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Forum: Reviewsymposium "Transnationale Geschichte": The New Consensus


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First off, I would like to join the homage to Jürgen Kocka who is honored with the present volume for a life-time of successfully pushing his own historical research and writing in ever new directions, and for making students, colleagues, friends – as well as bureaucracies and funding agencies – do the same. Of course, moving on, developing and incorporating new ideas and approaches is what research is all about. But theory and practice rarely jive as well as they do in the case of the honoree.

The challenge for the illustrious group of well-wishing authors consisted in connecting their own work with the current excitement about transnational history. Some authors approach this task with more enthusiasm than others, and some insist that nothing is ever new under the sun (and that they’ve been there all along). However, the striking feature of the entire volume is how consensual the notion of transnational history has become over the last few years. Most everyone, it seems, agrees on the basic presupposition that there is history “beyond the nation state” and that this history is more than a history between nations.[1] That is, there is a history other than national and inter-national history. This history explores actors, movements, and forces that cross boundaries and cut into the fabric of nations. It mandates a “global” or, in any case, grander-than-national horizon for thought and action.

This agreement is vague and accompanied by a lot of backsliding. Still, its general acceptance is noteworthy. In my view, it points to the effective erosion of the “real-existing” idea of modernity, of both Weberian and of Leninian descent, that underwrote postwar German historiography. It also offers a way beyond the “posts” of the eighties – post-modernism, post-functionalism, post-structuralism – towards a new understanding of what has been and what yet again could be modern. You might consider this development a challenge for the generation of deliberately modern, postwar historians. But you could also see it as promise. The consensus about transnational history holds out the hope for a past with a future – and for a modern future to be regenerated from the past at that. It thus takes on similar valences as Gesellschaftsgeschichte in the sixties and seventies. The difference is that the modernity-to-be is regenerated beyond the nation and is situated in an inter-connected, if frighteningly in-egalitarian world.

The emerging consensus incorporates a changing sense of historicity and a new frame of reference. The former is shared widely, while the latter is specific to transnational history – or, in any case, what is commonly understood to be transnational history. For the awkward thing is that the transnational-history consensus, which is so well represented in the current volume, and transnational historiography (what the lot of transnational historians actually do) operate in different registers. Therefore, we have three dimensions of transnational history to consider: the changing historical craft, the new transnational frame of reference, and, albeit briefly, the actual practice of transnational history.

The most enticing element of transnational history, as commonly understood, is its sense of openness and experimentation. It is not quite that “anything goes,” although it may look that way if we follow Hans-Ulrich Wehler’s account in “Transnationale Geschichte – der neue Königsweg der historischen Forschung.” But certainly most everything is being tried in terms of subjects, methodologies, and even epistemologies. There is a distinctly experimental edge to the transnational study of the past that occasionally goes with a disregard for older scholarship and a lack of knowledge, if not dismissal, of intellectual traditions. In this, it is a thoroughly modernist enterprise. Typically, two of the main proponents (of otherwise quite different versions) of transnational history in Germany, Sebastian Conrad and Jürgen Osterhammel, refuse, and make a virtue of refusing, to make over transnational history into a theory or even into a unified approach beyond insisting that it must uncover “connections and constellations, which transcend national borders.”[2] In the same vein, a leading French scholars in the field, Pierre-Yves Saunier, insists that transnational history must not peddle a new paradigm, but should be “adopting a perspective [or] angle” by virtue of paying attention to “movements and forces that cut across national borders.”[3] We may conclude that transnational history follows these movements, forces, and subjects to wherever they may lead – and this occasionally turns into quite an adventure.

Such open-ended journeys – surprisingly often into genuinely un-charted domains – are the main reasons why transnational history has caught on. Of course, as with Columbus’s discovery, the new world is an old one for those who have been toiling there all their lives, as historians of migration will readily attest. Also, as Emma Rothschild notes in “Arcs of Ideas: International History and Intellectual History” and as Margrit Pernau has observed elsewhere, the costs of these journeys are high.[4] Still, the excitement prevails that there are worlds across borders whose exploration changes what history can be. In view of the postwar-modern amalgamation of nation, history, and the West, the call for a transnationalization of perspectives is a significant departure in actual fact.

