endless for what topic to go for, and I admit I had some trouble coming up with ideas, I admire the way that this module allowed everyone to pick something they were truly interested or passionate about. Unlike your typical honours modules, it was challenging but also quite liberating not having to pick pre-chosen topics/essay questions from an assigned list. I found it fascinating to see where other people’s passions lay and loved the process of watching everyone develop and make progress on their chosen projects. I can quite clearly see now how a module such as this is great preparation for our upcoming dissertations next year.

            As I said in a previous blog post, whaling is a topic that I knew very little about and had been in the periphery of my understanding for quite some time. I am thankful that this module has allowed me to delve further into the industry and come to a better understanding of how it operated and the wide-reaching effects that it had. This module has given me a greater appreciation for the developing methods and perspectives that are contained within the field of history. It has, in a sense, reinvigorated my interests and has given me a fresh new way to experience the topic and engage with material. As I think ahead to my future, perhaps I am not unlike Charmaine, and a MLitt in Transnational History is not out of the realm of possibilities…

Thank you Bernhard and Milinda for such a memorable semester!

Where be Hungarians?

Edit: I’ve been preparing this post for a while now, and it turned out to be my magnum opus, as well as a culmination of my series of Hungarian themed posts. Release the Kraken! Enjoy!

Where be Hungarians? I touched upon multiple facets of Hungarian identities and socio-psychological phenomena. But where are they? Before you throw an atlas in my face, let me stress that yes, I know, Hungarians are in Hungary. But this is transnational history. And indeed, this module opened my eye to the historical patterns of Hungarians migrating all over the world, and Hungarian diasporas showing up in the most unlikely places. How does a Hungarian rabbi end up in Montevideo, where he preaches in a Hungarian synagogue to a congregation of Hungarian Jews? Well, he was my ancestor through the Liedemann line, from whom my family, the Metzgers are descended . The name was changed from von Metz to Metzger, to Mészáros. (I was considering changing it back to Metzger after I moved to Scotland, but I decided to give you guys a hard time instead.) That said, my ancestor in Montevideo anticipated little about the interconnected and wide-spread network of Hungarian diasporas in the 21st century world, such as about my patriotic Hungarian uncle living in Basel, Switzerland, who escaped from Hungary much later, in the 1960s. I would like to elaborate on the various Hungarian communities in the world, how they ended up there, and how they remained connected throughout the years.

Most notable of famous Hungarian expats is most likely the founder of modern Zionism, Theodore Herzl, who happened to go to the same high school as I did, back in Budapest, albeit more than a hundred years apart. While Herzl himself needs no introduction, as he is widely regarded as a rather significant figure as the Chairman of the First Zionist Congress, the story of his cousin, Jenő Heltai is a much more intriguing one. Heltai stayed in Hungary despite the urging of Herzl to migrate to the Holy Land. Heltai was a reformed Jew, and as such much more neatly integrated into Hungarian society at large. In fact, he refused to leave the country even during the Second World War, when Jews faced prosecution and genocide. Heltai was so insistent on staying in Hungary that he asked the governor Miklós Horthy for a letter of immunity from the Nazis, which would have allowed him to leave with a British passport, but he refused, and locked himself into his cellar instead. His diaries are an invaluable account of the atrocities committed by the Arrow Cross during the final days of the war. Heltai himself survived, and thankfully his biggest complaint based on his diaries was that he ran out of pipe tobacco around December, 1944, and resorted to smoking herbs and spices instead, just like the invading Red Army, whose infamous blend of tar, grass, and herbs (machorka) was a staple of the Soviet experience of World War II.

However, much more interesting are the Hungarians who left. Sándor Márai for example immigrated to America during the hard line communist dictatorship of the 50s, and ended up in San Diego, on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. He documented his entire journey and his prior experiences in Hungary in a quite elaborate manner, and his published journals served as a scathing criticism of the regimes in Hungary. President Reagan personally wrote to him on his 75th birthday, and proclaimed him to be a vanguard of democracy and freedom. To this day, Márai remains a national icon and has a cult following within the Hungarian intelligentsia. In San Diego a Hungarian community centre bares his name, where Hungarian children can learn about the motherland, and incorporating their Hungarian studies into their new American identities.

