The Uses of Transnational History

In the 2006 AHR Conversation there seemed to be general agreement that transnational history meets the need to go beyond a narrative determined by politically defined territories, which, particularly in the shape of the nation, has been the focus of traditional history writing. Another driving factor behind transnational history and the related field of global history is the belief in globalization as an important feature of the contemporary world and a transnational approach seems particularly relevant to an age where states are challenged by international organisations. This connection to the recent past is the source Bayly’s reservations about the term at the start of the discussion given that ‘transnational’ assumes a world dominated by nations and as Connelly says it is meaningless for most of world history. The advantage ‘transnational’ has over ‘global’ history is that few historians actually work on a global scale which may in any case result in oversimplifying. While the term transnational history implies that it deals with nations, and Seed discusses the benefits of taking this contemporary concept as the basis for comparisons with the past, the approach can also be used in studies transcending other political units such as empires. The consensus is that transnational history is concerned with circulations of any sort: migration, ideas, commodities, etc., and as such may be based in the study of a specific network or a geographical area associated with such networks such as oceans and borderlands. The focus on circulation allows actors to be treated independently from the state to which they may ‘belong’ and the interest suggested by Hofmeyr in viewing these circulations as central to the historical process would raise issues obscured by national histories. A study of networks might also allow a better understanding of how interactions were perceived and experienced than a broader approach would but participants in the conversation still stressed the importance of engaging with grand narratives as a provocation to further debate and useful in writing connected histories.

The extent to which transnational history is a method may depend on the individual historian, but there is not such a large gap between the view expressed by Hofmeyr that it is a method, in which circulations are central to creating historical processes and the view of Beckert, that it is a ‘way of seeing,’ aiming to transcend politically defined spaces. That it does the latter is a central achievement of transnational history, but following from this, even though compatible with different methodologies must be a belief in the productive force of circulations, or otherwise more traditional narratives prioritising nations would serve.  

Transnational too restrictive, yet global too broad? Thoughts on definitions and who writes transnational and global history

Reading through the AHR conversation on transnational and global history I was initially struck by how constrained much of this debate is by the need for definitions. To start first with transnational history, broadly understood as concerning the movement of peoples, ideas, technologies and institutions across national boundaries, Chris Bayly makes a fair point when he considers how “transnational” as a term is restrictive – does using the word “nation” (ethnocentric in itself) limit our ability to study the connections, prior to the existence of nations, as we now know them? Patricia Seed echoes this by stating that we use words from the present to define the past. However, I would not consider it a limitation necessarily – the fact is that transnationalism in itself seems to be at least partly reliant on the nation as a physical construction, for in order to understand how these borders are permeated you must them establish in the first place.  Indeed, though it is concerned with the nation, transnational history to me seems a way to challenge the exceptionalism of national histories on a multitude of levels – using comparison as a means to show how local phenomena on a national level – whether this be political, social or cultural – can be considered on a larger scale. As such, as Patricia Clavin put it transnational history has the “roominess of a loose-fitting garment” – it can be worn in many different ways.  

If transnational is in some ways restrictive however, it could be countered that global history is altogether too broad. Global history is intrinsically linked to globalisation – as such its connections with the world we live in today are immense. In order to explain how we live in such an interconnected world in the present, we must understand how these connections between people, places, commodities were made in the past. Global history in principle has incredible potential – allowing us to understand how the world has been integrated on a multitude of levels – from political movements to economic crises and environmental issues. But its enormity seems to me like it could be a limitation, particularly in understanding what is meant by “global.” 

Global history is an idea that originated primarily in Western Europe, the US and the U.K., and historians that consider it are usually from these places. This led me to wonder, can we really write a truly “global” history? Or is it inevitable that in all findings some players will simply be more prominent than others, especially considering the origins of the field? In the U.K. the idea of the British Empire allowed for a broader consideration of Asian and African history, in the U.S. this was brought to light partly by immigration and the demands of a more diverse demographic. Perhaps then it is nations that most benefitted from the process of globalisation that are dominating the very study of its history.   

