The rise of nations and nationalism from the nineteenth into the twentieth century seems to be the opposition to transnational and global history. Many historians in the advent of transnational history point to the popular isolated study of nations to advocate for a more global and interconnected approach. Yet, as this week’s readings teach us, the nation and nationalism did not develop in isolation but rather were dependent on globalization and transnational connections. Interestingly, as raised in the Bose and Conrad chapters, dynamics of nationhood were a product of transnational and trans-imperial trade and (specifically labor) migration. Individual nationalism and national identity, as Conrad eloquently states, is a product of “cross-border circulation.” (Conrad 4). In a sense, the ‘national’ rarely exists without influence from the ‘transnational.’

I found this week’s readings exceedingly interesting and very relevant to previous research I have done. Conrad’s emphasis on labor and migration as the driving force for this transnational ‘circulation’ is situated expertly within the growing importance of commercialism and industrialization in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century. While reading about the Polish-Prussian and German situation, I was reminded of Dr. Banerjee’s discussion last week on ‘circulation’ and the unequal exchange involved in the process. In this case, Polish migrant workers received opportunities for work and Germans received workers, a seemingly even exchange. Yet in the process, Polish cultures were assimilated and often erased as German nationalism evolved in contrast to a perceived ‘backward’ Polish cultural and ethnic identity. This unequal exchange interestingly mirrors the colonial model of ‘Othering’ and dehumanization typically found between white colonizers and the non-white colonized populations.

After absorbing the readings, my American brain, filled with often contentious and problematic U.S. history, began connecting this example to another uneven ‘circulation’ in the ‘New World.’ Much like with their German counterparts, British colonists and later American industrialists required physical labor and instituted systems of varying consent to acquire it. Indentured servitude, the most consensual form of forced labor, failed to meet demands and later gave way to convict labor and both eventually were replaced by the commodification and exploitation of enslaved Africans. While both indentured servants and convict laborers received an uneven exchange for their labor, popular thought and legal determinations on race made it easier for them to assimilate into (white) American culture into the nineteenth century. In contrast, the American national identity became rooted in notions of civil freedoms built from the labor of ‘racially inferior’ individuals. Labor and (unequal) immigration thus became a catalyst for the rise of the American nation and nationalism.

Labor, Migration, and ‘Circulation’