A pair of Hungarian nuclear scientists worked on the Manhattan Project as well, namely Ede Teller and Leó Szilárd. Both of them Jewish – they immigrated to the United States along with Albert Einstein and were awarded medals by presidents Truman and Eisenhower respectively. Reading Einstein’s biographies, it seems apparent to the reader that Teller’s contributions to the atomic bomb were crucial in the preliminary phase of research, whereas Szilárd was overseeing the development of the hydrogen bomb. Hungarian scientists worked on the development of modern science en masse, and nearly all in immigration, the exception being Albert Szentgörgyi, who discovered a method to extract vitamin C from paprika. János Neumann left Hungary as a Jew in the late 1920s because anti-semitism was on the rise, and went on to invent game theory and the first modern computer in Germany, then in America. Furthermore, Imre Kertész was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature for his auto-biographical novel, Fateless, recounting his experiences as a fourteen years old boy in Auschwitz. Having survived the camp, he returned to Budapest, but also faced prosecution by the communist regime, thereby escaping to West Germany, where he worked on his book for twenty years. A further twenty years passed between the initial publication and the Nobel Prize in 2002, after which the Hungarian neoliberal left proclaimed him to be their hero, but Kertész refused their support, claiming that they would turn him into a ‘holocaust clown’. He suffered from depression all his life and died of old age in 2016. May his memory be an inspiration to all of us.

A great many Hungarians ended up in much more unlikely places. The oddest towns across the American Midwest have flourishing Hungarian communities, such as the Twin Cities in Minnesota, or Cincinnati in Ohio. These communities have been aiding the resistance movement in Hungary for the last 150 years, ever since Lajos Kossuth, the leader of the Hungarian uprising of 1848 against the Habsburgs was banished. He founded many Hungarian communities in America, and assisted the work of utopian socialist thinker, the Scotsman Robert Owen, who built phalansteries in the New World, where the workers held communal ownership of the means of production. Hungarian Jews are still a notable chunk of the Orthodox community in Williamsburg, many of whom are descendants of the Szatmár Jewish community in Eastern Hungary, who faced wide-spread prosecution in the late 1890s, as a result of a young Christian girl being murdered in the village of Tiszaeszlár, and the townsfolk blaming it on the Jews, who supposedly baked her blood into their bread. Despite the Prime Minister’s best efforts, the community was nearly wiped out, and their descendants formed a diaspora in 1920s New York.

Jews and political refugees aren’t the only kinds of Hungarians living abroad however. In fact, many of them did not make the decision consciously, but it was the 1920 Treaty of Trianon that caused the border to simply go over their heads. For this reason, out of the roughly 15 million Hungarians alive today, around 2.5 million live in neighbouring countries, such as the Vojvodina Hungarians in Northern Serbia, the Burgenland Hungarians in Austria, or the Hungarian minorities in Western Ukraine and Southern Slovakia. Most notable of them are the Székely tribe of Transylvania, who were the first Hungarians to migrate to the Carpathian Basin, as long ago as the early 880s. Their culture is a unique blend of Hungarian patriotism, and rural Romanian culture, and they preserved one of the most colourful Hungarian dialects, along with their trans-Carpathian compatriots, the Csángó. I take immense pride in meeting Székely people in St Andrews, and being able to converse with them in Hungarian, be they from New York, or Nagyvárad (Ordaea, Romania).

A famous comedian Louis CK also elaborated on his Hungarian ancestry in his latest special. Indeed, CK does not stand for anything, it is just a more palatable way of pronouncing Székely for Americans, which might also help you in the endeavour if you were wondering. Coincidentally, but not indicating his lineage, his Jewish family converted to Catholicism in the early 1920s, adopting the Székely family name. CK’s grandfather, Géza Székely was not convinced that the changed name would be suffiecient to shield them from prosecution, so he fled to Mexico with his family, where Louis CK himself resided until he was seven. The rest of their lineage was wiped out by the Nazis, 44 members of their family, if we believe CK.

To sum up, the global Hungarian community stands together on June 4 of each year, which is the Day of National Belonging. On this day each year, expats come back to Hungary to help the disadvantaged members of the community and schoolboys are involved in charity programs to help the poor. I myself took part in this endeavour, having taken children with Down Syndrome to a sailing trip around Lake Balaton, the largest body of water in Central Europe. The date marks the anniversary of the Treaty of Trianon, the very signatories of which ended up spending their life in immigration in Paris and London, such as Count Albert Apponyi, whose brilliant speech in defense of Hungary was told in four languages at Trianon, but achieved little more than compassion on part of the Entente Cordiale. Fragmented and challenged by the tides of 20th century history, the transnational community of Hungary keeps in touch and remains well-organised and interconnected to this day.