This struck me in particular, because as someone who grew up in East Africa and South-East Asia studying in international schools, much of the history taught to me always held the disclaimer that it was “global” or international in its nature.  However, in retrospect I feel keenly aware that including a chapter on the Cold War in Asia or comparing the Russian revolution to that of China does not really constitute as a “global” history perspective. What I was studying was rather a way of focusing on how European or Western concepts had found their way into the so-called ‘Third World’ in an attempt to be inclusive. To an extent, understanding how revolutions and ideological rivalries that began in the West spread to other parts of the globe is indeed a part of a more “global” outlook on history – but confining it to a Eurocentric power dynamic – in which the West is an imposing force, and the rest of the world are simply receivers of its influence is incredibly restrictive and certainly only skimming the surface of what “global” could and should encompass. Instead, taking such a “global” perspective silences narratives of places already marginalised. Perhaps that is why terms like transnational are preferred or more easily understood than global history. However, I do believe global history can bring to light connections that have since been concealed or at the very least, its leverage as something of a buzzword in current historical discourse can be used as a call to arms for the need to widen where we look for these connections in the first place – something I am very much looking forward to doing over the semester.  

Globalising “Empire” – a more connected history?

The new field of “global and imperial history” has attracted many to research centres and postgraduate programmes. It bears revitalised views on traditional ideas of empire. In fact, British imperial history has become particularly entangled in this new global phenomenon, with Potter and Saha claiming that unscrambling the two is now almost impossible for historians. 

But, is this a good thing? Will this leave imperial history dead in the water; an unwanted, unapproachable field? One can only hope. If we define imperial history through its desire to answer the “big” questions – the economic, political, social, and cultural aspects of empire – then a globalisation movement can help remedy this traditionalist disease. The interconnectivity of micro- and global historical methods can allow historians to trace ‘connected histories of empire’, as Saha and Potter argue. Connected history is a branch of global history which uses transnational history as an influence to demonstrate connectivity between certain areas. This method would bring forth the players in the historical battlefield; the oppressed and their power in driving “big” issues. 

My problem with this approach, however, is that we can end up meandering down a never-ending river of theoretical approaches. When does global history become imperial history? When does imperial history become connected history? Where do all of these encompass the necessary postcolonial theory? And most importantly, how do we define all of these things? Historians of the future can end up wasting half of their word counts defining all the methodologies they ended up using, leaving a reader not only baffled, but severely put-off! A puzzle historians need to solve is how to make this mode of imperial history more approachable than the last, allowing it to boom more than it already has. 

Potter and Saga, in their article Global History, Imperial History and Connected Histories of Empire do the dirty work for us. They approach this issue by presenting a historiographical survey of connected, imperial histories, analysing the boundaries and language these historians used to conduct their studies. Interestingly, borderlands and oceans became key players, as they not only became places in which to conduct trade, but actually facilitated imperial trade systems. Therefore, we can use these to understand both imperialization and the connectivity of different empires, feeding into this ‘connected history’ phenomenon in two ways: the connectivity of metropole and colony, and of separate empires with colonies close together. These geographical features can act as boundaries and definitions for connected history, providing a starting point for historians who wish to investigate connected, imperial histories, and thus making the field more accessible. 

I know, I know, “so what’s the problem this time?” you might ask, and unfortunately, I do have a few. Not issues with the method this time, though (always a plus), but with historians themselves. Potter and Saga again find that global histories tend to be not-so-global, but in fact still focus on the Anglophone world and call it globalised. We must, therefore, find a way to push these historians out of their comfort zones, and make them compare areas encompassing different languages and cultures, not just Anglophonic entities and possessions. Admittedly, this is difficult. The historian may not speak other languages, or may not have the facilities to learn more obscure languages to involve non-European or Anglophonic countries. From a postcolonial viewpoint, it is important to learn about African and Asian colonies on their own terms, using sources written in the vernacular, but this method is severely difficult for European historians. 

I hope this blog has shown you that, although using the ‘connected history of empire’ approach is the finish-line, we still have obstacles to leap over and stumble across before we reach the globalised imperial history many scholars desire.

Transnational History: avoiding anachronisms

When Bernhard and Milinda asked us what prompted each of us to join this course I was immediately transported to my AP United States History classroom.

