Upon reading the article Defining Transnationalism by Patricia Clavin, I was immediately mused by the breadth and ambition of what – in no easy terms – is ‘transnational history’. From the perspective of a history student studying at the University of St Andrews, currently undertaking this topic of study, it is of no distinctly ‘foreign’ construction. After a plethora of choices, options of study that cater to the widest interests, one can – and in this case has – assimilated a broad sense of the ‘global’ in history on offer here. From Early Modern European History, exploring the Renaissance period through the Thirty Years War (a difficult though fresh topic for someone previously only accustomed to studying the wars and violent dialogues of the twentieth and, in brief, early fourteenth centuries), to Themes in Late Modern History, in first year alone, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. But this is not to be feared, as it so often is. As we learn, the vastness of history as a discipline forms its uniqueness. The narrowing of the field to suit our own interests is reflective of our character and every influence that has contributed to our development as individuals. Clavin’s article starts by introducing us to Julius Moritz Bonn, a rather extraordinary individual, shaped, arguably, by the multiplicity of his occupations. This multiplicity, as Clavin pays close attention to emphasise, transcends physical borders and academic categories:

‘Bonn’s life is a useful reminder that transnationalism, despite its early identification with the transfer or movement of money and goods, is first and foremost about people: the space that they inhabit, the networks they form and the ideas they exchange.’

Clavin, Patricia, ‘Defining Transnationalism’, Contemporary European History, 14:4 (November, 2005), pp421-439

Framing individuals through their association to – or as completely representative of – a culture, social-grouping, or political movement reveals much about our own connections and world-views. This was certainly the creed of studying Social-Anthropology, which promoted – from what I came to understand – an expansion of the self through the better appreciation of others. Ideas of the ‘self’ became ideals of the world, not bound by physical barriers or by time – perhaps so is creating ‘isms’ or social phenomena around the lives of the ‘somebodies’. When studying history, the temptation to associate ‘isms’ with periods or events that have – by chronological rules – no relation to the source material, is common. As we practice and study more, we eventually learn that it is our charge to apply well-measured analysis in our attempts to identify the nuances between space and time that has led to this moment. In other words, how did we get here!?

Such an endeavour as the pursuit of destiny is relatively insensible for a historian, yet it informs our senses and ingenuity. When defining transnational history, the approaches appear many, none of them wrong, all of them working in tandem. Pierre-Yves Saunier states in the introduction to his book Transnational History that:

‘…transnational history is an approach that emphasises what works between and through the units that humans have set up to organise their collective life…’transnational’ as an adjective is often indiscriminately used to specify a certain class of phenomena, or a spatial level, or the identity of certain individuals and the characteristics of some organisations…’

Saunier, Pierre-Yves, Transnational History (Basingstoke, 2013), pp2-3

Whatever your approach, it is apparent – I urge still from a novice’s perspective – that ‘transnational’ history is a very ‘fluid’ discipline. This is something to be re-addressed in full by the end of studying MO3351: Doing and Practicing Transnational and Global History in the Late Modern World. The title of this first post should have reflected the ambition of the task that approaching analysis of ‘transnational’ history presents. Over the course of the next few months there will hopefully be some clear, extant, evolved understanding of the challenges of ‘transnational’ history, starting next week with a further discussion on terminology and direction. While the brief rationale reflected here may appear dubious to better learnt colleagues – of which I am in great company with! – this is indelibly part of polishing what is so important with history: doing what we must, and practicing what we dare.

Condensing the Incondensable – ‘Transnational’ History