Leverhulme Visiting Professor Elena Marushiakova-Popova

We would like welcome our Leverhulme Visiting Professor Elena Marushiakova-Popova, who will be hosted by the School of History and the Institute for Transnational & Spatial History in 2014-15.

This is how Professor Marushiakova-Popova describes her research interests:

Professor Elena Marushiakova

Professor Elena Marushiakova

“I research a wide variety of topics from the history, ethnography, traditional and modern ethnic culture of the Roma (formerly known as ‘Gypsies’) in Central, Southeastern and Eastern Europe, and post-Soviet Central Asia and South Caucasus. On the other hand, I also probe into contemporary ethno-cultural and socio-political processes unfolding in Roma communities in the aforementioned areas, including their migrations to Western Europe. Such case studies feed into my broader work on ethnic processes, identity formation, the dynamics of national identity and transnational identities.

I have worked in the field of Romani Studies for more than three decades. Now I am President of the Gypsy Lore Society. This most important and oldest international scholarly organization devoted to Romani Studies. I am also founding and Scientific Committee member of the European Academic Network on Romani Studies, established by European Commission and Council of Europe. I am a member of the editorial boards of the international peer reviewed journals Romani Studies and Studia Romologica (Poland), and of the book series Grazer Romani Studien (University of Graz)and Nationalisms Across the Globe (Peter Lang).

During my Leverhulme Professorship I will strive to integrate the Roma history into the mainstream of European and global history, of which Roma have been an inalienable part since the Middle Ages. Simultaneously, I will work on my new research project ‘In Search of Utopia: Roma Visionaries (1865-1971).’ The project gathers and analyzes the written source-based history of Roma political visions of the future, as placed in broader intellectual framework of those times. With this research I will help including the history of Roma political ideas into the mainstream of the history of European thought.”

Throughout the academic year, Professor Marushiakova-Popova, will contribute to a number of research seminars and postgraduate teaching and supervision. Welcome, Elena.

Hunting Whales, Maritime Knowledge and the Transformation of Dundee

Welcome to our new PhD student: Matt Ylitalo. Matt came to St Andrews in 2013 to do an MLitt in Reformation History. Over the year he developed interests in the question of what constitutes knowledge and facts, leading to a dissertation the linked travel, the transfer of knowledge, and the Royal Society in the seventeenth century.

From the dissertation emerged fascinating discussions around transnational and global history, the history of knowledge and knowledge transfers. And here we are with a new project:

Matt’s project assesses how whaling in Dundee contributed to the history of maritime science, and to the city’s ‘global’ status, during the long nineteenth century.

Sperm whale at Leith Harbour, South Georgia, 1913

Sperm whale at Leith Harbour, South Georgia, 1913

The project will investigate whalers’ networks and processes of knowledge accumulation and transference; the project will then examine the impact that this epistemic migration had on Dundee in comparison to other transatlantic whaling ports.

Many towns throughout coastal Scotland engaged in whaling in the nineteenth century. On a transatlantic scale, ports such a New Bedford, Massachusetts and Sandefjord, Norway far outstripped Dundee in the magnitude of their whaling operations. Yet Dundee distinctly stands apart from other Scottish and transatlantic whaling communities. Most whaling communities followed an ephemeral pattern of existence, which consisted of hunting whales intensively for several decades, falling into decline and then realigning to more locally- or regionally-oriented commercial orbits. Dundee, however, defied this model both in duration and commercial scope. (…) Read more here.


Welcome Emma Bond

We are delighted to welcome Emma Bond as a new member of staff joining our Institute. Emma is a Lecturer in Modern Languages at St Andrews with interests in the interrelationship between space and identities in modern and contemporary literature.

P1110287_2[1] copyOther areas of her research cover women’s writing as well as the idea of mapping ‘Adriatic’ literature in order to tie together comparative links between Italian, Albanian and Greek literature.

Among her publication is the 2012 published Disrupted Narratives: Illness, Silence and Identity in Svevo, Pressburger and Morandini.

Welcome on board, Emma. It is a pleasure to see the Institute growing and bringing different schools, disciplines and perspectives together, notably History, International Relations, and Modern Languages.