We were learning about the Civil War, again. This time my knowledge about American history was contextualised by the knowledge I gained the year prior in AP European History. I made the connection, embarrassingly, for the first time that the Civil War occurred less than 15 years after so many European nations dissolved into revolution in 1848. Had this always been the case? In my teaching, these two extremely consequential time periods had never overlapped, had never been compared, and had definitely never been discussed in the same classroom. Surely these political upheavals must have had some connection to each other. This now obvious revelation tremendously impacted the way I approached and understood history from that point forth.

However, despite my groundbreaking discovery, I continued to learn about American history as so separated from any other nation we could have been on our own dimensional plane. Apart from brief chapters on World War I and World War II and the international effect of the Great Depression, American history was just that, American history. Even when I took Approaches to World History as a wee freshman, each period we covered seemed to be removed from the next, like dispersed lily pads anchored to the muddy pond floor, never to touch or overlap. But their roots! Their roots are all anchored to the same swampy bed. They pull nutrients from the same soil and offer food and sustenance to the same fish that weave in and out of their stems. The lilies, so disconnected on the surface, are linked in infinitesimal ways which can be seen and understood if one simply looks beneath the murky water. Transnational history dives beneath the surface to examine the endless connections that the history of the world has to offer. A truly exciting prospect.

As some of my peers have already pointed out, the AHR discussion between quite a few scholars offered a welcome reprieve to the typical academic journal article. I felt like I was reading an email chain between co-workers! They had email back then right? 😉

The first half of the article was enlightening to just how complex a field Transnational history is. Each new voice introduced a new explanation of global, international, world, and transnational history which resulted in an interesting and informative scholarly debate. I found Patricia Seed to be particularly engaging with her comments on anachronisms in transnational history. Can one analyse contemporary concepts such as race and class in ancient Rome when those words meant something entirely different to the Romans? Traditional historians might turn their nose up at such a thought, but the discipline of transnational history allows scholars to compare the features of ancient society to those of contemporary societies in a meaningful and enlightening way. Seed explains that using contemporary vocabulary as a way to blend the past and present “remains one of the methodologically central mechanisms” in historical writing (Bayly et al, 1442)”. Isabel Hofmeyr further explains that transnational history opens up the discipline to a “world of comparative possibilities” pointing to the longstanding Global North/South binary as an example topic whose complexities have long been simplified by the traditional segmented approach to historical study. While at points the article seemed to lose focus—though it could have been me who was losing focus—it offered a comprehensive introduction to how we can define and approach the enticing field of transnational history.

ACR, Connections, and Bakersfield

Throughout the ACR Conversation some of the various historians, in this case Seed, Kozol, and Connelly, brought up the idea of the study of migrations and the subsequent interactions of the movements of people as a fundamental component of transnational history. I must admit that this facet of the field had never occurred to me, but when it did a collection of memories came to my mind. 

Two summers ago, in my hometown I decided to work in our local museum. It wasn’t a grand thing, as it had neither the funding nor the resources to be especially during the start of Covid, and I was mostly confined to scanning old photos and newspaper clipping from the 1970’s and 80’s to make sure there were digitized and not lost forever. My favorite thing, however, was to go into the main entry room of the museum where a particular almost gazebo-like display sat telling of the origin of the various peoples of Bakersfield. 

It displayed what I always known that my hometown of Bakersfield: that it is an immigrant community and that it always has been. A classic farming town nestled at the bottom of the Great San Joaquin Valley, work on the farms has attracted journeyers looking for work throughout history. Whether it was the Chinese, Filipinos, and Basques of the turn of the 19th century or the influx of Latinos and ‘Oakies’, a term I’ll use here as it how many locals refer to their past, fleeing the dustbowl or ill prospects as the 20th century wore on Bakersfield was home to many shifting peoples. On the display, too, it further showed the how small Native American presence gone now, that though mostly gone, once thrived. 

Now while I loved this exhibit, I never truly understood why it always resonated with me until I read that ACR Conversation: Connections. What I was staring at in that showcase of people was a confluence of thousands if not millions of connections coming together. Infinite stories of an uncountable number of people who had lived and died in the city I grew up in. It struck me that I didn’t, nor that I probably couldn’t, know a fraction of them, but for some odd reason that didn’t, and still doesn’t annoy or sadden me. I realized that in doing transnational history, for the small part that it is, one can uncover and connect these threads of the world and put them in clear vision. That it becomes possible for a historian to illuminate a beautiful tapestry previously unknown. That thought alone made me pleased, and the contemplation that I had merely thought of my own, relatively small, town made me even more so. I now anticipate and am still thinking about the endless connections that must exist out in the world, just waiting to be linked. 

