Listing the key terms of transnational history in class helped me to visualise the vast array of components involved in its historiography. From “nodal points” to “NGOs” it seemed daunting to pin down a small number of categories that could encompass the entirety of transnational history. Looking at that board and attempting to fit each component into a coherent, comprehensive yet well organised book seemed to be the equivalent of finding a solution to an unsolvable equation. Amongst our group, questions abounded. What themes/categories can encompass everything we’ve listed on the board? How do we organise the book in a manner that would make sense to students like us who are relatively new to the historiographical approach of transnational history? Finally, how do we incorporate transnational history’s most important literature while also making note of the recent debates between scholars regarding transnational history as an emerging and prevalent historiographical approach? We weren’t able to come up with well-formulated answers for these questions but we began to attempt to answer them by taking the components and categorising them.
Our rough layout of the transnational history reader consisted of (if I remember correctly) four broad categories that most – if not all – the components could fit under as well as a section dedicated to the challenges and historiographical debates associated with transnational history. The first category would be themes or key ideas, the second networks, the third actors and the fourth nodal points and confluence.
Themes [ italic font makes the ideas seem more legitimate], the first section of our hypothetical book, involves the grand topics, key ideas and terms often discussed in transnational history. We would highlight the terms sub-altern, translocal, transcultural, globalisation, and internationalism. Each of these terms would be defined and set in the context of their relevance to transnationalism. Sub-altern studies, while related to nationalism and de-colonisation, helped to create a diaspora of anti-colonialism across the globe.
The section Networks entails a discussion of the bridges that breakdown national barriers. Commercial ties, language, religion, ethnicity and political philosophies all fit into this category. Transnational networks are based up some form of commonality or common interest and therefore necessary in any discussion of transnational history. The common connections in transnational networks could be as seemingly insignificant as the meat essence OXO, which Jan Ruger addressed.
Actors is arguably the most straightforward section. The aim of Actors would be to discuss the most important actors and agents in transnational history. The great empires of the late modern period were chief sources for cross-cultural interaction from the 17th century until the years following World War II. Supranational organisations such as the League of Nations, the United Nations and the European Union are the most prominent modern examples of transnational actors.
Nodal Points and Confluence comprises of physical points of connection. Ironically the most obvious point of confluence are national borders themselves, particularly when they are tenuous and not enforced by some physical or man-made barrier. Other, modern examples of nodal points or areas of confluence are social media platforms like twitter or Facebook. Entertainment events like the Olympics, World Cup, or Cannes Film Festival could be considered transnational nodal points. In my project research, I am finding that port cities like Canton, Calcutta and Istanbul were hotbeds of commercial transnational interaction.
I realise that I have simply created categories for topics that transnational history encompasses and there is a considerable amount I have left out that is essential to transnational history as a field of study. Methodological strategies are crucial to any historiographical approach and certainly should be included in any transnational history handbook. The limits of transnational history, while still speculated upon by historians, would be another important area of discussion. As an exercise, this forced me to think about what was fundamentally important to studying transnational history.