If this departure appears minor, this is only because the transnational “angle” has already been thoroughly assimilated. Naturally, so most of our authors seem to agree, nations and their subject(s) operate within the “context” – this would not be my choice of word, but it is the word of choice for many of them – of transnational movements, forces, and circuits. If the nation, irrespective of its continuing importance, is no longer second nature (as was presumed by postwar conservatives) or is no longer refashioned into a second skin (as the postwar moderns did with Gesellschaftsgeschichte), the very concept of the nation, the nation-form, is opened up for renewed questioning. What are the transnational conditions for its development? James Sheehan, in his essay “Paradigm Lost? The ‘Sonderweg’ Revisited,” explains the longing for and unease with the nation in the postwar German historiography. The postwar solution, a progressive Gesellschaftsgeschichte, overlooked what should have been obvious. Germany was very much an entangled nation. In a similar vein, Moshe Zimmermann’s essay “Die transnationale Holocaust-Erinnerung” explores the inherent tension between singularizing the Holocaust and generalizing genocide history and memory. The resulting impasse is difficult to resolve, but the tension is more than historiographic. Rather, it indicates that the nation (and its memory) is always already in question, because it collides and interacts with a wider world.

The second feature of the historians’ craft that transnational history brings out is a heightened sensitivity to agency, the (relative) capacity of individuals and collectives to act. What is gone for good are the categorical “black boxes” of postwar historiography, such as nation, corporation, class, or gender (conspicuously absent from this volume) that were propelled through history by forces only social scientists and historians were able to divine. The quest for identifiable, human agency has proven to be a strong solvent for these postwar “engines of history.” The “container”-nation has disappeared from the scene, much as the social forces that accelerated ever upward (like the proletariat) or, as the case may be, ran into proverbial walls (like the German bourgeoisie). Old-style modernization theory was another casualty of this upheaval long before transnational history came into play. A look back at the linguistic turn will confirm that the latter took de-construction on board mainly in order to break through the hard shell of “black box” actors. In his essay “Cultural History,” Peter Jelavich explains admirably this epistemic break that arrived with cultural history. Partha Chatterjee, in “A Brief History of Subaltern Studies,” and David Sabean, in “Reflections on Microhistory” point to the other two main inspirations that moved history beyond the modernization age of mechanical propulsion.

World systems theory articulated most clearly the postwar standard that had the logic of capitalism and empire – the world system – wield supreme power that flushed everything into its metropolitan, semi-peripheral, or peripheral place. In the meantime, neither capitalism nor empire have disappeared, but the turn to the cross-border traffic of people, things, images, and ideas has rather dislodged – and, at the very least, complicated – previous certainties about capitalism, empire, and the course of modern history. If, as Chris Bayly has argued, the industrial revolution follows, rather than precedes, the globalizing revolution of pilgrims, merchants and empires, the order of the world as we know it is turned upside down.[5] If the movements of people across the globe are not simply taken as an abstract pattern, but as the pursuit of labor and livelihood over grand distances, the pushes and pulls – the axes of power and exchange as Natalie Zemon Davis puts it in her essay “What is Universal about History?” – of capitalism and empire assume a more truthful place. Historical forces in turn are translated into tangible actors – which, incidentally, include things, ideas, and images as well. The study of such actors moving across borders exposes “cracks in categories like gender, class, and nation” (Jelavich, 230) and opens up possibilities for a more generative history that studies social bonds and identities in the making. Class, gender, ethnicity, the very sense of nation, changes in the presence of migrants, as has been demonstrated in abundance lately. As a result, the eighties rage to de-construct has rather given way to a fuller and richer exploration of the capacity, and its limits, of people (and things) to act; of their ability to harness collective resources; and the challenge to set up viable life-worlds and rules of conduct to live by. The wager of transnational history in all of this is that even the most parochial and inward-turned worlds are imbricated in other worlds of action and imagination that range beyond parish or nation.

Jelavich also hints at a third element that informs transnational history, a new way of thinking about change and a new curiosity about the ways and the directions in which people or nations “develop” or “modernize” – and the reasons why, in being pulled together through interaction, they come to diverge so much. Where an older structuralist approach discerns force-fields and vectors of change (and hence presumes a stable universe of fields), Jelavich, following Marshall Sahlins, puts the moment of change at the cusp of clashing worlds, such as Captain Cook landing in Hawai’i. The salient point is that people come under pressure to change when the way they understand the world (the linguistic/symbolic codes by which they live) and the way the world impinges on them clash. They change in coming to grips with an excessive reality – with wide-open outcomes.[6] But in changing they also preserve what they got. Much of the transnational debate is over the “stickiness” of social values, norms, and imaginaries in the cross-traffic of people, goods, and ideas. The grand surprise is not only that there are other than European modernities, but how persistent people are in preserving their field of vision or horizon of experience even, and especially, when they change and transform themselves.[7] They “develop,” but do not converge. And inasmuch as they interact, they instantly differentiate themselves. Convergence toward a normative modernity that is theorized by modernization theory, it turns out, has not happened, not least because it failed to deliver the goods when it was tried. Difference and differentiation matter, because they are the more successful “development.” However, strategies of dropping-out of transnational interaction, of sheltering the nation against the world, have also failed manifestly. It is connectivity that counts, notwithstanding a half-century of efforts to the contrary from the Soviet Union to India and on to Mexico and a whole lot of compelling thinking along the way. A whole world of presumptions over development, modernization, and global convergence has fallen apart – and given way to a heightened interest in the conditionality and multi-directionality of transnational interaction.