Beginning to Understand Transnational History

The articles this week proved the challenges of defining transnational history. I also became aware of the difficulties of separating the various different terms that are connected to transnational history, such as international, world, global, and comparative history, as discussed in the “AHR Conversation: On Transnational History.” I came out of these readings somehow more confused, as the complexity of the subject shows itself, specifically as historians are trying to pin down one concrete definition. My understanding, although I am unsure if I am correct, is that transnational history aims to connect the interwoven histories of countries by looking at aspects other than the nation, such as the collaboration of ideas, sharing of technologies, and the overlapping of cultural practices. The growth of a nation cannot happen independently, as there are always outside factors influencing a country, such as trade or immigration. Transnational history sets out to reveal these connections between nations that are not obvious at first glance. 

From the AHR conversation, I was able to understand that international, world, and global history, while separate from transnational history, all come together to help reach a new understanding of the world, one where we are able to break out of the singular nation-state analysis that so much of historical research is based upon. 

When doing the initial reading for this module, I was shocked at how I never considered the importance placed on national history throughout my education, and the stark separation in how we learned about the history of the United States versus the history of the world. Even the world history classes we had were taught through the perspective of the United States, and how our own country was important within the more global narrative. Transnational history within education allows students to further question the connections between countries. It encourages students to challenge accepted ways of thinking and expand on different types of analysis in order to find new connections within our world. 

At the end of the discussion, Sven Beckert describes transnational history as a “way of seeing” that is able to incorporate a number of different methodological preferences and is open to many different types of questions. (1459) From my perspective, transnational history may be difficult to define, but that is part of the beauty of the discipline. The possibilities of research are limitless, and there are so many different ways one could take a topic. I am not only excited about how I am able to expand my understanding of the world through a new topic of interest, but also learning about each of the different topics that everyone decides to investigate!

Contemplating Definitions – Week 2

This week, I had similar inquiries to Jemma as I questioned the importance of forming a precise definition for transnational history. Beckert’s quote about transnational history presenting “a new way of seeing” for those that study it also really resonated with me. 

When I researched Scottish women Esperantists over the summer, the transnational phenomena I studied such as Edinburgh women traveling by ship to Antwerp in 1911 to give a talk on a trip to Dresden proved to me how connected the world was before the Internet. I feel like today many people associate the globalized world with the creation of and popular use of the Internet, but in this project, and certainly, seen in most studies of transnational history, I saw the intricate and interconnected nature of historical actors involved in social movements before contemporary technology. However, it must be mentioned that the historical actors in my project were European, white and upper-middle-class women. For me this brought up how travel in history and even today can be tied with the question of privilege and makes me think about who is usually classified as a transnational historical actor.

I also enjoyed how the conversational structure of this American Historical Review ‘On Transnational History paper made it feel more like listening to academics debate at a conference rather than reading another academic article. Matthew Connelly explained, “Smarter students will instead ask how it is that anyone ever wanted to study international relations from the perspective of just one state, or research immigrants without investigating where they came from” (1448). I definitely agree that transnational history, and history in general, should be studied dynamically from multidimensional, interconnected perspectives. I saw how historical phenomena relate to unexpected aspects of society first-hand as Esperanto congress pamphlets I looked at advertised talks for how Esperanto could be used in peace movements, missionary work, banking, and the Red Cross. 

Another comment from this article that stood out to me was the quote from Patricia Seed: “transnational history thus implies a comparison between the contemporary movement of groups, goods, technology, or people across national borders and the transit of similar or related objects or people in an earlier time” (1443). Seed’s explanation seems to argue that historians foremostly use their contemporary situation to look at history, which also holds a tone of inevitability with “thus implies.” It seems to go against looking at historical actors or movements in their own terms for their own sake. In my literary theory module, our first class last week included a discussion on the dangers of absolute truths and warned against treating definitions as answers. Seed’s rather straightforward definition that puts the present onto the past instantly made me question it. The mention of national borders made me think about how, to me, understanding of and acknowledging borders is important, but a defining aspect of transnational history is how traditional borders are an exciting, discussion-starting topic, rather an enclosing endpoint for discussion.

