With the presentations complete, and now on the home stretch for this module, I’m attempting to think once again about the age old question of what is transnational history. Way back in Week 1 we read Patricia Clavin’s ‘Defining Transnationalism’ and this has gone on to become our unofficial module Bible. One thing about this article that became very apparent after Tuesday was the idea that Transnational History is a perspective which allows networks to be traced and for the development of concepts without a focus on the nation-state. With presentations concerning the religion of Regla de Ocha to nomads in France to the condom, the vast array of projects really promoted this idea. Whether to focus upon a product, (the AGA), and how it moved, or an institution, (the Red Cross), and its impact or work within many countries, or even an idea, (welfare state), and its progress, does not make it easy to properly define transnational history.
However, this is one of the great aspects of transnational history; that it can cover so many areas/years/themes. To say that you are a transnational historian describes how you study history rather than what you study. It does not matter whether this is a micro history of one person or product or a more general overview but to view the interconnectedness of something throughout the globe means that a transnational perspective is being taken. When Clavin spoke of the multi-textured forces which shape the destines of individuals, institutions and countries, I underestimated to what extent this is true. To get an accurate representation of the history of anything, all angles, sides and connections in between need to be viewed and this is something that transnational history attempts to do. Transnational (and its value) lies in its openness as a historical concept.
And while I have offered no real definition of what transnational history is, that is the important idea, that it can cover so many areas and is not refined to a set time period or geographic location. But it is how you look at your region of study that makes it transnational.
Clavin, Patricia, ‘Defining Transnationalism’, Contemporary European History 14/4 (2005), 421-439