In order for a historical appraisal of this transnational interaction to come about, the liberal pretense of a world coming together through global connectivity had to fall on the way-side. (It is interesting to see that the so-called neo-liberals never bought into the myth.) The transnational consensus suggests a line of inquiry that sets it apart from both. It explores the interface of connected worlds and the mediators that cut across them. It studies how things, like movies, straddle different worlds, are picked up, rejected, adapted, and, not uncommon at all, condemned while being appropriated even across enemy lines. Micky Mouse in the Third Reich, Hollywood in Japan, Tokyo (plus Moscow and Paris) in Shanghai – this circulating “vernacular modernism” is the stuff modernity is made of.[8] Alternatively, historians have turned to technology, pretty much with the same questions about the lines of transfer/reception/adaptation.[9] The latter is never an easy or self-evident process. It is always fraught with tensions. (Japanese cinema in China was as attractive as it was contested, much as some of the products of the Third Reich in occupied and neutral Europe.) Rather than ever-growing peace, the persistence of cross-cutting disturbances has become the very substance of transnational history. Its main wager is that such disturbances ripple across regions and cut across borders, where they had previously been seen as product of endogenous clashes over modernization. Anglophobia at the turn to the twentieth century is a good case in point (and any inquiry on the subject would immensely improve, if it involved secondary metropolitan as well as colonial countries, such as Germany and Bengal, in comparison).

Transnational historiography proper reaches beyond what I would consider a consensual approach by now. It posits the interstices between nations, the quintessential “in-side,” and the world of cross-border traffic, the quintessential “outside,” as the crucial disjuncture of modern times and, hence, considers it to be the main source of change. No nation generates modern life from within, although all of them instantly historicize and, that is, nationalize modernization (to the ridiculous, but telling point that all modern inventions are ascribed to indigenous origins). The long and the short of this is that the development of nations is predicated on transnational interaction. Transnational historiography proposes that cross-border transactions, cutting across the national field of vision, create the excess of reality that generates or puts pressure on change within.[10] Such interaction can be perceived both as threat and as opportunity. In any case, the exogenous perspective of transnational historiography competes with, and attempts to sublate, the genealogical principle that has defined national history.

Transnational history, in this sense, is not just another field to be added to national history. Rather, in exploring the disjunctures between inside and outside, transnational history is poised to develop, not simply another perspective, but a different national history. For the time being, it is more of a project with many loose ends than a distinct approach and it is more of an orientation than a paradigm. But this inchoate openness is also its main strength – and in that its current status resembles that of Gesellschaftsgeschichte forty years ago. Much as it was obvious then that society could not be negated as a subject of history, notwithstanding the entrenched values and practices of then prevailing historiography, it is quite as self-evident now that the nation is not a “monad” or a “container.” Putting pressure on the transnational consensus, I would add that processes of remaking the body social and politic turn as much on the (exogenous) transactions between the nation and the world as on the osmosis between an (endogenous) past, present, and future.

This is where the jostling over frames of reference begins. The open question is how to turn a consensual perspective (that nations are part and parcel of an interdependent world) into particular research strategies that produce new insights. In my view, there are basically three ways to go about the task, all of which are exemplified in the present volume.

A first research strategy consists in exploring the transnational horizon of the nation. The vantage point here is from the inside out, that is, from the nation to the world, although outside influences may dent and fracture the interior lines of sight and action. This approach has been worked out most succinctly in US-American initiatives to “internationalize” American history, which quickly drifted toward an exploration of social solidarities stretching across borders as well as the question of the American frontier.[11] The notion of the American nation as simultaneously a fiercely protective entity, as a global nation, and as a transnational imaginaire beyond the control of the United States is equally well established, if less acceptable to the more national historians.

Though lacking the programmatic focus of the American project, this approach is also at the center of transnational history in the German context. Typically, challenges have arisen over the very fact that Germans have reached way beyond their lands by way of travel and migration and, by the same token, that Ausländer have persistently and in significant numbers migrated into German lands. That Germany’s prosperity depended, throughout the modern era, on the export of its goods is still not fully incorporated even into postwar histories. That German arts and knowledge traveled far and wide is now a more commonly accepted story, but the expulsion, flight, and sheer destruction – and the transnational survival – of knowledge and the arts, while increasingly well researched, is still treated very much as a separate story. That Germany reached into the world as an exceptionally violent force – in its colonies and metropolitan wars – is commonly accepted, although only infrequently linked to a transnational perspective.[12] Add to this that Germans over the past two centuries have had a particularly lively imagination of the world beyond the nation, ranging from the wholesale, cosmopolitan embrace of the world to a sense of superiority and supremacy (“Am deutschen Wesen ...”) and on to utter panic. All of this makes the transnational horizon of the nation an extraordinarily rich area of study and, so one would think, a significant aspect of the German past; that is, significant not least in the sense that such cross-border projections shape the national project right into the every-day habitus, mentality and world pictures of ordinary Germans. The nation as a space of identity, we may conclude, always encompasses and incorporates the world.