Week 1 thoughts

Academics and a clear definition are like oil and water. They don’t mix.

This week’s blog post was a real challenge for me. Trying to articulate my thoughts on transnational history across the three readings proved difficult, mainly because I found it nearly impossible to identify what ‘transnational history’ was!

Perhaps my recent reading on unenumerated legal rights has been messing with my brain, but I kept trying to look for some subtext within the academic language that would perhaps unlock the mysteries of transnational history for me, lighting a clear path towards a universal understanding of what transnational history is, is not, and is for. Suffice to say, I didn’t find it.

What I did find, however, was a curious association of ‘cultural’ studies with transnational methodologies. Whilst Isabel Hofmeyr argued tenaciously for this association, Sven Beckert and Matthew Connelly implied that such an association could (in some situations) lack nuance. They posited that a broader ‘practical’ application of transnational history to the interconnections of diplomacy, violence and politics was needed. Notably, the arguments of Beckert and Connelly were articulated in a way that framed ‘cultural studies’ as the dominant (fashionable) paradigm in transnational history. Four years after the AHR conference, Jan Rüger articulated a similar ‘practical’ argument in European History Quarterly, suggesting that this debate was ongoing.

I find myself in strong agreement with Beckert, Connelly and Rüger on the importance of incorporating national, military and economic history into a transnational framework, though my reasoning for this differs slightly from their assertion that it leads to a ‘more complete’ understanding of historical events. Instead, I believe engaging with such topics is essential for historians to re-assert their authority over popular historical narratives.

 Connelly resonated with me when he lamented the US (and increasingly international) dominance of Samuel Huntington’s simple political science models (and controversial if not outright suspect usage of history) in ‘The Clash of Civilisations’ and ‘The Soldier and the State’. To me, the role of historians, especially those who consider themselves activists, is not just to challenge such works, but also produce credible alternatives for a popular audience. A pre-requisite to challenging problematic paradigms on national, military and economic history is to understand and work within those fields. To me, transnational methods provide an opportunity to issue a popular corrective to Huntington’s unitary and divided ‘civilisations’, not just by showing cultural interconnection, but also politico-military fluidity in the modern and post-cold war eras.

However, it is notable that in the decade since these articles were penned, Huntington has remained a goliath in policymaking and academia. And whilst transnational history has grown exponentially, none of its adherents enjoy the same popular clout.  Despite this, I retain the hope that the growth of transnationalism as a ‘way of seeing’ will increasingly manifest in popular imaginations, leading to new and challenging narratives emerging.

I hope that despite the messiness of the topics I explored in these ramblings I was able to articulate a few vaguely interesting thoughts. I look forward to discussing some of them with you all in the coming weeks!

The history of a complex world

A few weeks ago, as I was explaining to my family that I would soon be taking a module on Global and Transnational History, my grandfather exclaimed that I would return from Scotland knowing “everything about everything” and become the family’s pride. Despite being convinced of my own naivety I was not able to refute him. Indeed, global history also conjured in my mind the idea of a “planetary comprehensiveness”, as Conrad puts it, of a total knowledge produced by scholars casting an almost ‘god-like’ all-encompassing look on time and space. This perspective made me feel all at once fascinated, fearful and sceptical.

To my delight, this first week has demonstrated that Global and Transnational history is infinitely more complex and promising.

As an aspiring geographer, I am particularly enthusiastic about the possibility of using and investigating the concept of space in history: in the ARH Conversation, Isabel Hofmeyr points out that, in a “postsecular” era in which the space of the state in only one spatial framework among others, scholars can investigate the “transwordly spaces” which arise from beliefs, dreams and legends constituting imaginative geographies. Furthermore, Potter and Saha, in their essay ‘Global History, Imperial History and Connected Histories of Empire’, explain that connected histories are concerned with “webs of interconnections”. What these two interventions reveal is that space is no longer considered as a passive, one-dimensional and homogenous stage on which historical phenomena unfold. It is in fact multidimensional and made of nodes and connections and is therefore fluid and permanently reconfigured. It produces historical phenomena as much as it is produced by them. I look forwards to reflecting on this in my project.

