Transnational history studies the links and the flows of people, ideas, products or culture across various societies and regions. When analyzing studies in transnational history, it is imperative to identify the historical players that weave a vast number of places to a single web. In the past few centuries, travelers, immigrants, and colonists helped to spread culture, ideology, goods, and ideology from Europe and North America to almost all corners of the world. However, the moving human beings are not always the actual linkers among regions.
Many places are connected by the tangible objects or intangible ideas though carried by migrating population. Sometimes, the connection even does not need men from different locals to meet—books, news articles, or music discs circulated in the world are sufficient to establish links among regions. In this historiography essay, I would like to use seven books to analyze how different nations or regions are linked together, what are the linkers among these areas, and whether the linkers, once bring some places together, simultaneously disconnect other regions.
All the material or immaterial linkers in the books to be analyzed fall into three categories. The first one is the naturally transnational linkers, like medical knowledge, nuclear danger, or cotton cultivation technology. The ones in the second category may need some media or human carriers, such as footballs, music, and books. The third one is some ideologies, which may develop independently in many places but serve the same purpose. Some examples are state capitalism, sex values, and anti-imperialism struggles.
In most studies, writing transnational history requires researchers to investigate the events happening in more than one country and to trace the multi-directional flow of people, products, or ideas. A transnational study can cover two nations, or multiple nations in a geographical region. Nico Slate’s Colored Cosmopolitan covers the exchange of experience and strategies between anti-imperialism/caste resistances in British-controlled India and African-Americans’ anti-racism struggle.
Because of the racial suppression in these two nations, they identified a common goal and a racial pride to stay together and to fight against racial suppression. On a larger scale, an author can focus on a geographical region. Lara Putman’s Radical Moves concentrates on the Caribbean islands and the United States, to be more specific, the migrant workers in this area. She stresses that the circulation of people in these regions at the same time contributed to the nativism and state-building along their path, as well as the rise of the black internationalism.
The migrants in the cities and states in this area aligned themselves together via both their unique music and the newspaper articles conveying their shared pursuit and ideology. However, transnational history does not demand analysis of countries. The transnational approach can be applied to investigate the links among specific communities within one or multiple societies. It can also demolish all geographical boundaries and treat the whole world as a research unit. Kate Brown’s Plutopia primarily studies two places, Richland in the U. S. nd Ozersk in the USSR.
Although these two locales had no direct connection, the danger of plutonium and the national nuclear projects shared by the two nations transcended the insurmountable barrier of ideology and culture. They turned these two places into enclaves with similar functions—isolating nuclear contamination and demonstrating the superiority of the respective society. In contrast to Kate Brown’s focus on the history of specific communities, Sven Beckert’s Cotton of Empire views the cotton history from the global perspective.
Although he talks about cotton production and manufacture in different countries, he views the whole world as a cotton factory. The world was linked by the need of clothes and the flow of cotton from fields to factories, then to markets located in every continent. The flow of treasure, labor, and raw material within the global factory forged distant area together and formed the core of capitalism. Because of the different geographical scope in these transnational studies, the authors must adapt their sources accordingly.
Slate’s book traces the shared goals between the U. S. and India. The unity between the two nations was primarily facilitated by contacts between Indian and African-American activists and their mutual reflection. Hence, the author depends on the papers of the famous activists in both two countries, especially the communication between them. Sometimes, biographies of the famous activists are used to analyze their trips and acquisition of their peers’ strategies. Similarly, the study of the spatial Caribbean region in Putman’s book requires archival sources in English and Spanish from multiple nations aligned together.
The newspaper articles from various nations, which the author regards as an important link among states, play a similar role as the communications in Slate’s book—they provided the important figures of migrant workers a platform to convey their shared concerns and to debate the approaches to struggling for their rights outside their homeland. As Putman focuses more on the lower-ranking, nameless migrant works than the prominent black leaders, she does not consult many biographies.
To trace the life-trajectory of these people, she cites oral records and remittance collection of the migrant labors and collates them with the official documents of labor management. To study the local history of distant communities, Kate Brown has to use a different set of sources. Although the nuclear cities belonged to a national project thus state-level archival sources are still useful, the author has to adapt her sources to the small scope of her studies.
Regional archives, like the Richland city collections and the Russian regional archives that hold files about Ozersk, play crucial roles in this research. Personal collections of those who experienced the birth of Richland and interviews with the residents in Ozersk are also crucial to the author’s narratives. In contrast to the studies in small locales, writing a global history like the world cotton business demands references from as many areas as possible. Thus, Beckert consults untranslated books and archival sources in many countries—Britain, Japan, India, France, Germany, etc.
Transnational studies can also concentrate on a single nation. The location is like a huge beaker in a chemistry laboratory, where different ideas or various groups of people confront and merge with each other. Such meeting may result in novel culture or thinking very different from the original ones. Warwick Anderson’s Colonial Pathologies only describes the American public health system and state-building in the Philippines in the early 20th century. The colonial officials had the sole power in promulgating the public health rules.
Moreover, the author depends exclusively on the files of the colonial government and papers of American officials, but not the accounts of contemporary Filipinos or local records. Despite the limits in geography and sources, Anderson concentrates on how Americans responded to the local environment and microbial fauna. In their attempts to deal with pathogens in the Philippines and to control the colonial subjects, the western modernization represented by the colonial medical official’s knowledge and laboratory studies clashed with the indigenous culture and social activities, which were described in the papers of the colonial officials.
They perceived the Filipinos’ as a dirty race thus launched campaigns both to improve their hygienic practices and to impose “American civilization” on them, during which they faced resistance from local people and the colonial projects ended in Filipino’s “mimicry. ” Hence, even Anderson merely writes about the American colony, he demonstrates the transnational exchange of ideas between the colonists and the colonized, which produced novel disease-control practices fit for the environment in the Philippines and applicable to multiple locations globally.
In Soccer Empire, Laurent Dubois describes a similar interaction between French and immigrants but in the metropole. The soccer game provides the people from French colonies or ex-colonies with a chance to win equality and respect in France and to fight its discriminative policies toward immigrants. The game is also a venue for immigrants from various states to forget about their difference and to join hands in resisting racism in France.
In contrast to Anderson, Dubois emphasizes the immigrants’ response to the racial suppression; thus he takes a wider pool of sources about soccer and immigrants written in French. The popularity of soccer and the prominence of the French immigrant players investigated by Dubois indicate that the first-hand accounts of these players’ early experience rising from marginalized communities are readily available in public media and archives, a privilege not enjoyed by the American subjects in the Philippines in the early 20th century.