CFP now open for our summer school INTERCONNECTED

Interconnected – Actors, Objects and Ideas on the Move

3rd GRAINES Summer School, St Andrews, 7-10 June 2015

GRAINES network and the Institute for Transnational & Spatial History, St Andrews in collaboration with the Institute for Intellectual History, St Andrews & Global Cities (AHRC Project)

Over the past years, networks, along with Actor-Network-Theory, have attracted scholars’ attention. While networks are not new as a topic, they have gained attention in particular in the field of global and transnational history. As part of global and transnational research perspectives, as well as in urban or intellectual history, in the history of science or in economic history networks serve multiple purposes. All these fields share an interest in processes of exchange, in connections and flows of people, goods and ideas that can be tracked and analysed through networks.

In these and related fields networks can be: Unknown

  • objects of research
  • outcome of research
  • a heuristic device and tool in order to generate research agendas.

Networks may also serve as a way of seeing spatial relations and dynamics beyond (or in addition) to more conventional geographical and territorial frameworks, e.g. nations, empires, regions, cities. The increasing interest in the study of networks coincides with a rapidly changing research environment and the rise of Digital Humanities. A variety of software and computing tools are available to visualise data and networks. This again poses questions on how to treat data, how to narrate and how to collaborate across and between disciplinary boundaries.

In the vein of previous GRAINES summer schools we invite applications from within and beyond the GRAINES network. While GRAINES shares a strong historical orientation with a focus on European history from the late medieval period to the present, we welcome applications from neighboring disciplines like Art History or Literature as well as the sciences (geoscience and computer science).

The purpose of the summer school is to bring together scholars and postgraduate students working on or with the concept of networks in projects related to transnational, global, urban and intellectual history.

Pair Programming

Pair Programming

The summer school will seeks to be a forum for sharing and collaborating, for knowledge production rather than consumption. In conjunction with more traditional elements such as reading groups, paper presentations, we adopt different elements of collaboration inspired by the model of “unconferences” (a model we successfully used for the “Mapping and Visualising Transnational (Hi)Stories” workshop in June 2014) as well as “Pair programming” in the Humanities.

Please send your proposal as a single word or PDF document (abstract of a project / proposal of max 250 words; brief biographical sketch of max 150 words including the motivation to participate and what you are willing to contribute & share during the summer school, e.g. contribute to reading group, writing session, workshop introducing a tool or software) to

Giada Pizzoni, mail: graines.interconnected@gmail.com

Fees: 130 GBP – includes: 4 nights student hall accommodation with B&B, dinner and catering during summer school. Travel expenses are not included.

Fees: 50 GBP – participation without accommodation.

Submission Date: 9 March 2015

 For further information see Interconnected and GRAINES.

Call for Papers is here Graines Interconnected_CFP.


Reflections: Compulsion of Two-Dimensionality – Under the Political Map of the World

HREWe continue our series of staff reflections on various issues from a transnational historical perspective. Dr Tomasz Kamusella FRHistS, is a Reader in Modern History. He is the author of the extensive monograph The Politics of Language and Nationalism in Modern Central Europe (Palgrave 2009).

During the last two centuries much scorn has been poured on the Holy Roman Empire that was dissolved in 1806, after the millennium when it had been the robust pillar of stability placed squarely at Europe’s center. Critics of the empire have not tired yet of repeating Voltaire’s quip that ‘This agglomeration which was called and which still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.’ The pronouncement’s emphasis on ‘agglomeration’ amounted to a disparaging comment on the fact that this empire was composed from an intricate lattice of over six hundred overlapping and interlaced polities enjoying sovereignty and direct recourse to the imperial institutions, including the emperor himself. Apart from these first-rank polities, the empire was also home to around two thousand more polities and territories of limited sovereignty, including free imperial villages.

The mass of polities and polity-like territories of various statuses and privileges let their rulers and inhabitants work out variegated ways of governance suited best to the local social and economic situation, with no need of involving the busy and distant emperor. This kind of self-government facilitated changing the arrangements obtaining in a polity in flexible reply to political events as they unfolded either at the local, imperial or all-European level. The absence of any formal capital in the empire (which now would be unthinkable in a present-day state) allowed for even more self-governance.

nienburg4The beginning of the end of the Holy Roman Empire was the Thirty Years’ War (or the most devastating military conflict in Europe prior to the two world wars) that was concluded by the Peace of Westphalia, that is, the series of treaties signed between May and October in 1648 at the cities of Osnabrück and Münster in the Duchy of Westphalia. This peace finished the period of religious wars between Catholics and Protestants, and yielded the international system of states as we know it today. Following the bout of decolonization in the second half of the Twentieth century, this system, from its modest beginnings in Westphalia, spread all over the globe.