This makes me think that transnational history is very linked to the notion of complication: complication of space, as just seen, but also of time since, as highlighted in the ARH Conversation, transnational historians often refuse linear narratives. Traditional “containers” such as states are replaced by complex networks, local contexts and individual agencies are put forwards and integrated to bigger scales, disciplinary boundaries are blurred. Grand structuring narratives are challenged. As Chris Bayly remarks in the ARH Conversation, transnational history produces a vision of a chaotic world in which the main drivers of change are impossible to determine.

But isn’t the task of the discipline of history to explain change? This is at least what I was always taught at school, and I think that it is a widespread opinion among the general public. What is the use of the acknowledgment of chaos and uncertainty? This process of complication is perhaps involved in a reshaping of the project of history and of our understanding of how knowledge progresses and is valued. Progress is no longer the result of a linear and incremental process of accumulating certainties, but rather lies at the intersection of contradictions, of ambiguities and of the infinite number of facets of human societies. By overlaying each other, they participate to a deep and qualitative, rather than to a mechanistic and explanatory, appreciation of the past.

We are very far from my grandfather’s all-encompassing, and necessarily general and simplifying, history. The main challenge might be to make transnational history equally understandable and attractive to him.

Starting Up: Thoughts on Terms and Definitions

Terms and definitions have always been tricky for me. Growing up in a bilingual household, I would often know the word or meaning in one language without the ability to translate it to the other. In some cases, there was no translation or phrase equivalent, just a need to create a new word, phrase, or meaning. Transnational history, the budding sub-field which centers on the movements of people, ideas, goods, and technologies sans national borders and boundaries, is in a similar position. The 2006 “AHR Conversation: On Transnational History” has shown as much. Here a group of historians, admittedly diverse yet still from elite Western universities, addressed their concerns over the term ‘transnational’ and the approach of transnational studies. As an academic exchange, I found this conversation extremely insightful. In reading how these historians deliberated definitions and shared sources, I began to integrate many of their ideas into my conception of transnational history.

Historiographically, transnational history has a very interesting yet predictable origin story. Born from the desire to break free from Eurocentric, nationalistic history, the transnational approach seeks a more inclusive perspective. Many historians claim transnational history as a critique of nationalist and imperialist history as well as racist, sexist, and heteronormative lenses. I find many parallels between the formation of this approach and the development and rising interest in gender studies, sociology, and social justice. It makes sense that as the world becomes a more traversable and connected place, with either travel or the Internet, historians are exploring beyond national borders. As someone perpetually interested in transnational interactions and non-traditional lenses, I am very excited to endeavor into doing and practicing transnational history.

One limitation I identified within transnational history is the term’s anachronisms. Since last summer, I have analyzed shipping records from the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, a Spanish colony in present-day Argentina and Uruguay. Tracking the arriving and departing ships, I gained a new insight into the global connections in foodways, goods, people, and ideas to and from this colony, Europe, Africa, North America, and the Caribbean. Still, as argued in  ‘Global History, Imperial History and Connected Histories of Empire,’ this cannot be considered ‘transnational.’ The nation-state as a concept did not yet exist; instead empire was the primary mode of government and social organization. Once again, we have to generate a new word for our study. Here ‘trans-imperial’ is the ideal term, allowing for the same cross-border or comparative exploration yet with empire and colonial thought in mind. While the term change seems easy enough, for me it provides an opportunity to reconsider definitions and further cultivate an inclusive perspective of the past.

I look forward to exploring more terms and definitions as we venture into the transnational and global in the coming weeks!

A First Look at Transnational and Global History

As I read Bayly’s comment in the AHR Conversation on how many students go to university with knowledge of figures such as Hitler, but “without any notion that these figures represent much broader political and ideological moments,” I realised I myself fell into that category. Throughout my journey in the British education system, from the Jacobites to the Second World War, and in much of my undergraduate degree so far, my experience of studying history has on the whole been rather ‘un-transnational’. I have tended to study or been taught historical topics constrained to or focusing on the nation, and generally in isolation from other events. Therefore, by looking at transnational and global history this semester, I am excited to explore these approaches more and what they can offer to the discipline.

