As introductory materials, we were asked to read two articles by Patricia Clavin, “Defining Transnationalism” (2005) and “Time, Manner, Place: Writing Modern European History in Global, Transnational and International Contexts” (2010). In this entry, I will attempt to draw out the main arguments and in some ways chart Clavin’s development of the idea of “transnational history” (hereafter TH).
Several aspects of transnationalism is highlighted in the earlier of the two articles. First, as much as the writing of transnational history focuses on networks, connections, institutions etc., it is “first and foremost about people” (422). Simply put, TH looks at the how complex links forged by people defy accepted and fixed categories. Second, TH heralds in a new perspective of history, one that traces the “development of expertise and concepts” without necessarily relying on an “asymmetrical comparison between nation-states.” (429) Third, TH addresses a “different, and frequently larger, chronological range,” one that “[breaks] free from the nationally determined timescales.” (429) It borrows the concept of the “longue durée” from the Annales school. I think of it as basically challenging the erstwhile dominance of a “nationalist” approach to history.
But of course, the change is more nuanced than that. Whilst TH exposes the parochial nature of nationalist historiography, it sheds light on how the very transnational activities that cross and break down national boundaries may at the same time strengthen and benefit from them. TH does not offer a teleological narrative of how the world is increasingly enmeshed, but include “encounters that both attract and repel.” (423) In addition, Clavin does a fairly good job of trying to untangle the closely related concepts of “international relations”, “world history” and “global history”, though I find the differences between “world history” and TH the most difficult to make out. The argument is also made that the rise of cultural history has contributed to the writing of TH, as it seeks to “‘de-centre’ the focus of attention away from governments and diplomacy.” (437)
Moving on to the second piece, entitled “Time, Manner, Place”, Clavin identifies three key innovations/original angles provided by TH, and centres the whole discussion on how the writing of “Modern European History” is rejuvenated by such an approach. She provides more concrete examples this time. It is suggested that pinning down certain “global moments” may “open up new historical planes or vistas on Europe.” (627-8) Another alternative to nationally determined timescale is to look at “generational change” such as that which happened amongst European financial and economic advisers, adding an extra layer of complexity.
In terms of “manner”, the focus here is on how international organisations (such as International Labour Organisation and the League of Nations) provide a “basis from which to view European nations in explicitly constructed, comparative context,” (630) rather than consigning them to the dustbin of history by being preoccupied by their “failure”. I am particularly interested by how causes arising from within Europe contributed to “global debates about genocide and human rights” after WWII and the rise of a “global civil society”. (630)
Finally, TH has shone a spotlight on borderlands, frontiers and similar areas/regions, which challenges the notion of “national boundaries” and the fluidity of what may be considered “centre” and “peripheral”. TH also ushers in what is called “new economic history” that veers away from the “machine” analogy thanks to its emphasis on co-ordination, relational assets and reflexive human actors. Clavin argues that TH re-instates the importance of Europe in (world) history, primarily by bringing out its “diversity”.