The so-called ‘Westphalian order’ is founded on the model of territorial state. It assumes that the state to be legitimate it should come in a continuous block of territory, and its homogenous (then in confession, while today in citizenship or ethnolinguistically construed nationality) population must be governed by a single ruler enjoying absolute sovereignty within the polity’s boundaries. By the same token, no other states have the right to intervene in the polity in question, and ideally, its boundaries should be stable and inviolable. The latter principle increasingly limited the influence of dynastic marriages on state borders.

This new model of statehood, associated with modernity, spelled the end of the traditional polity as obtaining in the Holy Roman Empire. Before 1648 no one thought much either of the fact that a state could be composed from a myriad of disconnected – and often far-flung – territories, or that a polity or its different regions could be co-ruled by several monarchs. After 1648 overlapping jurisdictions fell foul of the principle of homogeneity, and similarly, enclaves and exclaves lost their popularity: the insistence on territorially continuous states won the day.

Before 1648, the then obtaining political imagination allowed for thinking about states as tri-dimensional objects. Practice showed that it was not beyond the monarch’s and his subjects’ capacity to travel from one territorial islet of their polity to another crossing the territory of a third polity. This was done before the age balloons, airplanes, helicopters and spacecraft, when most believed that Earth is flat.

Modernity – heralded by the territorial state, and the industrial and French revolutions – convinced almost all that our planet is a sphere hurling through space and gave us the means to test it with our own eyes, when we have a chance to travel on board a plane flying at the altitude of ten kilometers. At this height the curvature of Earth is clearly visible. In several hours you can move from one continent to another, observing on the in-flight screen numerous states over which the plane is passing.

Despite these technological and scientific developments, so widely available nowadays, but utterly unimaginable when the Holy Roman Empire still existed, our modern political imagination became hopelessly flattened. The Westphalian model of territorial state compels us to believe that polities are ‘naturally’ two-dimensional objects. Hence, one of the main tasks of European diplomacy in the first half of the Twentieth century was to rid the continent of remaining enclaves and exclaves, quite successfully completed after World War II, especially on the communist side of the Iron Curtain.

800px-Deutscher_BundIn the Nineteenth century, early practitioners of political science and proponents of a German nation-state similar in size and homogenous character to revolutionary France, coined the German term Kleinstaaterei for the presumed ‘disease of too small and territorially discontinuous states’ in the Holy Roman Empire and the German Confederation that replaced the former between 1815 and 1866.

Perhaps, in the taxonomy of illnesses suffered by the political, ‘flatnessity’ or ‘2-dimensionalenza’ is an apt label for the serious constriction of political imagination so characteristic of modernity.

Images from German Wikipedia entries, Das Heilige Römische Reich um 1400 and Deutscher Bund 1815–1866  by Ziegelbrenner

Reflections: Communism in a Single Country?

Tannu TuvaWe continue our series of staff reflections on various issues from a transnational historical perspective. Dr Tomasz Kamusella FRHistS, is a Reader in Modern History. He is the author of the extensive monograph The Politics of Language and Nationalism in Modern Central Europe (Palgrave 2009).

There is a unique value in leisurely leafing through various historical atlases and old geographical atlases, as sometimes, an unexpected leaps up to your face. It happened to me some years ago, when I was enjoying the third volume (entitled Neuzeit, or ‘Modernity’) of the Grosser Historischer Weltatlas (1957), edited by Josef Engel for the Bayerischer Schulbuch-Verlag in Munich, West Germany. On the map depicting the world in 1926 (pp 180-1), I spotted, marked in distinctive blue, the polity of Tannu Tuva, squeezed between the Soviet Union and Mongolia. It does not feature on any maps of the postwar period, which is worrying, as one tends to believe that states the size of Greece should not disappear without anyone noticing. Leaving no trail of protests. Without a whimper.

But I may be wrong. Who cares about the 600 odd polities of the Holy Roman Empire or the same amount of these in the British Raj India. Human attention to detail is fickle in the West, unless changes brush off directly on the very West: as reflected in statements delivered by its politicians, and reported in newspapers of wide circulation.

Having spotted Tannu-Tuva I could not let it go. Most Western textbooks of history when commenting on the interwar period, tend to brand the Soviet Union the ‘sole communist state’ on the globe’s face then, making the distinction sound as a blemish. But contrary to this piece of received knowledge, between the two World Wars, three communist states existed; apart from the aforementioned Soviet Union, also Mongolia and our forgotten Tannu-Tuva.