As discussed in the AHR Conversation, transnational history, similar to global, world, and international history, makes a move away from more traditional historiographical approaches. No longer focusing on the nation-state as the primary object and area of study, there is the opportunity for new insights and perspectives across a larger geographical scale. However, it is important to note that ‘transnational’ does not equate to ‘global’. Transnational history does not look at the history of the world, but rather focuses on the cross-borders connections, networks, and movements in a certain region.

A sticking point seems to arise, however, when trying to define exactly what transnational or global history is. In the AHR Conversation in particular, various definitions and components of transnational history are passed back and forth. This includes Seed emphasising its “ability to follow people (wherever they moved)”, and Hofmeyr highlighting its focus on cross-border flows, circulations, movements, and comparison. Yet, no one definition is agreed upon.

While I view defining terms, methods, and approaches as important, a lot of energy seems to go in to this discussion. The conversation almost gets dragged down by this quest to define transnational history. Meanwhile, Connelly points out the inadequate amount of transnational history practiced thus far. Therefore, it makes me wonder, just how important is forming a precise definition? Would it be more useful to actually just practice transnational history and demonstrate what it adds to the discipline and what it can do?

Throughout the first week in this module, it has stood out to me just how much there is to explore with transnational and global history. Potter and Saha’s article ‘Global History, Imperial History and Connected Histories of Empire’ particularly drew my attention and provoked reflection. Having studied Postcolonial Europe and the legacies of the French and British empires last semester, I have come to realise how, for the most part, I had focused in turn on the French or the British. I already am intrigued by the what could be learnt and revealed by a more connected and comparative approach towards these empires. For example, how did the French perceive the British empire, and vice versa? What communications were there between the two? Did they draw ideas from each other?

I am excited to introduce, to quote Beckert, a “new way of seeing” to my study of history this semester. Although I think the different approaches and methods will challenge me, I look forward to the new insights and understandings to be gained through transnational and global history.

Learning from Others: Reflections on the Project Presentations

As an opening remark, the breadth of all the presentations I have witnessed surpassed the vocal range of the legendary Axl Rose (Guns and Roses) with a whopping 6 octaves. Spanning both geography and time (or to put it in academic terms, Trans-spatial and temporal), I saw a breathtaking range of research, historiography and analytical perspective. I’m not one to usually pick favourites, but Naomi’s presentation on representations of Asian Masculinity struck a very personal chord with me. It’s likely because it’s a topic I have thought about extensively before, being someone that has lived the East Asian male experience. It was heartwarming to see the historical development of how Bruce Lee (in vernacular) “made it better” for us. There were also some fascinating links to the 1882 ban on Chinese Exclusion Act that I coincidentally read in the University of Edinburgh’s Law Library.

On a completely different turn, Rory’s Black Metal presentation beautifully combined Intellectual and Cultural History with a touch of Aesthetics was beautifully done. Again, I may be slightly partial to this due to my love of Batushka, one of the artists featured in his presentation I resonate very strongly with the benefits of combining Anthropology and history as a new methodology. Because of this, I am re-evaluating my decision on whether I wish to employ Actor-Network Theory.

In a moment of introspection, I will have to think a little bit more deeply about what the path I wish to take with my own project. It has been an eye opening experience looking at what others have been doing.

Thoughts on Presentation

I found all the presentations fascinating, and it seemed like everyone had engaged well with their secondary readings and primary sources. Unfortunately, I am down with covid, and I don’t have the energy to discuss everyone’s presentation. I hope to recover before class on Tuesday.

Morven, I enjoyed your presentation a lot. I like how you questioned the western hegemony of Shakespeare by asserting its non-western production and consumption. I also found it interesting when you discussed that Shakespeare was introduced to India to spread progressive principles of western liberalism. Later you discussed how the literary figure was reclaimed and rewritten by the oppressed. I am excited to see how you’ll use your primary sources. Finally, you mentioned that the director of Omkara had not read much of Shakspeare play himself. This made me realise that most of the Indian audience watching Omkara was also unaware that it was an adaptation. This lack of awareness creates a unique space for the legacy of Shakespeare in a post-colonial context. I hope I get to read your project at some point.

