When the inevitable question of: “What modules are you taking this semester?” appears between friends and family the most typical reaction to the name “Transnational History” is usually that of “isn’t that very broad?”. As echoed by my fellow students discussing the macro/micro perspectives Transnational history does not tether you to a singular “zoom setting” that is it allows you to opt for a DSLR camera rather than a polaroid.
Throughout all the conversations in the AHR conference, Sanjay Subrahmanyam’s Eurasian History, Global and Imperial History, and the story of OXO. One salient point stands starkly in the light for me:
Transnational history is freeing for those that participate in it.
Rather than being bound to a specific point in space and time, a transnational historian can take a singular entity, whether it is intangible or tangible, and follow it through history. As if following Ariadne’s Thread, a historian is free to roam the vast labyrinth that history provides for us, and weave their own tapestry. Personally, this metaphor for Transnational History is the most appealing to me. The careful selection of types of thread being akin to selecting the boundaries of narrative and analysis, and the weaving itself, the method of presentation.
The threads that you choose and weave when engaging in Transnational history also allow one to follow matters that they are most passionate about. Subrahmanyam’s discussion of topics that are obscure to many of us that have not had a foundational education in the history of the Arakan Network and Islamic Millenarianism is an excellent example of this. The ability to write about a conventionally obscure area of history, and to have it accepted and indeed appreciated as a valuable contribution to the discipline, portrays the inclusivity and non-discriminatory nature of Transnational History.
Personally, I am fascinated by the possibilities that this presents to me as a history student. The illustration of OXO as an example of Transnational history in a major academic paper is a heartening sight, as it opens the doors for discussing and examining things previously seen as mundane or inconsequential. I could feasibly write about something as atypical as the history of Garam Masala. Tracing the threads that each spice within the blend unravels, or even the variations in the phenomena that is Garam Masala in itself.
Above all, respect of what was perhaps held as obscure, mundane or unusual appears to be a key feature in Transnational History. A fundamental respect for all things, no matter how small or large. The emphasis on the “connectedness” of history, by Subrahmanyam and the redefining of units of comparison by Potter and Saha, require historians to respect histories regardless of their origins. Or as Matthew Connelly puts it, a “Diplomatic historian”. To breach the boundaries of one’s discipline, Transnational Historians cannot afford to fray or cut the threads they intend to weave with.
With respect and inclusivity kept firmly in mind, a Transnational Historian is free to follow wherever their heart takes them. While carefully unravelling threads from their tethers in space and time.