The basic proposition of Germany as a “transnational nation” seems unproblematic and even innocent. To be sure, we might want to debate the usefulness of post-colonial theorizing or the discovery of endless varieties of German orientalism (with or without Edward Said). We should be wondering more about the uneven cross–border reach of German loyalties and ethnic/racial identities in Europe and the Americas. We could even approach genuinely difficult questions such as the German role as a secondary and aspiring empire and corporate nation (and the tortured learning curve of a second-tier country). There is plenty of material for debate. But it is striking that, whatever the issue; these initiatives have sooner or later run into a brick wall. The truly strange thing about Germany is that the German lands and their peoples have been so deeply entangled in the world and, yet, Germans, and German historians at that, have such tremendous difficulties to come to terms with that fact and its consequences. Dieter Langewiesche in his essay, “Nationalismus – ein generalisierender Vergleich,” gives us a good sense of the ferocity with which the invulnerability and the untouchability of the nation has been written into the politics, as well as the history and memory, of the nation. Moreover, Germany’s educated classes – and they are not the only ones – have traditionally had a very lively “global” imagination that continuously implicated the entire world and, yet, they preferred to shelter the nation (and themselves) against it. They were, or so it appears, cosmopolitans without consequence.

I find this attitude exemplified in Heinz-Gerhard Haupt’s essay “Historische Komparatistik in der internationalen Geschichtsschreibung.” The disjuncture between thought and action, so evident even in minor matters such as the controversy between comparative and transfer history and so abundant in the intellectual and political formulas of a preemptive evocation of the world, suggests to me that the issue at stake is less an in-ward turned parochialism or nationalism than a claustrophobic cosmopolitanism. While the phenomenon has been studied selectively, the entire complex will require further thought. For it seems that there is more at stake than a peculiar intellectual configuration, although the latter is well worth detailing. The blockage that mutes a cross-border imagination rather seems indicative for persistent and heightened turbulences along the material, social, and mental boundaries between inside and outside, between Germany and the world. With this in mind, moving from mere “perspective” to a sustained argument about “national transnationalism” seems to me an eminently worthy enterprise.

A second transnational research agenda deals with the question how to explain the rise of the nation-form as a global phenomenon in place after place – and why some nations come together, while others fall apart. The nation is, after all, among the few truly global phenomena. A solution of this problem is not at all helped by the agitated talk about the presumptive disappearance of the nation, in which Wehler engages in his, above-mentioned essay. This kind of talk belongs into the real of preemptive excitements that keep us from productively thinking about the matter. The challenge for transnational history is, in the first instance, how to make sense of the proliferation of the nation form. The wager is that, much as endogenous forces have to be figured in, the proliferation both of nation and state-building is best explained as a transnational process of learning, adaptation, competition, and legalization. (The main competition here is a revived, “realist” international history, which argues for the centrality of violent inter-state competition.) In any case, with this research agenda, transnational history moves analytically from the outside in. It makes no sense to think that all over the world the nation is created from within. It is more sensible to think that there is more than a national story. Exogenous “forces and movements” condition the nation, which, in turn, is instantly historicized as being rooted in a millennial tradition. The debate on this matter is fierce – and it seems to me that this is the debate worth having.[13] For the process of historical conditioning the nation, over the entire modern age, is surprisingly not well understood.

Charles S. Maier’s reflections on the changing nature of territoriality, “Transformations of Territoriality, 1600-2000,” lift this entire debate onto a new level. His contribution is one of the most important essays in the entire volume.[14] He suggests that we consider the creation and transformation of territorial regimes and, in this context, the rise and demise of the integral nation as the key force in modern history. At its apogee, roughly between the 1860s and 1970s, the nation state was both “identity” and “decision” space. It became the territory “to die for” as Langewiesche puts it. Maier flags technology (railways) and the rise of industry as main factors of the nationalization process, although his approach is open to a variety of explanations. In my mind, a fuller version of the transformation of territoriality in the mid-nineteenth century – especially if we consider identity and decision space as the central features of a territorial regime dominated by nations – would have to figure in the rapid intensification and extensification, as well as the accelerated velocity, of interaction, to use the lingo of globalization theory.[15] Still, Maier’s notion of territoriality proves to be a significant advance in making sense of the rise of the nation in a global age.