Where is it now? An explanation lies in the law of unexpected parallels. During the First World War, Montenegro was a member of the Allied camp. The Allies won this war, and duly, Montenegro was erased from the map by the Serbia-led Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. The Montenegrins did not even make it into the novel kingdom’s name.

When victory means demise, the story is similar in the case of Tannu-Tuva. The Tuvans valiantly offered to assist the Allies by sending the country’s army to fight alongside the Red Army against the Wehrmacht. From the Tuvan capital of Kyzyl (or ‘Red’ in the Turkic language of Tuvan) the state’s gold reserves were despatched to Moscow for bolstering the Allied war effort. And again, the Allies won the war, but Tannu-Tuva was gone. In 1944 the polity was annexed by the Soviet Union. No one batted an eyelid in the West. Jstor offers four or five short English-language articles on the history of Tannu-Tuva, but not a single one on the history of this essentially interwar polity. Not a single monograph has been devoted to it yet.

The topic is for grabs, and may yet transform a PhD student who gazes the direction of Tannu-Tuva a famous historian of the short-lived nation-state. A risk worth taking, because disappeared states have a tendency to pop back up onto the political map of the world. The case of Montenegro shows that it is far from impossible.

March 14, 2014

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Reflections: Does Israel Intend to Follow Central Europe’s Sad Example?

We continue our series of staff reflections on various issues from a transnational historical perspective. Dr Tomasz Kamusella FRHistS, is a Reader in Modern History. He is the author of the extensive monograph The Politics of Language and Nationalism in Modern Central Europe (Palgrave 2009).

Knesset Building I have spent the last two decades studying the rise and implementation of the idea of ethnolinguistic nationalism across Central Europe, or the home region of the majority of the world’s Jews for over a millennium until the Holocaust. The gradual establishment of Serbia, Greece, Montenegro, Italy, Romania, Germany and Bulgaria as ethnolinguistic nation-states during the 19th century was followed after World War I by the enshrining of the ethnolinguistic nation-state as the sole legitimate model of statehood in Central Europe. It meant the destruction of the polyglot, multiethnic and polyconfessional empires: Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, and also the detaching of similarly multiethnic borderland areas from Germany and the Russian Empire (soon overhauled into the Soviet Union in 1922). In their place the brand-new ethnolinguistic nation-states were founded, namely Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia and Albania, together with only briefly independent Belarus and Ukraine that were soon annexed by Bolshevik Russia.

Ethnolinguistic nationalism defines all the speakers of a language as a ‘proper’ nation. In turn, the territory compactly inhabited by the speakers of this language should be made into such an ethnolinguistically defined nation’s nation-state. The language now dubbed as ‘national’ is elevated to the rank of the nation-state’s sole official language. Ideally, no other languages should be allowed in official use and education, and the national language should not be shared with any other state or nation. These onerous conditions of ‘proper’ ethnolinguistic national statehood were successfully implemented across interwar Central Europe, much to the exclusion of speakers of languages other than the national one, but especially to the exclusion of Jews, even if they happened to speak a given national language. Interwar anti-Semitism, hand in hand with ethnolinguistic nationalism, additionally precluded assimilation of Jews, due to their ‘foreign’ religion, which – in line with the ‘science of race’ (Rassenkunde) and its application in the form of ‘racial hygiene’ (Rassenhygiene) – was construed as the biologized marker of the ‘Jewish race,’ and as such the ‘undeniable proof’ of their ‘irreducible Semitic racial foreignness.’

The noted interwar German-language writer Joseph Roth’s entire oeuvre mourns the loss of his patria, Austria-Hungary. In his novels and stories it represented a multiethnic and tolerant lost Central Europe where speakers of a variety of languages professing a plethora of languages could find a safe haven. He despaired of the exchange of the mansion of such open and accepting polities for the narrow cabins of exclusivist nation-states of the ethnolinguistic kind. Roth and many other intellectuals of Jewish origin hoped that in the then international language of German – spoken from Alsace to Moscow and from Helsinki to Trieste – they might find a new spiritual home, vaguely reminiscent of Austria-Hungary. A vain hope indeed it turned out to be in this novel as Central Europe was divided among ideologically monolingual nation-states, suspicious of any ‘racial’ foreignness that might be concealed by ‘crypto-Jews’ in their assimilation to the national language.

