This week, I had similar inquiries to Jemma as I questioned the importance of forming a precise definition for transnational history. Beckert’s quote about transnational history presenting “a new way of seeing” for those that study it also really resonated with me. 

When I researched Scottish women Esperantists over the summer, the transnational phenomena I studied such as Edinburgh women traveling by ship to Antwerp in 1911 to give a talk on a trip to Dresden proved to me how connected the world was before the Internet. I feel like today many people associate the globalized world with the creation of and popular use of the Internet, but in this project, and certainly, seen in most studies of transnational history, I saw the intricate and interconnected nature of historical actors involved in social movements before contemporary technology. However, it must be mentioned that the historical actors in my project were European, white and upper-middle-class women. For me this brought up how travel in history and even today can be tied with the question of privilege and makes me think about who is usually classified as a transnational historical actor.

I also enjoyed how the conversational structure of this American Historical Review ‘On Transnational History paper made it feel more like listening to academics debate at a conference rather than reading another academic article. Matthew Connelly explained, “Smarter students will instead ask how it is that anyone ever wanted to study international relations from the perspective of just one state, or research immigrants without investigating where they came from” (1448). I definitely agree that transnational history, and history in general, should be studied dynamically from multidimensional, interconnected perspectives. I saw how historical phenomena relate to unexpected aspects of society first-hand as Esperanto congress pamphlets I looked at advertised talks for how Esperanto could be used in peace movements, missionary work, banking, and the Red Cross. 

Another comment from this article that stood out to me was the quote from Patricia Seed: “transnational history thus implies a comparison between the contemporary movement of groups, goods, technology, or people across national borders and the transit of similar or related objects or people in an earlier time” (1443). Seed’s explanation seems to argue that historians foremostly use their contemporary situation to look at history, which also holds a tone of inevitability with “thus implies.” It seems to go against looking at historical actors or movements in their own terms for their own sake. In my literary theory module, our first class last week included a discussion on the dangers of absolute truths and warned against treating definitions as answers. Seed’s rather straightforward definition that puts the present onto the past instantly made me question it. The mention of national borders made me think about how, to me, understanding of and acknowledging borders is important, but a defining aspect of transnational history is how traditional borders are an exciting, discussion-starting topic, rather an enclosing endpoint for discussion.

Contemplating Definitions – Week 2