Maier’s conceptualization instantly opens up a range of possibilities for thinking about the nation and transnationalism. Thus, it provides a frame of reference for Shulamit Volkov’s provocative essay “Jewish History: The Nationalism of Transnationalism.” She sets herself up against a history that puts the diasporic experience of Jews at the center. By contrast, she points to the relentless nationalization of Jewish history emerging out of the transnational or “diasporic” experience. The focus of modern Jewish history, even diasporic history, has become Israel. Her perspective from the outside in – from the diasporic “configuration” onto the nation – is an immediately compelling one, even if it comes as somewhat of a shock for all those who would rather prefer to identify transnational with diasporic history, and certainly for all those who idealize diasporic and expatriate existence. The less well articulated double bind in Volkov’s case is that Israel cannot escape its precarious position in the Middle East, one of the crucial shatter-zones of empire.[16] And its nationalizing practice is difficult to fathom without the ties that bind Israel to the Jewish diaspora and the United States. Its nationalism emerges out of the diasporic experience of Jews and is sustained by Israel’s transnational ties, we might say.

In his essay, “Imperien,” Jürgen Osterhammel offers a somewhat different take on territoriality, arguing that empire is the quintessential transnational actor and that nations should be seen as products of empire. To this end, he stretches the notion of empire to its breaking point, though not beyond what is now commonly accepted in a new imperial history.[17] The latter has come to conflate commercial, colonial, and market empire in what seems to me a British slight of hand. But Osterhammel’s main point about the enduring importance of empire and the imperial origins of nations hits home. In relation to empire, the rise of nation states is a late and incomplete development. Moreover, the phenomenon of the nationalization of empires is a crucial element in the story, which is quite commonly underplayed in transnational history. The appreciation of the role of nationalizing empire began, above all, with a re-valuation of China. A more comprehensive history would have to account as well for Mexico, Brazil, Iran, India, and, above all, of Russia and their varieties of nationalization. It seems that empires (or fragments thereof) either transform into mega-nations or fall apart. There is considerable speculation whether or not China and Russia will make it as nationalized empires. But in case of doubt, it is in the European ambit, from the British to the Ottoman Empire, that empires have withered. The subtle irony of Osterhammel’s brief essay on the persistence of empire consists in his application of an extra-European metric, which would suggest that Europe (and the Middle East) are an inappropriate point of reference when exploring transnational processes. This is where transnational history and civilizational comparison begin to have “bite.”

But what about Europe? Michael Mann, in “Globalization, Macro-Regions and Nation-States,” is right with his pithy observation: “Very little that is transnational is global”. (p. 28) Much of it is indeed regional and regional configurations and hierarchies remain remarkably stable over time. While Mann’s brief essay is mainly concerned with the nation as a product of globalization, his strongest suit is to remind us of the “clotted” nature of the globalization process. Transnational interaction never spreads out evenly. Nothing is ever converging smoothly, notwithstanding the protestations of lib-lab social scientists. Globalization induces inequalities – and regionalization is their first and foremost expression. As connectivity spreads across space, it also thickens or “clots.” There is no more successful “clot” than Europe or, possibly, the North-Atlantic seaboard. If we leave aside the ornery question of a North-Atlantic versus a (continental) European region, the question is what, analytically, do we do with this European entity. It can neither claim the identity and/or decision space of nations, nor is it an empire. Still, it exists as a discrete space or sphere. My suggestion is to think of it as “clotted” sphere of action – making “clotted” action-spaces the basic reference for regions. Obviously, not everyone is involved in this action-space in quite the same concentrated form, but nobody is capable escaping it entirely – except, of course, by removing themselves, or by being expelled, from its sphere into Europe’s imperial Far East, Far West or Far South.[18] In the end, it is not geographic proximity, but the intensity and velocity of action that matters in shaping the region. That such action includes war might be worth recalling, because the obvious is often forgotten.

The essays by Hartmut Kaelble on “Europäische Geschichte aus westeuropäischer Sicht?” and by Manfred Hildermeier on “Osteuropa als Gegenstand vergleichender Geschichte” demonstrate the principle of clotting very nicely. Their most poignant insight is that spaces of actions generate both high levels of convergence, but also significant divergence – so much so that we can indeed speak of a western European “mental map.” However, it does not follow that we can speak of a northern, eastern and southern “map” with quite the same confidence. In being pulled together through particularly dense and intense contact (Hildermeier points to “contagion” as one of the more virulent forms of interaction), regions differentiate within, create their own internal peripheries, much as they set themselves apart from the rest of the world. That this rest of the world may begin in Kreuzberg as much as in the banlieues of Paris or the rust-belt in Lorraine/Saar/Luxembourg should not surprise, although it is often forgotten. By the same token, it is only sensible to think of such concentrated spaces of actions as places of connected, even if agonistic, memory, as Etienne François suggests in his essay “Europäische lieux de mémoire.”

