Scholarly work on transnational history has often focused on a Eurocentric standpoint, and looked at how and why Europe especially fits into the transnational mold. Europe has undergone a series of border realignment, and since the 18th century there has been a constant undercurrent of nationalism. Therefore, Europe has experienced an inherently transnational past. The unification of Germany occurred in 1871, similarly, the unification of Italy which began in 1815, was completed in 1871. The rise of nationalism in Europe is a transnational force, as a political ideology it permeates frontiers, and culturally it passes through the links and flows of borderland regions. Furthermore, as Patel argues the development of the enlightenment, and the industrial revolution ‘has a strongly European accent and cannot be fully understood from a purely local or national perspective’. Events such as the enlightenment transcended national boundaries, and resultantly has to be studied transnationally in order to gain a full appreciation of the topic.
Another issue which become prevalent after studying Europe’s place in a transnational light, is the small problem of defining Europe. It has often been argued that Europe, and borders in general, are merely a social construct. As has been demonstrated, Europe’s history has changed dramatically over its lifetime, and what was once defined as ‘European’ may now be irrelevant. For example, is what constitutes as European simply a geographical boundary, or does it extend to political, cultural and economic too? In reality, most historians would suggest it to be an amalgamation of all these factors, however historically there has been some debate over the legitimacy of the United Kingdom and Iceland being in Europe because of the geographical exclusion. Patel, goes further to elaborate on the idea that Europe is a social construct, and suggests that because Europe was created by a series of unifications and treaties, it is an artificial boundary and thus has been constructed over time.
Further to Europe being viewed as transnational internally, it must not be forgotten that Europe has had a number of global influences over its lifetime. Mass migration to Europe has occurred in waves, with the most notable being that after the 1985 Schengen agreement. However, immigration dates back to the slave trade with millions of slaves being transported across the Atlantic and into Europe. The new demographic which came to settle in Europe has undoubtedly left their mark on what is European, and influenced culture, politics and art in their wake.
This blog post has not been written to advocate transnational history as a European phenomenon. Instead, it highlights Europe’s place within the transnational school and demonstrates that Europe has an inherently transnational past.