Saturday, May 17, 2008

Tyrell, What is Transnational History?

What is transnational history? asks Ian Tyrell, Scientia Professor of History at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, on his new blog. Drawing from his paper at Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociale, Paris, Tyrell suggests that discussions of transnational history sometimes suffer from "misconceptions of the subject, and methodological weakness in failing to consider the historiographical context of the term’s development, and the historical practice of its deployment."

"Transnational," Tyrell writes, "is a broader term, but it is less encompassing than either the deterministic and unidirectional juggernaut of globalisation, or the generalities of the terminology of 'trans-border' which might refer to borders within nation states, including municipalities. The purpose of the transnational label was in fact more precise: to focus on the relationship between nation and factors beyond the nation."

In American history, the importance of transnationalism as a method was signalled by a 1992 special issue of the Journal of American History devoted to "internationalizing" American history, The Nation and Beyond. A series of conferences, a report to the Organization of American History, and a collection edited by Thomas Bender, Rethinking American History in A Global Age (2002), continued the momentum. But the OAH internationalizing project occurred alongside of other developments. As Tyrell notes, "in 1989-1991 that the idea of a self-conscious agenda called transnational history first came into being, linked to a specific research program. Though closely associated with an article I wrote in the American Historical Review (1991), the idea had been suggested in a narrower form in 1989 by Akira Iriye who argued for an examination not just of nationalism but of “internationalism” and suggested the study of an explicitly “transnational cultural history” to complement purely national developments." And there were precursors earlier in the 20th century, although they were "seed cast upon stony ground." Today, "the field of transnational history (and related developments going on today in sociology and anthropology) has a prospect of transforming scholarship...precisely because it chimes in with perceived changes in the world economy and social order associated with globalisation."

Continue reading here. Tyrell's most recent book is Transnational Nation: United States History in Global Perspective since 1789.

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