In the 2006 AHR Conversation there seemed to be general agreement that transnational history meets the need to go beyond a narrative determined by politically defined territories, which, particularly in the shape of the nation, has been the focus of traditional history writing. Another driving factor behind transnational history and the related field of global history is the belief in globalization as an important feature of the contemporary world and a transnational approach seems particularly relevant to an age where states are challenged by international organisations. This connection to the recent past is the source Bayly’s reservations about the term at the start of the discussion given that ‘transnational’ assumes a world dominated by nations and as Connelly says it is meaningless for most of world history. The advantage ‘transnational’ has over ‘global’ history is that few historians actually work on a global scale which may in any case result in oversimplifying. While the term transnational history implies that it deals with nations, and Seed discusses the benefits of taking this contemporary concept as the basis for comparisons with the past, the approach can also be used in studies transcending other political units such as empires. The consensus is that transnational history is concerned with circulations of any sort: migration, ideas, commodities, etc., and as such may be based in the study of a specific network or a geographical area associated with such networks such as oceans and borderlands. The focus on circulation allows actors to be treated independently from the state to which they may ‘belong’ and the interest suggested by Hofmeyr in viewing these circulations as central to the historical process would raise issues obscured by national histories. A study of networks might also allow a better understanding of how interactions were perceived and experienced than a broader approach would but participants in the conversation still stressed the importance of engaging with grand narratives as a provocation to further debate and useful in writing connected histories.

The extent to which transnational history is a method may depend on the individual historian, but there is not such a large gap between the view expressed by Hofmeyr that it is a method, in which circulations are central to creating historical processes and the view of Beckert, that it is a ‘way of seeing,’ aiming to transcend politically defined spaces. That it does the latter is a central achievement of transnational history, but following from this, even though compatible with different methodologies must be a belief in the productive force of circulations, or otherwise more traditional narratives prioritising nations would serve.  

The Uses of Transnational History