Presentation Comments

I really enjoyed seeing all the presentations that everyone has uploaded and I have a few comments about my own thoughts.

Hannah, I found your presentation on the “Narratives of Journey” deeply interesting and it led me to reconsider my own thoughts and beliefs surrounding refugees. Your initial slides, asking what we see when we think ‘refugee’, made me realise the expanse of the topic and the narrow perspective that is delivered in the Western world.

I liked your shift to the conceptual aspect of the study of refugees, allowing you greater scope to achieve the transnational aims of your project. Further to this, the link that you illustrated between zombies and refugees once again made me reconsider my own experience and interactions with this topic. I live down in Dover, on the South coast, a short ferry away from Calais and I feel that the general understanding of refugees and their situations are shaped and moulded by our geographical position and by the information we are exposed to. The matter of ‘visibility’, whereby you mentioned that refugees are either invisible, or hyper-visible, to the point where those two concepts amalgamate as zero recognition. Overall, I found your presentation deeply thought-provoking and I would urge anybody who has not yet seen it to do so!

Angus, I equally enjoyed your presentation on the Welsh Subaltern, a concept and a field of history with which I am shamefully unacquainted. Whilst I found your presentation interesting in its content, it was my resonance with your thoughts on comparative methodology that stood out to me the most. Your desire to compare the characteristics between subaltern groups is very sound in theory and will hopefully deliver a fruitful result. The methodological benefits and possibilities that come from employing a comparative aspect are myriad I am very intrigued to see what your findings are.

On the matter of source collection, you mentioned a difficulty with regards to finding truly subaltern sources. Whilst I wish I had more advice to give on this issue, my only suggestion would be to find the more mainstream sources and, by way of analysis and comparison, figure out what their impact filtered down onto those below. I hope this helps and thank you again for your presentation!

End of the Semester

We are almost at the end of this semester and what a semester it has been!!  I’ve have really enjoyed both of my classes this semester and this one in particular I have really learned a lot.  It was really nice to learn about new topics that are not really talked about in first and second year.  I think the highlights of the course were the Saturday unconference and the group talks in the breakout rooms, as I think it is really important to listen and talk to others.  I feel that you learn more by doing this and I love hearing other people’s opinions about topics, as it gives you a better understanding of all sides and helps you identify different areas that you may not have thought of before.  I was initially very nervous about going in to third year, as I’m the type of person who tends to stay in the background (that is where I feel most comfortable).  However, this year has pushed me out of my comfort zone, taught me to be more confident in myself and not to be scared of voicing ideas or opinions in the classroom.  Whether this changes back to before, if we go back to person to person teaching in fourth year I do not know, but I sincerely hope not.   


I have watched all the presentations and really enjoyed them.  I did have a few technical issues with a small amount of them and could not hear all of the slides, but I read them all, which filled in some of the gaps.  It has been great to see the diversity of the presentations, I have learned a lot from this and know a little about subjects that I had no clue about beforehand.  The presentations also gave me a few ideas about my own project and how I can improve on it.  I do not have a huge amount of comments, but I will detail some of the ones that I have just now. 

Rory – Your presentation was brilliant!!  From start to finish your presentation was full of really interesting information and I really think you should have your own radio show or podcast, as you have a great presenting voice and you kept it going till the very end, which made it even more interesting.

Angus – I really enjoyed your presentation and your section on the sources that you will be using was great, you have given me some ideas for my own project, especially on visitor accounts, as I found this particularly interesting. 

Naomi – Your presentation was excellent as well.  I particularly enjoyed the section on his biography, which you detailed about Bruce’s confliction between his duty as a father, husband and son, and his desire to be an actor.  I found this really interesting and would like to know more about it.  I also think you have found some gaps in research that you can help to fill in with your project, specifically on Asian/ American studies and gender studies.    

I would just like to say a massive well done to everyone for their presentations and good luck for your final project/essay.  One last thing before I go, thank you to everyone who has gave me feedback on my presentation, it is greatly appreciated and I will take all your comments onboard.