At the closing of last week’s seminar, we discussed the word “transnational” itself, and whether people prioritised the ‘trans’ or the ‘national’ parts of the word. Personally, I like to emphasise transnational history’s ‘trans’ component over its ‘national’, but I found it extremely interesting to learn that there were some who preferred its ‘national’; I wonder whether my interpretation and emphasis will change by the end of the semester.

This week’s readings gave us even more concrete examples of how the framework/methodology of transnational history can be utilised. I chose to read the selections from Transnational Lives: Biographies of Global Modernity, 1700-Present as I was curious to see how transnational history could be explored through the medium of biographies (or how biographies could be explored through the medium of transnational history). The introduction provided another useful outlook of how the authors intended to use the transnational framework to tell their stories, stating poignantly, “Lives elude national boundaries; but biography the telling of life stories, has often been pressed into the service of nation, downplaying its fleeting acknowledgement of lives lived in motion” (p. 2). I love the idea of “lives lived in motion”, I think it greatly exemplifies what transnational interpretations are here to represent and emphasise.

Looking at the first chapter by Martha Hodes, which explores the life of Eunice Connolly, a wife of a sea captain from the British West Indies, I was reminded of Milinda’s critique on the OXO essay, as Hodes used the framework of transnational history alongside a feminist investigation that was not explored in the OXO essay. This chapter in particular was helpful as it served as an example of how one can use other schools of historical thought or lens alongside transnational history. Hodes also discussed the challenges she experienced while writing: the challenges of writing a narrative that was both local and global, archival gaps, and proving the historical significance of Connolly’s transnational life. Her admittance of these difficulties exemplifies the challenges of transnational writing, but Hodes’s self awareness allowed her to delve even further in her analysis.

I most enjoyed chapter 15 by Penny Russell, and her analysis on Jane Franklin, who reached across borders to appeal for the search of her missing husband and his crew, who had gone on an arctic exploration and failed to return. There was a lot to unpack in Franklin’s story, where Franklin herself “blended her appeals to universal female sympathy, the bonds of the ‘civilised world’, the ties of a cosmopolitan scientific community and the special interests of nation” (p. 205).

Although I am still not sure about what direction to go in for my final project and imminent first essay, this week’s readings certainly gave me insight to the possibilities, and have given me a lot to think about.

Lives Lived in Motion