Dogma and mysticism – a brief transnational history of the duality of faith

It is widely accepted that the two most foundational influences of western civilisation are Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman traditions. However, few scholars go the extra mile in deriving actual teleological significance from these foundations, with the most remarkable exception being the Hungarian philosopher, Béla Hamvas. As a much prosecuted mystic and student of Theology and Philosophy, Hamvas faced significant neglect throughout his adult life, exercising the notion of secessio mons sacer from the various oppressive regimes of the short 20th century. This however, did not prevent post-socialist thinkers from recognising the uncanny significance of Hamvas, hailing him in the few golden years between the end of socialism and the infection of capitalism as one of the most important traditionalist thinkers in history. As one of his posthumous students put it:

In 1955 in Hungary there lived only one single person who could have not only conversed but actually exchanged views with Heraclitus, Buddha, Lao Tse, and Shakespeare, and that in each one’s mother tongue. If these four prophets of the human spirit had gotten off the plane in Tiszapalkonya, and if they had addressed the first laborer they came across, and if this had happened to be Béla Hamvas himself, after talking for three nights straight – during the day Hamvas had to carry mortar, but perhaps his guests would have given him a hand – well then, what might they have thought: if in this country the unskilled laborers are like this man, what then might the scholars be like? But had they looked around the country, they would have understood everything.

Géza Szőcs

Indeed, Hamvas was one of the greatest thinkers in the history of mankind, a grand master, whose writings – I am honoured to say – initiated me into adulthood, and hold much significance in determining my view of the world. I am a firm believer that his work must be introduced to foreign audiences, and it seems only apparent that he must be acknowledged as the towering intellect he was.

But why is his work to be considered relevant from a transnational perspective? Whatever I write here will inevitably end up as a mere watered-down reduction of Hamvas’ deep and elaborate philosophy, but given that it is my life’s mission to follow in his footsteps and live up to his memory, I have no choice but to try my best.

Hamvas claims that Judeo-Christian tradition was based on dogma, orthodoxy, Pharisee-morality, and faith derived from practice – simply put, G-d being in the centre. As Diderot famously gave the advice: Do not seek to believe just out of the blue. Go to church, say your prayers when you can, think about G-d, and read the lives of saints. Belief will come naturally. Hamvas follows up elaborating on how Greco-Roman tradition instead relies on mysticism, deviancy, and faith derived from personal fate – simply put, the individual being in the centre. one can see the pattern leading to hypocrisy being inherent to Judeo-Christian tradition, and corruption being inherent to Greco-Roman tradition, of course to varying degrees in both cases. This duality manifested in Rome coopting Christianity, and thereby uniting the two traditions, however, this proved to be only a cosmetic touch, and the two traditions went on parallel to one another, determining the history of Europe. It is also elaborated on that transnationally speaking, there were region- and continent-wide trends in the spirit of each epoch after the fall of Rome, directly corresponding with one of the two above-mentioned traditions.

Rome fell, and with it fell corruption and Greco-Roman tradition for a long period. This does not mean per se that there was no corruption in the Middle Ages, but it manifested more along the lines of hypocrisy. The term zeitgeist comes to mind. None of these periods are clear-cut, or exclusive, but they do encompass rather neatly the cyclicality of European history, regardless of the nation state being the fundamental unit of analysis in regards to temporal affairs and chronology. Rome lived on in Byzantium and in the Corpus Iuris Civilis, upon which we base our legal system we inherited. However, the zeitgeist shifted from mysticism to dogma, and orthodoxy. The Middle Ages were thereby followed by the Renaissance, where humanism arose, G-d was no longer in the centre and hypocrisy was replaced once more with corruption. Conversely, the following Baroque, Neo-Classicism, and Romanticism eras made this switch thrice more, with the latter finally “killing G-d”, and styles and intellectual movements defining whole ages were shattered into multiple paths of thought, and eventually even those gave way to the oversaturated neoliberal technocratic nightmare we inhabit today.