The issue of internal peripheries leads us to a third, and perhaps most controversial, transnational research strategy. Rather than setting the nation in relation to the world or vice versa, the approach questions and explores the degree to which the nation is able to secure and protect, and to set apart, its citizens. Accordingly, it proceeds to explore forces and movements – people, things, ideas, institutions, and regimes – that cut across nations and establish circuits all of their own, quite literally lifting entire spheres of life out of their local/national context into an other world, while marginalizing or destroying others. Empires typically do that, as Osterhammel and others have demonstrated, but can we stretch the concept of empire so as to encompass all manner of transnational circuits? Is global capitalism really capable of empire, as Negri and Hardt have insisted?[19] There is a great deal of controversy whether or not transnational circuits can stand on their own, institutionalize and regulate themselves above the nation – as actors or movements that set their own cross-national boundaries. Integrated or “transnational” military alliances NATO would suggest that this is not the case. On the other hand, if we look at early-modern and modern banking practices or commerce, this idea is less abstruse than it may appear. The more recent steep rise of intra-corporate trade across nations and regions also suggests that there is more to transnational corporations than we may presume. Last but not least, if textile- or steel-production disappears in traditional industrial regions, we become immediately aware of the exclusionary power of transnational, non-state actors. But who and what are they? Victoria de Grazia’s essay “Globalizing Commercial Revolutions” is the only example in the current volume that takes them seriously. She does so in a careful comparison of cross-border retailing by Woolworth and Wal-Mart (and Carrefour). In the transnational circuitry of Wal-Mart, China and Belgium belong to the Wal-Mart “nation,” as it were, whereas Chicago (because of its minimum wage ordinances) never did and Germany has just been thrown out because its picky customers (trained by Aldi or Lidl in different, if class-specific modes of shopping) are too difficult to handle. Whether Wal-Mart is an American or actually a Chinese success story – or not just simply a transnational one -- is yet another issue.

However, the import of transnational circuits and their peculiar impact does not really depend on solving the problem of the “relative autonomy” of transnational actors. For whether or not Wal-Mart is transnational makes no difference when it comes to low-cost retailing that, under certain circumstances, drives other retailers out of business. The sheer force of transnational industry is most blatantly evident in the proliferation of rust-belts in Europe and North America in a world in which steel-production skyrockets. Hence, it is no surprise that the two essays on labor and on corporate culture, by Marcel van der Linden on “Transnationale Arbeitergeschichte” and by Gerald Feldman on “Business History, Comparative History, and Transnational History,” speak most evocatively of the entire issue. Whichever way you turn, labor and management very visibly have become part of a transnational world of production, in which the nation at best defines the margins. The regulating, equilibrating “mechanics of internationalism” have always had their evil twin in large and small, cross-border hustlers who, in benefiting themselves, remake the world.[20] The creators of a histoire croisée may have had more sophisticated schemes of intersecting spheres and narratives in mind.[21] But the bottom line of an “entangled history” is that “forces and movements” beyond the control of nations interlace the seemingly autonomous unit of the nation, define or deny opportunities and options, and create material and cultural incentives for locals to act. For the most part you notice them only when the transnational “pie” is no longer in the sky, but manifestly in your face – which is my way of saying that we should get real about transnationals and study them, historically and otherwise, rather than ventilate. This means also research into where they cause pain and humiliation and where they alleviate misery – and often do both at the same time. It turns out that colonial and post-colonial historians have often a far better understanding of this predicament than German and European ones, which suggests, once more, that the European metric may not be the most suitable one to explore transnational history even in Europe.

Lest we forget, “entanglement” in this more practical sense is one of the oldest and biggest bones of contention in historiography. It is the operating principle behind one of the genuinely paradigmatic, modern theories, the notion of division of labor and of comparative advantage. World systems theory thrived on this set of theories, turning them up-side down, and so did theories of development and underdevelopment ever since the thirties. The explanatory complex of entanglement, division of labor and comparative advantage is also up-front and center in one of the fiercest and most pivotal debates in modern history. How to explain the historical rise of the West? And, by the same token, how to make sense of the historical decline of the East, in particular of China? This is the subject of Patrick O’Brien’s stellar essay, “The Divergence Debate: Europe and China 1368-1846." He revisits the seemingly interminable debate on how important the wealth generated in the Americas was for the relative advantage and advances of European (imperial) civilization. The answer requires comparison on a grand scale and it requires an appraisal of the benefits of imperial entanglement. O’Brien’s judicious assessment of this debate – its intellectual background and its current tenets – is a masterpiece of scholarship, which acknowledges his own shifting thought on the matter and, at the same time, opens up new lines of inquiry. He has come around to thinking that the critics of Max Weber have a point when they stress the import of transcontinental, American and Asian, entanglements in generating the European advantage. But in order to get there, the entire apparatus of anti-Weberian thought is also turned upside down – by revising the received wisdom about the backwardness of Asian economies, re-valuating the role of commerce (the so-called “industrious revolution”), and not least rethinking the notion of the industrial revolution itself as a relatively late development. If you want a standard for evaluating what transnational scholarship can do, this macro-historical debate with its many micro-historical tendrils in places all over the world is the best possible starting point. It is also a reminder that, for being so novel, the “transnational” debate is actually quite old.

