It feels like just yesterday that I was sitting in MO3351 for the first time, somewhat apprehensive about the semester. I’ll be completely honest and say that the reason I was wary of the module had nothing to do with how it was taught or the workload, but rather the subject material of the weekly reading. I dislike historiography (HI2001 was a dark time in my life), something I think stems from three semesters of studying almost exclusively theoretical approaches to the other part of my degree, International Relations (IR). My history modules were always sort of my escape from the endless talk of paradigms and epistemology and relativism that seemed to haunt every aspect of IR. Trying to do the early readings in this course, therefore, was an unpleasant awakening. I remember going home after the first seminar determined to switch modules – I felt out of my depth and like I was in the wrong module completely.
Of course, I realize that my aversion to theory is a personal problem. I know that historiography is a serious and in fact vital part of studying history. History is a subjective field and as a result, in order to represent the past accurately we must understand how we approach its study. My boredom and annoyance with academic theory is my own issue – just because writing a historiography essay feels like pulling teeth does not mean that it is unimportant, merely that it is definitely not my forte.
However, just because I complained a lot about transnational historiography does not mean that I did not learn a great deal from or enjoy this module. Like Ollie mentioned in his previous blog post, I feel that I have come away from this module with an actual (if not perfect) understanding of what transnational history actually is. Before, I had simply assumed it meant history that had occurred outside of the borders of a specific country – any history of World War I would thus be automatically transnational, because WWI was global in scope. I did not connect the ‘transnational’ element as referring to a movement of actors, goods, and ideas across borders, nor did I understand the importance of networks in transnational history (Andy’s blog post on Actor-Network Theory was particularly helpful in this).
I also noted a definite improvement – or at least acknowledgement – of my work habits through this semester. Having to write down exactly how many coffees I will go to in order to avoid work was truly sobering. I found our pair-writing exercises far more effective than I thought they would be, and even the day I was most dreading – our Saturday seminar, of course – to be beneficial. While I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those people that plans their assignments out months in advance or finishes them weeks ahead of time, our repeated check-ins on our respective progress certainly made me more aware of and proactive towards deadlines.
Finally, despite my earlier melodramatic complaints about historiography, I genuinely enjoyed this module. My semester-long (and ongoing) project on the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 is the longest amount of time I have spent focusing on one specific topic, and instead of becoming bored with the flu, I’ve only become more interested. I’ve particularly appreciated the format of the class, and I feel like the discussion and collaboration helped me both in terms of my project and also in understanding transnational history. After years of sitting in lectures or classes in which the students did all of the listening and none of the speaking, I felt more like an adult and less of a high school student in our discussions. This module may not have been what I expected, but I think the tools I gained from it and the new understanding I have of transnational history made it very much worthwhile.