While many of my colleges I’m sure will be writing on how and what their projects are beginning to look like I felt it only right as I had yet to post about prior reading to begin my blogging with an examination of an article suggested to us a few weeks back. I felt this particular article relevant as we approach the beginnings of our projects as it’s an interesting example of how an author approached writing about transnational history and why as a reader I did not believe his argument. Even more than that by the end of the article I didn’t feel he had spent enough time examining the topic for him to even be writing on it.

Lets go back to two weeks ago when several others on this page commented about the writing of Ian Tyrrell from his book Transnational Nation. United States History in Global Perspective sine 1789. Though I was not one of those who wrote in response to that reading it was non the less fascinating and well worth a read, though I doubt historian Michael McGerr would agree. McGerr’s article meant to focus on examining the differing genre, relevance, and nuance of the idea of Transnationalism being brought to the field of historiography quickly becomes an extensive and  harsh critique on the work written by the historian Ian Tyrrell. McGerr focusing on Tyrell’s article “American Exceptionalism in an Age of International History” explains that in order to accept the history that Tyrell is writing about Tyrell asks that one de-emphasize the American distinctiveness in order to focus on the transnational history of the country. This term exceptionalism then becomes the main line of argument for McGerr throughout the remainder of his article.

His argument being that, “Tyrrell’s determination to fight exceptionalism, American distinctiveness, comparative studies, and nation-centered history prevents him from exploring more fully the potential of an internationalized history”. While some of his argument may to some extent have weight McGerr takes this idea to far by firstly emphasizing that without the nation the area of study of transnationalism is not relevant. This would not be a terrible argument to make since historians are still trying to define this term but McGerr gives no definition of what he believes transnational history to even be. Secondly, though he does not denounce the historical area of study he terms new – transnationalism- he does speak of it in such a way as to suggest that it has very little significance, in comparison to environmental history, social history, international connections and global history, within the larger field of study. And on top of this there is a lack of definition and obvious distain for the term transnationalism that cause the ideas presented in an essay whose writing is within itself frustrating and hard to follow to lose relevance. It’s set in a stream of consciousness like manner, jumping from one idea to the next with little to no cohesion, and continuously reiterating terms and phrases, sometimes unnecessarily. Here then is the questions that McGerr with his frustrating writing prose prompts us to ask ourselves: How when approaching an area of study that is so difficult to grasp such as transnationalism should we think about writing so that a relevant argument does not get lost?

In response I’d begin by returning to our evaluation of McGerr’s article and try to answer for him how one might define transnationalism. I’d say I define transnational history as not solely focusing on the crisscross between nations or on the internationalization of society but as an umbrella term. It incorporates social, economic, environmental, Micro and Macro, and many more areas and approaches to history in order to understand at large the cross cultural, cross social, cross economic, and cross national global history of this earth. And since McGerr never gives us a definition I as the reader give the term transnationalism within this article my definition. Therefore when McGerr states that “transnational history has difficulty coexisting with the traditional national histories” it becomes apparent to me that he does not grasp even slightly what transnational history is.

So in response to the above question I’d say that you have understand for yourself what the terms your using mean. Because even with a solid argument if the reader doesn’t understand how that argument fits into the terms your using then they’re lost. And even more than that your argument may just fall apart because of it.

McGerr, Michael. “The Price of the ‘New Transnational History.’” The American Historical Review 96, no. 4 (October 1991): 1056-67.

Michael McGerr’s Article and How to Write Transnational History