Transnational history, like Gesellschaftsgeschichte half a century ago, is not really a singular approach. It is less a “frame of reference,” as “modernization” was in orthodox modernity, than a source of disturbance, disquiet, and agitation. It emerges from the experience and the recognition that the nation, any nation, makes only sense in its entanglements; that its citizens have regularly reached beyond its boundaries with irreversible and frequently catastrophic effects; and that even the most removed and elevated sovereigns have eventually been shaped and transformed by forces and movements that cut across the sovereign realm and reach deep into the national fabric. It took a while until the pretense of national autonomy crumbled in the metropolitan world. The entire enterprise is surely not helped by neo-liberal pundits, politicians, and bankers who see globalization everywhere, busily rewriting the Communist Manifesto into a neo-liberal manifest destiny: “All that is solid must melt into air.” Either way, the entanglement of nation and world has become a vital and indispensable subject for historians.

Then again, this is where the consensus ends and the excitement begins. There is a lot that is not in this volume, which is consensus history in the sense that it puts the nation within the frame of transnational formations – and works by flipping the nation and the transnation up-side down and sideways as it were. In contrast, transnational historians, who work the field, are fascinated by people and things that move – and move long-distances across borders. The absence, in this volume, of migration, of even so much of a gesture to those, whose lived worlds stretch across borders, is hard to believe. Money, commodities, ideas and images, anything that circulates, do not figure much either, Rothschild’s essay being the exception. That is, inasmuch as they are mentioned, they are not subjects in their own right, but play a role as they pertain to nations. The transnational history assembled in this volume is more interested in dykes and canals than in flows and currents. Whatever moves is suspect, or so it seems. More broadly, the entire arena of inter- and transnational institutions, regulations and practices is just barely touched. John Keane’s quite perfunctory reflections “Global Publics? Civil Society, Journalism and Democracy across Borders,” do not do justice to the world of civil society actors such as old and new social movements, non-governmental organizations or, for that matter, journalists. The absence of civil society as transnational force is striking in a volume honoring Jürgen Kocka. I would have thought that transnationalizing civil society was one of his most productive and conceptually most daring departures.

Why movies and popular culture still have not really made it into either civil society or transnational history remains a riddle. War and terror appear only indirectly in the context of nationalism. Religious practices are completely absent, which is not to say that your average transnational historian is aware of them either. Extra-European history makes an appearance, but it cannot remotely be said that the empire writes back or, to cite Dipesh Chakrabarty’s injunction, that Europe is provincialized.[22] Osterhammel remains the exception and his subtlety is easy to misread as confirmation of a Europe-centric status quo. In short, beyond the consensus on the project of transnational history, as professed in this volume, there is an actually existing and on-going transnational historiography that tangibly and literally goes beyond the nation. It would take another review and another book to do this historiography justice. However, any such effort will want to take up Georg Iggers' plea in his essay on “Modern Historiography from an Intercultural Perspective” and Natalie Zemon Davis’s appeal in “What is Universal about History?” to find truthful accounts of the past in multiple stories written from alternate, complementary and clashing, vantage points. All historians will do well adopting Davis’s admonition to the “global community of historians” to speak truth to power, both secular and sacred.