What is important to take away from the above-detailed theory might very well be the most important source of legitimacy for transnational history. If one can identify the underlying relation to G-d throughout the different periods and epochs of history as a transnational, or better put nationless notion, then the romantic idea of a nation-state as such ceases to serve as a unit of analysis altogether. These very ideas came to be only after the fall of said duality. There was no French, Italian, or Hungarian nation prior to modernity. In historical terms, it is the idea of the nation-state that needs justification, not the writing of history in transnational terms. The terminology might be brand new. But people only started writing national histories around 200 years ago. It is national history that is the radical idea, and according to Hamvas, studying the history of mankind with the transcending of borders is an important return to the old way. The good way. The traditional way. “Follow not the ancients. But follow what the ancients followed.” The discipline might be new. But the underlying sentiment is age-old.

The Universal S: A Global Pre Digital Meme

Has the Mystery of the "S" Been Solved? | Know Your Meme

Do you recognize this symbol?

Chances are that the answer is yes. But what is it? Is it an S? An 8? A sideways infinity sign?

You’ve probably seen it in children’s notebooks and on graffitied walls, or maybe you even like to draw it yourself? That’s because for over a century this symbol has been replicated in classrooms and on walls in every continent (well, except for Antarctica). And It’s even found in places which don’t use the Roman alphabet. Though pattern is universal in the sense that it can be found everywhere, no one can be sure when or how it originated, or even what it symbolizes. Can we really consider it a symbol if its meaning is unknown? Or is it simply symbolic of our propensity to replicate and an obsession with symmetry?

Cool S - Wikipedia

If there is no explicit meaning then perhaps it can be better labelled a ‘meme’, a term which was coined by the public intellectual Richard Dawkins in his seminal work from 1976 The Selfish Gene—a man who I unfortunately failed to see speak at St Andrews in 2018. In this book, Dawkins seeks to explain why some ideas, even those which are dangerous or trivial, like martyrdom for example, continue to persist and proliferate. What he argues is that ideas, regardless of their merit, are in constant competition to survive in a state of natural selection. These ideas can spread like viruses, unconcerned with the wellbeing of their hosts (I.E. penance and martyrdom) and the term meme itself is derived from the Greek “mimeme”, meaning something imitated or viral. Thus, this ‘Universal S’ should be thought of not as a symbol, but rather as a meme, because it has no apparent meaning or utility, yet like a virus it continues to persist.

With the advent of the internet and mass media this memetic phenomenon has become even more apparent and it seems that no matter where we look our image world is already mediated.  In fact, the word meme has become entirely associated with the internet, even if it’s not a uniquely digital. There are a few other pre-digital examples of memes which come to mind, like Kilroy, a WW2 era graffiti cartoon of unknown origin.

How 'Kilroy Was Here' Changed the World | Live Science

I don’t have the time in this post to explain the entire (albeit short) history of the Universal S and the search for its origins, but I’ll try and give a short summary of evidence thus far and the leading theories.

Perhaps the most plausible theory is that the S was an easily replicated pattern to be included into textiles, carvings, and other designs which may have stretched back to the middle ages or even before, possibly representative of the ancient symbol of infinity or the ouroboros (snake eating itself). However, it’s hard to find concrete evidence of this is.

Another theory is that the S was simply a geometric puzzle included in challenge books from the 19th and 20th century. These books, such as matchstick books, may have for example asked you to “draw an S or an eight using 14 lines or matchsticks.” This challenge then would have been shared between classmates, families, and co-workers as a way to pass time. And without any inherent symbolic meaning or use past this, no one would have ever taken the time to formally document its origins or spread.

The most comprehensive study I could find therefore comes from the Scandinavian youtuber, Lemmino, who spent years exploring puzzle books, forums, and graffiti. Though he can’t be sure where the S originated, the earliest use he could find was in an engineering guide pamphlet from 1890. Lemmino also discovered another important usage of two Universal S’s in artist Jean-Michel Basquiat’s seminal work, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Derelict.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Derelict, 1982 - Jean-Michel ...

Because the Universal S is so insignificant, it has gone more or less undetected in academia and formal channels. In fact, the only theory relating to the S I could find from an academic came from Paul Cobley, a professor of Language and Media at Middelsex University who offers a simple, yet insightful argument that the S spread so far because “It’s fun to draw”. And maybe this is the answer to such an unimportant question.

