From Jan Rüger’s brief article on the challenges of studying transnational history, I found his point on nation-states quite intriguing, and perhaps a little surprising at first. After reading many articles critical of the construct of the nation-state in my five semesters in the School of History, I was surprised to read Rüger’s statement that transnational history “does not reject the nation-state as an entity of study.” But if one considers the nature of transnational history, this statement should not be a shock. In a way, nation-states are a prerequisite for transnational history to exist, as one cannot study the interaction between different people, cultures, and governments across borders if there are no borders to begin with. Nation-states give historians clear boundaries from which to work from, thus slightly easing their job.
The histories of these nation-states are also important to the study of transnational history, as one will be unable to understand the broader circumstances in which transnational interaction takes place. Rüger demonstrates this by showing how different historiographies painted different pictures in examining OXO: Germany and Britain appeared to be collaborating partners in many ways from the perspective of transnational history, whereas diplomatic history shows their relationship to be much more antagonistic as rivals in the global imperial theater. He thus concludes that “we cannot afford to isolate the transnational perspective from the more traditional narrative of European nation states” in the study of European history. While transnational history appears in many ways to be a cutting-edge field in academia- perhaps dangerously so- it does not discredit a very traditional method of studying history, one that has been brought into question by other approaches to the discipline.
However, the fact that one sees a completely new picture when examining the transnational history of Anglo-German relations suggests that there is much to learn from transnational history alone. Rüger’s particular example sheds a new light on a topic most European historians are all too familiar with, an achievement which would not have been possible through the more traditional lens of diplomatic history. This study of a meat extract company might actually reveal the full (and exciting) possibilities of transnational history. By undertaking a study of the links and flows between nations, one might paint an entirely new picture of a series of events or developments that could change our understanding of them.
The possibilities of transnational study are endless. Were the USA and the USSR actually polar opposites during the Cold War? Just how ‘third-world’ are third-world countries? To what extent is there a racial apartheid in Israel today? These are only a few questions I believe can be tackled with a study of transnational history, of course while not abandoning previous work done by historians of culture, nation-states, and even grand narratives.
Rueger, Jan, ‘OXO: Or, the Challenges of Transnational History’, European History Quarterly 40/4 (2010), pp.656-http://ehq.sagepub.com/content/40/4/656.full.pdf+html