Numerous minorities speaking ‘wrong languages,’ including Jews, survived in interwar Central Europe’s nation-states, suffering indignities of discrimination visited at them by the regimes that rapidly abandoned democracy in favour of authoritarianism, and then totalitarianism. The tragic watershed of World War II demolished the last legal and moral constraints toward building ‘truly homogenous’ nation-states. Others had to disappear or to be disappeared. Between the early 1930s and the 1950s, genocide (infamously known as the ‘final solution’) and ethnic cleansing (euphemistically called ‘population transfer’) became the norm of social and political engineering in the bloodlands of Central Europe. Borders were moved and ‘foreign’ populations expelled to ‘their’ nation-states or exterminated. The result was a new Central Europe of ethnolinguistically homogenous nation-states, with almost no minorities left.

Likewise, despite the false dawn of communism in the Soviet bloc countries, there was no place left for Jews in postwar Central Europe, as poignantly symbolized by their late expulsion from Poland in 1968. Most Holocaust Jewish survivors departed for the United States and Israel. In the former state, as in Austria-Hungary, there is no official or national language, so one can speak and write in public and private what one wants and what one is comfortable with. Israel retained most laws of the British Mandate of Palestine, which was officially trilingual, in Arabic, English and Hebrew. Although English was struck from the pedestal of official language in independent Israel, informally it retains this position, thanks to the constant inflow of Jews from English-speaking states. A quarter of a century ago, when the Soviet bloc disappeared and the Soviet Union broke up, numerous Jews left the social and political disaster zone for Israel. In doing so they added Russian to English as another informal language of import among Israel’s Jews.

Meanwhile ethnolinguistic nationalism was again at work. Bilingual Czechoslovakia was divided into the monolingual nation-states of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The post-Soviet polities in Europe quickly dropped Russian and other minority languages in order to reinvent themselves as ‘proper’ monolingual nation-states in conformity with Central Europe’s ethnolinguistic nationalism. And when Yugoslavia splintered, its language of Serbo-Croatian splintered as well, so that each successor nation-states would be endowed with its own specific national language unshared with anyone else.

Talking to my students in Scotland about these processes in my module on ethnolinguistic nationalism in Central Europe, I note that prior to World War II, Central Europe was home to the world’s sole group of ethnolinguistic nation-states. Each basked in official monolingualism brandishing its specific and unshared language. A similar group of ethnolinguistic nation-states emerged in the course of decolonization in Southeast Asia. But there is no ethnolinguistic nation-state of this type anywhere else outside Eurasia, be it in Africa or the Americas. Some pointed out that Israel – with its interwar ‘language wars’ when proponents of Hebrew persecuted supporters of Yiddish – could be defined as an ethnolinguistic nation-state. I agreed to a degree, but emphasized the fact that Israel is officially bilingual. I also added that this skewing toward ethnolinguistic nationalism should not surprise, as most of Israel’s Jews stem from or are descendants of Jews from Central Europe where the ideology of ethnolinguistic nationalism was invented.

Having said that, I proposed to my students that Israel would not endorse the appealing, but in essence poisonous, lure of ethnolinguistic nationalism, because so many of its Jewish inhabitants came from the emphatically non-ethnolinguistic United States. Furthermore, the robust democracy enshrined in the Israeli legal and political system would have prevented such an occurrence. On the other hand, with the big bang eastward enlargement of the European Union (EU) in 2004, the holy grail of ethnolinguistic homogeneity in Central Europe’s nation-states is undermined by the use of the EU’s 24 official languages and the millions-strong migration waves from one member state to another. For instance, over one million Poles in the UK and Ireland have already become bilingual, though state and municipal offices, alongside the NHS, do provide them with printed and oral information in Polish when requested. This is an anathema and a death blow to the authoritarian dream of ethnolinguistically homogenous national statehood.

But now it appears I was wrong. The Jewish nation-state bill under deliberation in the Knesset provides for making Israel a monolingual ethnolinguistic national polity, to the exclusion of Arabic-speakers. But it appears that being a Hebrew-speaker would not be enough, either. Like in interwar or communist Poland where a Polish-speaking Jew could never be a ‘true Pole,’ according to the aforementioned bill, neither could a Hebrew-speaker of another religion but Judaism be a ‘proper Israeli.’ Perhaps this ethnolinguistic and ethnoreligious exclusion will be also extended to non-practising and secular Jews, and to Jews who converted to other religions. What would then happen to these ‘half-Israelis’ and ‘tolerated non-Israelis’ (Arabic-speakers), what is awaiting them in the future?

