I would like to preface my comments on this week by saying that I found Sebastian Conrad’s chapters engaging enough to work through even whilst running a fever, which says a lot for their quality.  

Conrad’s suggestion that increasing transnational labour flows (or the perception of such increases) had a strong correlation with the hardening of national boundaries in Germany (and those areas which labour was originating from) is a fascinating one. I found the massive undertaking that was his chapter on Chinese emigration to be particularly informative in this regard. Additionally, reading a review by Andrew Bonnell which mentioned Conrad’s theoretical use of ‘biopolitics’ also provided a really interesting lens through which to look at state boarder formulation and the treatment of workers. One cases in which I saw elements of this theoretical lens was in Conrad’s discussion of the German association of Polish agricultural workers with diseases, leading to the deployment of doctors along the Polish border to ‘check’ incoming workers, regulating and controlling them.

However, despite being enamoured with Conrad’s work, it was reading chapter 4 which suddenly caused me to realise quite how difficult it is to write a fully cohesive transnational history. Take, for example, a minor comment by Conrad’s on page 224, where he suggested that the popular spectre of ‘yellow peril’ after the Boxer rebellion (1899-1901) and Russian defeat to Japan (1905) allowed for the construction of the German naval fleet from 1900 onwards. Whilst this assertion is referenced and is no doubt valid at some degree, I fear it falls into the trap which Rüger identified in his work on OXO wherein histories of transnational interconnection sometimes miss important points. In this case, a massive body of research indicating that German naval development was almost certainly tailored to engage with British dominance over commerce, and not a Japanese invasion of Europe (a personal interest of mine which I wrote on last semester).

The purpose of this admittedly unreasonably nit-picky argument, is to illustrate how hard it is to engage with every relevant ‘node’ of transnational connection when writing history. I feel that the interconnectedness of the historical and contemporary worlds makes writing any history which fully describes every component of an event, concept or period from a transnational perspective very challenging. This is something I would like to discuss further in seminars or office hours because I think it will be important when it comes to planning the scope, structure and topics of my upcoming essays.

Week 3 Thoughts

One thought on “Week 3 Thoughts

  • February 1, 2022 at 11:21 am

    That is very brave of you: fever and reading a rather complex text. Credit to you and Conrad! And yes indeed happy to discuss in class and or office hours.

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