The Naturist Movement

Two weeks ago Bernhard and Milinda opened class with a discussion of the transnationality of nudism and ‘the global naturist movement’. While this light-hearted conversation was clearly meant to be only a quirky way to pass the time until everyone had joined the call, I can’t help but see this as a challenge to write a blog post on the movement—especially after listening to an episode about it on my favourite history podcast, The Dollop. In this episode, the podcast presenters open with a wonderful quotation on the ever idiosyncratic American founding father, Benjamin Franklin, that serves as what I agree is a good introduction to this topic.

But I’ve found it much more agreeable to my constitution to bath in another element, cold air. With this in view I rise every morning and sit in my chamber without any clothes whatsoever—half an hour to an hour reading or writing.” — Benjamin Franklin, 1750.

In fact, nudism (also known as naturism) has a long history in America, especially with those in the political and social elite. There were also many other famous American men who enjoyed nude activities. John Quincy Adams, Walt Whitman, Thomas Jefferson, and later Henry David Thoreau and Theodore Roosevelt.

While these persons may all have been men of influence, their penchant for bareness was more of an personal ritual and cannot be considered part of a movement and was still considered radical in early America. And though the word naturism would be coined in 1778 by the Belgian Jean Baptiste Luc Planchon as a term to describe healthy living, it would not be until the end of the 19th century that it would become synonymous with nakedness.

The first documented naturist club, the ‘Fellowship of the Naked Trust’, was established in British India in 1891 by Charles Edward Gordon Crawford, an English judge for the Bombay Civil Service. But the commune struggled to find members and dissolved upon Crawford’s death in 1894.

In 1902, a German philosopher named Henrich Pudor published a set of articles and later a book promoting the social and practical benefits of nudity in education and sports, namely in body/class image and mobility. Though naturism, termed Nacktkultur, borrowed from the contemporary Lebensreform and Wandervogel movements which promoted athletics and healthy living, it more than anything took hold as a reaction to rapid industrialization and urbanization. By spending time in nature, getting exercise, and eating a plant based diet—all while naked of course—naturists hoped to counteract what they saw as negative aspects of urban life like disease and pollution. At this same time, many more liberal doctors were also prescribing fresh air and sunlight (or heliopathy) as treatment for Tuberculosis, Rheumatism, Scrofula, and Rickets. In 1921, the Frisian island of Sylt opened its first official nudist beach as a getaway destination and in 1930 the Berlin School of Nudism opened—though this was less of a school and more of an advocacy group. From 1902-1932, many of these early German naturists read and participated in the publication of the first journal of nudism. Initially, the naturist movement was associated with left wing political movements, pacifists, and homosexuals. For this reason, restrictions were placed on naturists in Germany when Hitler’s regime took power. As Germans fled for America in the late 1920s, they often found themselves living in cities even larger and more urbanized than their German counterparts. Soon, dozens of naturist camps began to pop up in the areas surrounding American cities and became a regular destination for more than just German immigrants, especially in summer months.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, naturism as a movement, like other organizations of the time, began to lose its universalist identity as certain clubs became open only to members of the landed class or certain ethnic/religious groups. In 1951, several national European and American nudist groups came together to form the International Naturist Federation or INF. But, since this type of organization and politicization of nudity was in conflict with its grass roots origins, many naturists preferred not to join. Thus, while historians can trace networks of naturists using data from groups like the INF, they are unable to account for the many who existed outside.

Through the second half of the 20th century and up to today, naturism has found its niche within the hospitality industry as many resorts and clubs have begun to offer the same types of amenities as their clothed counterparts. Today there even exist nudist cruises and five start hotels, while in Croatia up to 15% of their tourism sector can be attributed to nudist retreats. This new nakedness, however, cannot perhaps be referred to as naturism even if it is nudism, as it has become out of touch with its countercultural origins. Still, there are countless less formal nude beaches and parks in operation worldwide as many people continue to advocate the naturist lifestyle. One such advocate is Dame Helen Mirren, who once said, ‘I do believe in naturism and am my happiest on a nude beach with people of all ages and races.’ Some of these modern naturists even continue the movements political traditions, like those who practice the lifestyle in Indonesia, defying the country’s strict laws against public nudity. Other groups like the Young Naturists and Nudists America have sought to bring nakedness and healthy outdoor living to young people as a mean of coping with a society that is so plagued by issues of body image, substance abuse, and a lack of exercise.

“By being unencumbered by clothing,” argues a writer for menswear magazine The Rake, “we reconnect with a state of pre-Judeo/Christian guilt, one of utter innocence and joyful embracement [of nature and humanity].”