The history of ethnolinguistic nationalism in Central Europe provides a useful clue. The ethnolinguistic nation-state as the sole model of legitimate statehood in the region was enshrined almost a century ago. I do not believe in numerology, but it is quite an eerie coincidence that a hundred years later Israel should consider entering the ideological path which Central Europe trod during the bloody 20th century. It fills me with foreboding the more, as the bill is offered on the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War that erased Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire from the map. In these multiethnic empires many Jews found true home for many generations. In the successor nation-states they found themselves to be homeless, unwanted, excluded, discriminated, expelled and exterminated. Would anyone seriously wish a repeat of this Central European history in the Middle East?

Those who may answer ‘yes,’ seem to join with Vladimir Putin. On the centenary of World War I that severed the western borderlands of the Russian Empire, he embarked on the dangerous policy of regaining them. In March of this year (2014) Russia annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea and now is clandestinely stoking up and supporting the secessionist war in eastern Ukraine. His justification of the decisions is couched in purely ethnolinguistic terms. Most of the population in the aforementioned areas speak Russian, so according to him they are Russians. (To my knowledge no English politician seriously claims that Scots, Canadians or Americans must be English, because they speak the English language.) Following this line of thinking, Mr Putin proposes that it gives Russia the right to intervene and even annex all the territories compactly inhabited by Russian-speakers. Obviously, within the boundaries of the former Soviet Union or the so-called ‘near-abroad,’ but the logic could be easily extended to Israel with its 1.5 million Russian-speakers. This April the Russian Duma passed a law that recognizes each native Russian-speaker as a Russian and opens an easy path for them to obtaining Russian citizenship.

This law is strangely similar in its logic to the Jewish nation-state bill. Both idolize language and identity at the expense of democracy, inclusiveness and openness. History may be a great teacher, but apparently not in this case. Despite libraries full of books and websites clogged with information on discrimination, authoritarianism, totalitarianism, concentration camps and genocide in the 20th-century Europe, both Israel and Russia seem to have decided to give ethnolinguistic nationalism another try, this time in the 21st century. I pray this sad conclusion is wrong.

Cill Rìmhinn / Saunt Aundraes / St Andrews
November 28, 2014

In Practice: Bernhard Struck

What is transnational history (to me)? The Q Factor OR Transnational History as a Hearing Aid

The following post is part of a series of postings in which our institute members ask themselves “What does transnational and global history mean for me and my research?”. Read the take by Kelsey Jackson Williams, a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow based at St Andrews. The new post is by Bernhard Struck, currently co-director of the Institute for Transnational & Spatial History. 

Another semester has just come to a close. That makes four years of teaching and co-teaching transnational and global history on our two modules that feed into our general Modern History MLitt / Masters programme at St Andrews: Crossing Borders and Global Histories. End of semester is always a good to moment to step back (breathe, think what have we done and taught, how and why) and start thinking ahead. Next term will see the launch of a new undergraduate module Doing and Practicing Transnational History.

Next academic year, 2015-16, the Institute for Transnational & Spatial History will be launching its new Masters programme (MLitt) in Transnational and Spatial History – an exciting step for us as a team. So, time to breathe. Time to look back and ahead. And as we are at the end of term, my personal spin on the question “What is transnational history? (for me)” goes through the lens of teaching. In a nutshell: teaching – that comes with doing and practicing – transnational history for me is:

  • starting with & from curiosity
  • having exciting and unexpected conversations with a great mix of different people from various corners (and borders) of the world
  • seeing things differently and from different angles and perspectives
  • being pushed outside the comfort zone (including mine)
  • (re)mixing expertise & ignorance
  • being a better listener
  • give & take
  • finding flow & inspiration
  • thinking outside the box

These aspects and certainly others do not come in a particular order, though I have tried to put them in a order as I see them fit and interact. They correlate and reinforce one another. They may be more circular rather than linear or listed and ranked. But the circle has to start somewhere and, to me, transnational history starts with working with great, open-minded people in the first place. In 2011 we started teaching “Crossing Borders. European History in Transnational Perspectives”. Last year, in 2013, we added “Global Histories, Globalisation and its Histories”. Over the years we have taught groups of students that were small in size (which is part of the fun and quality, normally 4-6), but global in scale.

