The Centre for Transnational History was launched in early 2009 and became the Institute for Transnational & Spatial History in September 2014. It combines the expertise of a number of colleagues working on European, Asian, North American or transatlantic history from the seventeenth century to the present. Individual and collaborative projects combine comparative, transnational and global perspectives.
What is transnational history?
Is modern Europe simply the sum of its national histories and historiographies? Can modern European history be thought of and written beyond the framework and boundaries of national histories? To what extent did European societies perceive and influence each other since the late-eighteenth century? How far did – and does – Europe stretch at certain periods? What about the patterns and dynamics of interconnection amongst European societies? To what extent did colonies and other non-European regions influence European societies and culture and were, in turn, influenced by them? These are questions tackled by transnational history.
We see transnational history as an open approach, a perspective and a way of seeing rather than a strict method. Transnational history allows us to bring together the synergies of different approaches including comparative history, global history, the history of transfers and circulation of ideas, in order to study the flow and movement of objects and people across time and space, often crossing borders between nations, states and cultures. As such it allows us to bring together a number of different fields of expertise and approaches and open up the otherwise often fixed entities or containers of history, may this be the idea of a spatially confined culture or nation.
What is spatial history?
Spatial history comes in a wide variety of forms. It can involve a greater attentiveness to the physicality and materiality of spaces – to the fact that history quite literally ‘takes place’. It can also comprise an analysis of spaces as imagined and discursively constructed. One may think, for example, of mental maps produced by travel guides and landscape paintings, as well as imaginaries evoked by spatial concepts such as ‘the West’, ‘the Balkans’, and ‘the Global South’, but also ‘city’, ‘countryside’, and ‘home’.
Spatial history also engages with practices of territorialisation, the drawing of borders and creation of infrastructure. It dissects the processes of knowledge production, which are generated in and shaped by distinct sites such as laboratories, salons, and universities. It explores spaces both as constituted by and as constituting social relations and human interaction. Space – and that’s one of the more fundamental points here – no longer appears as a mere stage, unaffected by the social interaction unfolding on it. Instead, it is produced by this very social interaction, and it is also itself an agent in the constitution of society.
Spatial history also draws on maps. But it uses maps less as an illustration of seemingly objective geographical realities, and more as primary sources in their own right. Maps appear as forms of symbolic representation, which can be read as visual modes of persuasion – as visual arguments. Finally, spatial history can involve the creation of maps, among other forms of data visualization. This is about the use of computational methods embraced by the term ‘historical GIS’ (Geographic Information Systems) – for the purpose of generating new insights as well as new questions.
Research, Projects and Interests
In the School of History at St Andrews a large group of historians share a strong interest in comparative and transnational history as well as finding new ways of locating European history within a wider context. Our research and teaching activities cover the time period from c.1750 to the late-twentieth century and geographical areas as diverse as Germany, France, Switzerland, Great Britain, Italy, Poland, Russia, South-Eastern Europe, Iran, Northern Africa and North America.
Our current transnational research projects fall within the fields of travel writing and the circulation of knowledge, the history of borders and border regions, intellectual history, spatial history, the history of NGOs, popular culture, relations between Europe and Iran, and the Mediterranean as a European contact zone. Other areas cover imperial history as well as East Asian history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Lectures, seminars, conferences and workshops
The Institute organises lectures, research seminars on comparative and transnational history. In order to provide an inspiring research context, we run a series of reading group sessions open to staff and students. We host conferences, workshops and we are co-organising a travelling summer school as part of our GRAINES network. A novelty we introduced in 2016 are the manuscript workshops: Interested ITSH members pre-circulate a draft article/book chapter/book of theirs, which is read by a few other members of the Institute. The readers offer specific comments on the draft, which they discuss with the author during the workshop and which they send to her/him in writing afterwards.
Edited by Riccardo Bavaj, Konrad Lawson, and Bernhard Struck, Doing Spatial History (published in 2022 by Routledge Taylor and Francis Group) provides a practical introduction to spatial history through the lens of the different primary sources that historians use. It is informed by a range of analytical perspectives and conveys a sense of the various facets of spatial history in a tangible, case-study based manner. This text forms part of the Routledge Guides to Using Historical Sources series.
Jointly authored by Konrad Lawson, Riccardo Bavaj, and Bernhard Struck, A Guide to Spatial History provides an overview of the thematic areas, analytical aspects, and avenues of research which, together, form a broader conversation around doing spatial history. Spatial history is not a field with clearly delineated boundaries. For the most part, it lacks a distinct, unambiguous scholarly identity. It can only be thought of in relation to other, typically more established fields. Indeed, one of the most valuable utilities of spatial history is its capacity to facilitate conversations across those fields. Consequently, it must be discussed in relation to a variety of historiographical contexts. Each of these have their own intellectual genealogies, institutional settings, and conceptual path dependencies. With this in mind, this guide surveys the following areas: territoriality, infrastructure, and borders; nature, environment, and landscape; city and home; social space and political protest; spaces of knowledge; spatial imaginaries; cartographic representations; and historical GIS research.