[1] Osterhammel, Jürgen, Geschichtswissenschaft jenseits des Nationalstaats. Studien zur Beziehungsgeschichte und Zivilisationsvergleich, Göttingen 2001. Duara, Prasenjit, Rescuing History from the Nation. Questioning Narratives of modern China, Chicago 1995.
[2] Conrad, Sebastian; Osterhammel, Jürgen, Einleitung, in: dies. (Eds.), Das Kaiserreich transnational. Deutschland in der Welt 1871-1914, Geschichtswissenschaft jenseits des Nationalstaats, Göttingen 2004, p.14.
[3] Saunier, Pierre-Yves, Going Transnational? News from down under. Transnational History Symposium, Canberra, Australian National University, September 2004, in: Historical Social Research/Historische Sozialforschung 31, no. 2 (2006), p. 119.
[4] Pernau, Margrit, Global History. Wegbereiter für einen neuen Kolonialismus?, in: geschichte.transnational, <geschichte-transnational.clio.online.net/forum/id=572&type=article>, (19.07.2006).
[5] Bayly, Christopher A., “Archaic” and “Modern” Globalization in the Eurasian and African Arena, circa 1750-1850, in: Hopkins, A.G. (Ed.), Globalization in World History, New York 2002, pp. 45-72.
[6] Ziemann, Benjamin, Überlegungen zur Form der Gesellschaftsgeschichte angesichts des 'cultural turn', in: Archiv für Sozialgeschichte 43 (2003), pp. 600-16.
[7] Sahlins, Marshall, Islands of History, Chicago 1985.
[8] Hansen, Miriam, The Mass Production of the Senses. Classical Cinema as Vernacular Modernism, in: Modernism / Modernity 6.2 (April 1999), pp. 59-77, and her forthcoming essay: Vernacular Modernism. Tracking Cinema on a Global Scale, in: Durovicova, N.; Newman, K. (Eds.), World Cinemas, Transnational Perspectives, New York 2007.
[9] Adas, Michael, Dominance by Design. Technological Imperatives and America's Civilizing Mission, Cambridge, Mass. 2006.
[10] Gourevitch, Peter, The Second Image Reversed. The International Sources of Domestic Politics, in: International Organization 32 (1978), pp. 881-912; Katznelson, Ira; Shefter, Martin (Eds.), Shaped by War and Trade. International Influences on American Political Development. Princeton 2002.
[11] Thelen, David, The Nation and Beyond. Transnational Perspectives on United States History, in: Journal of American History 86, no. 3 (1999), pp. 965-75 as well as The Journal of American History, vol. 86, 3, The Nation and Beyond. Transnational Perspectives on United States History, A Special Issue (Dec., 1999); Bender, Thomas (Ed.), Rethinking American History in a Global Age, Berkeley 2002 and his A Nation among Nations. America's Place in World History, New York 2006.
[12] See, however, Frevert, Ute, Europeanizing German History, in: Bulletin of the German Historical Institute 36 (2005), pp. 9-24.
[13] Geyer, Michael, Deutschland und Japan im Zeitalter der Globalisierung. Überlegungen zu einer komparativen Geschichte jenseits des Modernisierungs-Paradigmas, in: Conrad, Sebastian; Osterhammel, Jürgen (Eds.), Das Kaiserreich transnational. Deutschland in der Welt 187-1914, Göttingen 2004, S. 68-86.
[14] Transformations of Territoriality 1600-2000 in this volume. See also his Consigning the Twentieth Century to History. Alternative Narratives for the Modern Era, in: American Historical Review 103, no. 3 (2000), pp. 807-31. See also Bright, Charles; Geyer, Michael, Where in the World is America? The History of the United States in the Global Age, in: Bender, Thomas (Ed.), Rethinking American History in a Global Age, Berkeley Press, 2002, pp. 63-99.
[15] Held, David; McGrew, Anthony; et. al., Global Transformations. Politics, Economics and Culture, Stanford 1999.
[16] On the notion of the shatter zone: Engel, Ulf; Middell, Matthias, Bruchzonen der Globalisierung, globale Krisen und Territorialitätsregime - Kategorien einer Globalgeschichtsschreibung, in: Comparativ 15, no. 5/6 (2005), pp. 5-38.
[17] Cain, P.J.; Hopkins, A.G., British Imperialism, 1688-2000, 2nd ed. Harlow 2002.
[18] Stourzh, Gerald, Statt eines Vorworts. Europa, aber wo liegt es?, in: Stourzh, Gerald, Annäherungen an eine europäische Geschichtsschreibung, Vienna 2002.
[19] Hardt, Michael; Negri, Antonio, Empire. Cambridge, Mass. 2000.
[20] Geyer, Martin H.; Paulmann, Johannes (Eds.), The Mechanics of Internationalism. Culture, Society, and Politics from the 1840s to the First World War, Oxford 2001.
[21] Werner, Michael; Zimmermann, Bénédicte, Vergleich, Transfer, Verflechtung. Der Ansatz der histoire croisée und die Herausforderung des Transnationalen, in: Geschichte und Gesellschaft 29 (2002), pp. 607-36.
[22] Chakrabarty, Dipesh, Provincializing Europe. Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference, Princeton 2000.

ZitierweiseMichael Geyer: Forum: Reviewsymposium "Transnationale Geschichte": The New Consensus, in: H-Soz-Kult, 27.09.2006, <http://hsozkult.geschichte.hu-berlin.de/rezensionen/id=812&type=revsymp>.

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