Discussing Spatial History and C. Withers "Placing the Enlightenment", Nov 2014

Discussing Spatial History and C. Withers “Placing the Enlightenment”, Nov 2014

In our little teaching and research village (that is St Andrews) on the east coast of Scotland we had students from the UK (perhaps obvious – but a minority), from the US, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Poland, France, Austria, Greece doing and practicing transnational history. And I am sure this is incomplete.

In return the modules have been taught by a Scot working on France and colonial Algeria (Stephen Tyre), by a (well) Scott-Kiwi or Kiwi-Scott working on interwar Europe (Conan Fischer), a Brit working on the transfer of seeds and botanist networks (Sarah Easterly-Smith), a Norwegian-Scot-US breed with the (embarrassing – for me as I only know some European) capacity of speaking three Asian languages (and Norwegian, Spanish, English) (that is Konrad Lawson), a German with an interest in border regions and travel (myself), a Pole or should we say a “truly-speaking” Central-European who masters God knows how many languages and works on even more languages (Tomek Kamusella) and a colleague with an Indian and Empire background working on French imperial histories (Akhila Yechury).

With normally two of us in the room we try to teach and discuss aspects such as “comparative and transnational history”, “transnational and global history”, “the question of scales in global history”, “networks and ANTs” (Actor-Network-Theory), “border regions”, “transfers and circulation of knowledge”, the role of “global cities” or the relevance of space in transnational & global history. (Take a look: Handbook Global History 2014)

Back to the students: the national labels used above as shorthand are somewhat misleading. We have had social anthropologists joining in from the Californian-Mexican borderlands. We have had students from, historically speaking, places from the former Habsburg lands that cannot be easily labelled under one national banner. We have had takers from the Bavarian-Austrian border or the French Jura with a view of the Swiss Alps.

What do these people (students and tutors alike), put into a single room once a week, share? What do we have in common? Not much apparently. In particular not if one starts with the national label. The national label and background apart, however, this constantly varying group that comes from different institutions (yes, they matter and we discuss that in the modules as part of the role of institutions, places of science and the circulation of knowledge) shares a lot, despite or rather because of different (national) traditions of doing history.

What these groups share leads back to my list above: taking curiosity as a starting point (not the safe or assumed safer ground of starting from the nation as spatial entity), mixing different expertise, pushing one’s comfort zones – all these contribute to the joy of teaching in such an environment (transnational in itself). These are elements that, to me, tease out the extra edge in teaching history, often simply by bringing in an otherwise unexpected perspective, and feed back into my own research. I would not like to compare teaching transnational & global history to other ways of teaching and practicing histories. There are too many exiting ways of doing it. However, what I have enjoyed over the years teaching these modules and the type of student is that they come with a certain openness and curiosity to step onto new grounds and unexplored territory.

Morenish House, Loch Tay - Transnational Away Weekend, January 2014

Morenish House, Loch Tay – Transnational Away Weekend, January 2014

Students come prepared for methodological discussions and are receptive to the open (and puzzling) questions: Where is transnational history (when history is not set in a – national – container)? How to enter global history – from the global (daunting) or the local? They come prepared to run the extra mile – learning another language. (If I did not miscount: there were six different native languages around the table at the last reading and hiking away weekend.)

This leads to a level of openness, receptiveness and alertness. It brings together different and unexpected fields of expertise. It makes people talk to one another across time and space that otherwise may not sit around the same table. It opens up confessing ignorance. It is easy to listen to an expert in field X. But experts are not always the best listeners – or explainers, for that matter. The transnational mix in class makes for better explainers and speakers. If you do not share too much of the same common ground, expertise, historiographical background, you have to explain more carefully and nuanced. You share more, but take more. This is where the unashamedly selfish researcher inside me comes in: I take a lot of ideas away from our classes as I learn so much from students and colleagues. (Do not worry, I like experts and expertise. Achtung! If you click on this, be aware of unashamed self-advertising and something on experts.)

Perhaps in a nutshell: Doing and teaching transnational & global history feels a bit like the famous Q factor that helps explaining the success of Broadway musicals. The mix makes the music. And I find myself often being a better listener to the transnational or global music in class, when I am ignorant of something others can teach me. To sum up: transnational history for me is a hearing aid. Happy to put it back in next term and start from scratch – and curiosity.

People on the Move I: Sending PhDs @tshts

Doing the Alps in the Alps 

Part of the joy of being a PhD student is to be on the move, isn’t it?  To see different places, to experience archives, to be stimulated by different institutional and intellectual cultures.

