So, this is the week transnational history starts to get a bit more daunting. Up until this point, we have spent the majority of our time reading the work of historians, trying to grasp an understanding of the approach based on what they have to offer. This has left me with a basic definition of what transnational history is and the variety of narratives it can offer. I would be lying, however, to say that I now have a firm grasp on what transnational history should be. I really don’t. At the moment, it is more a collection of ideas running through my head rather than a solid definition.
That’s the reason why this week is such a challenge. We now finally have to pin down whatever it is we wish to explore as part of our project and sell it in a proposal of fewer than 800 words. With my own views on transnational history still quite uncertain, this is proving to be fairly difficult. From the beginning of this module I have had several ideas jump out as me as possible routes to follow towards a final project. Yet, every time I think about the ways in which I could explore these ideas in a transnational context, I end up feeling a bit lost.
For example, the idea I am currently leaning towards for my project involves looking at the rise of the welfare state in Britain after the Second World War and the ways in which it was influenced by, or had influences on, other similar systems within Europe. However, this could be problematic for several reasons. My first concern is that I’m inadvertently being teleological in my approach. If I explore the ways in which the welfare state came to exist, it appears nearly impossible not to create a narrative of progression from point A to B. On the one hand I obviously want to explore the transnational exchange of ideas in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries which led to welfare reforms across Europe and beyond. However, I obviously want to avoid creating a backward facing narrative. Perhaps this is an inherent problem with this particular question, or maybe in the following week I can think of a way to make this work. As of yet, I’m not sure.
Konrad’s post about starting with sources and then working outwards from there has helped considerably with this issue, yet I still feel slightly overwhelmed whenever I think about where to start regarding sources. Of course, using primary sources to formulate ideas is refreshing to say the least. Yet, it is also incredibly daunting. Where do I find the sources I need? Are they going to be reliable? These are both questions I am going to have to take very seriously in the next few weeks, as are questions of scale – do I want to create a macro-history or a micro-history? Which will be of greater benefit to my narrative? If I do want to go down the micro-historical route, will I be able to find enough source material to do so?
For the rest of this week, as I try to create an exciting project proposal, these are questions I will try and get to grips with. Perhaps in next week’s blog post I will be able to share some of my conclusions with you. For now, however, I still definitely have more questions than answers.

The Daunting Task of Practising Transnational History
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2 thoughts on “The Daunting Task of Practising Transnational History

  • February 22, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    I appreciate so much that you and others are willing to admit how daunting this project is. It’s also interesting to hear you speak about how to approach your top which as you said could be frustrating because it could get stuck in the point A to B scenario or it’s reverse scenario. I’d say maybe a way to approach this is as you said figure out if your going to come from a micro- or macro- historical perspective and then follow a term or person or object that way your not necessarily having to follow time. I don’t know much about the Welfare state in Britain but maybe I can give some help with ideas for approaching the topic. So say you’re talking about the welfare state in Britain after the Second World War you could follow say the actions of the Prime minister in his interactions with foreign countries and diplomats in over the actions surrounding the Welfare state and how these diplomats person feelings towards one another effected their interactions which might have effected policy which might have effected the people. So that was long but that’s the idea that helps me when trying to approach something different is to say well could I look at it via a person, situation, object, etc. Hope that helps.

  • February 23, 2016 at 10:11 am

    Thank you both – for the post and the comment. A few thoughts. Daunting – well, ok. Yes, we push you to the edge after only a few weeks of reading into transnational history. But we will not let you fall off the edge. This is why we offer a PROJECT approach, not necessarily a finished essay. I am happy to discuss that further.

    Yes, daunting partly as there is not THE DEFINITION, that is precisely what we wanted to get across. But you have seen the perspective, the approach (as the comments say: start with a person, a situation, an object – and try to “see” it transnationally).

    So, where to start. A source? An individual? Following on from Konrad’s post on sources. You can. But: you can also start from historiography on the welfare state – in Britain and beyond. You will quickly see that 1) most these histories treat the welfare state, its making and shaping as an internal-container affair. A la: and then the British labour party… invented the NHS! However, 2) you will also see that between Scandinavia, Germany, France, GB, Switzerland and elsewhere, elements of the making of a welfare state from health to basic insurance.

    Suddenly, the nicely packed containers (Germany, France… Fantastic land), look less container like. Why is it that these processes happen roughly synchronously? Are there any cross-border actors involved, experts? What are the wider, external processes that lead to various states across the world to develop the idea and infrastructure of a welfare state?

    Try to locate some actors below the high-diplomatic political-elite – bureaucratcs (does not sound too sexy, perhaps), experts, insurance company via secondary readings on the GB welfare state. Perhaps that is an entry point into tracking some networks and connections that crossed borders, where ideas were discussed in fora and spheres that were not strictly national.

    Dip into: Kiran Patel “Soldiers of Labour” and Sebastian Conrad “Nation and Globalisation”. Happy to discuss further.

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