Jordan Girardin presenting at ENIUGH 2014 conference at ENS, Paris

Jordan Girardin presenting at ENIUGH 2014 conference at ENS, Paris

One of our PhD researchers, Jordan Giardin, who came from Sciences Po to St Andrews in 2012 for an MLitt in Modern History, stayed on for a research project on the Alps with a transnational twist: “The Alps from Natural Border to Transnational Space” investigates the Alps as a space – an espace vécu, to speak with Henri Lefebvre – through the lens of networks, travel, encounters around 1800.

In his second year, it was time to move and experience the Alps first hand and to dig into archives between Basel, Bern and Zurich. We are grateful that our GRAINES partners at the University of Basel and Professor Martin Lengwiler in particular for hosting and welcoming Jordan this semester.

In Practice: Kelsey Jackson Williams

The Baltic in 1539.  Olaus Magnus draws his world

The Baltic in 1539. Olaus Magnus draws his world

The following is the first in a series of postings in which our institute members ask themselves “What does transnational and global history mean for my own research?”. Our first posting is by Kelsey Jackson Williams, now a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow based at St Andrews.

Why transnational history? My background is in the intellectual history of early modern Britain and as I write this I’ve recently begun a new book project which focuses on antiquaries in Enlightenment Scotland. On the face of it, that doesn’t sound very transnational at all. To make things worse my graduate degrees are in English Literature, a discipline which by its very nature tends more often than not to rigorously reaffirm the existence of linguistic and national boundaries. So why transnational history?

Because anything else would be a tremendous distortion of the people and issues I study. The antiquaries I’m currently investigating were not living isolated in Scotland – quite the reverse. From their vantage point on the north-eastern coast they were entangled in sea routes which stretched to France, the Low Countries, Denmark, Sweden, the Baltic coast of the German lands, and as far as Reval or Ingermanland at one extreme or Italy and the Levant at the other.[1] Positioned as they were, they found themselves participating in an intellectual culture which does not map onto national borders, then or now. Even something as basic as their university education challenges the assumption, so often made, that early modern Scotland was insular, peripheral, or otherwise cut off from the rest of the world: Robert Sibbald (1641-1722) studied in Leiden, George Mackenzie (1669-1725) in Oxford, another George Mackenzie (1638-1691) in Bourges, John Paul Jameson (1659-1700) in Rome, Thomas Innes (1662-1744) in Paris, Patrick Abercromby (c.1671-post 1735) in Douai. The list goes on. And as for what they read? Sibbald is a good example because we have a relatively complete catalogue of his library. Randomly sampling it I see books published in Würzburg, Raków, Rotterdam, Paris, Messina, Geneva, Treviso, etc. In this light, thinking transnationally seems like the sensible thing to do.

I’m still figuring out how to go about this – transcending nationalist assumptions is easier said than done. What I have learned, though, is that looking past the preconceptions of older literature (say, Scots were backward, isolated, and only cared about Scotland) can reveal remarkable, untapped riches (say, a 25,000 volume library, now in Bavaria, which was assembled by a community of Scottish scholar-monks at Ratisbon throughout the early modern period).[2] I’ve also become increasingly convinced that maps are incredibly powerful hermeneutic tools. Like the beautiful 1539 carta marina drawn by the Swedish scholar Olaus Magnus (printed, however, in Venice) and pictured here, all it takes is a different envisioning of space to make you think, “hold on – what if the relations between x and y were actually this?” Thinking about space and how the real and imagined spatial contours of the early modern world affected scholars continues to be vital to my research.

So for me, the answer to the question of “why transnational history?” or “why spatial history?” is quite simply: it opens new avenues of research, it makes me think about my subject in new ways, and it makes me reach beyond older nationalist assumptions to begin to recover the rich, strange, and thoroughly transnational world of early modern scholarship.

Andreapolis / Cill Rìmhinn / St Andrews
October 2014

[1] Reval being the German for the city we now know by its Estonian name of Tallinn.  Ingermanland (in Swedish) at the far eastern end of the Baltic was Ingeri to the Estonians, Inkeri to the Finns, or Ингрия to the Russians. The Ingrian noble family Pistohlkors believed they were descended from a younger son of the Scotts of Craighall (an easy drive from Dundee).

[2] Ratisbon being the English and Scots name (at least until recently).  It’s Regensburg in German, Ratisbonne in French.

Image, Carta Marina, public domain on WikiCommons.