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Reflections on Transnational History Konrad H. Jarausch, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung, Potsdam During the past decade the concept of “transnational history” has become increasingly popular, because it promises to address questions beyond the nation state. In many ways this trend responds to a growing sense of interconnectedness, stemming from the dynamics of the globalization process. Especially among younger German scholars, this label has become a rallying cry for breaking with the negative self-preoccupation and for venturing into horizons beyond their own nation. The leading electronic network clio-oline has recently established a special portal for _Geschichte transnational_ that offers “information about new publications, research initiatives and conferences about the history of cultural transfer and transnational interconnections in Europe and the world.” Many American scholars, who are working from an implicitly transcultural perspective, have been joining the movement in order to deal more explicitly with the embeddedness of their German topics within wider contexts. These programmatic texts exude an exciting sense of discovery, envisaging a broadening of horizons that will finally link German discussions with the debates of other fields. This welcome interest in the transnational dimension of Central European history has been inspired by a number of related intellectual developments. In his synopsis of the genesis of this development, Matthias Middell lists several key factors. Chief among them was the frustration with a historical social science version of comparative history that tended to use the nation as frame of reference so as to establish similarities or differences between states, thereby reifying the very category that it set out to transcend. Another impulse derived the French fascination with cultural transfer processes that stressed interaction and connection through the concept of a _histoire croisée. A final source was also the Anglo-American development of a “global history,” which took up the critical suggestions of Black studies and post-colonial analyses and projected them upon a world-wide stage. These inspirations have produced a contradictory mixture of analytical rigor and moral fervor that makes transnational history something more than a mere extension of subject matter to a previously neglected area of the past. The vagueness of much transnational rhetoric, often containing quite different elements, requires first of all a clearer definition of its actual meaning. In order to evaluate the potential of this approach, one has to establish what is exactly meant by “transnational history.” Obviously, the term is a Latin derivative, combining the prefix “trans” that indicates “across, beyond, to the other side, through” with the noun “natio,” which in its modern sense has come to suggest nation or nation state. _Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary_ therefore defines transnational as “extending or going across national boundaries” and the German version of the _Wikipedia_ talks about a “relationship that takes place at the same time in a sub-, inter- and national context,” pointing to transnational business or civil society as examples. Nation is therefore constitutive to the definition, not as its center, but as something that has to be overcome, implying that transnational is a category, covering everything that is not contained primarily within the nation state. In their collection, _Das Kaiserreich transnational_, Sebastian Conrad and Jürgen Osterhammel therefore focus on the analysis of “relations and constellations, which transcend national boundaries.” The problem with such a definition is the plasticity of the word “nation” due to its frequent combination with other prefixes. For instance, “trans”-national is different from “inter”-national, because the political science understanding of the latter term connotes relations between states rather than developments cutting across them. Similarly, the adjective “intra”-national focuses on internal issues rather than on foreign relations. Moreover, the descriptor “multi”-national commonly indicates the involvement of many nations whereas the pair “pre”-national and “post”-national serve to denote chronological periods as well as mental horizons before and after the nation state. The point of this somewhat pedantic philological exercise is to emphasize the need for clarity among the categories that are employed to describe the respective “cognitive interest of the historian.” Therefore “transnational history” ought to be understood neither as a particular method nor as a fixed subject matter, but rather, as Young-sun Hong points out, as a fresh perspective, a set of questions to be asked about the past that cut across the nation state. In an effort to delineate some examples of its potential, it is secondly important to recall that much previous work in economic, social or political history has already been implicitly transnational. For instance, economic historians agree that the beginnings of industrialization had little to do with the nation state, since it originated in particularly favored regions in the United Kingdom and then spread to other similar areas on the continent, linking these localities through networks of technology, personnel and trade, before gaining ascendancy in any single country. Similarly social historians treat mass migration due to religious intolerance, economic deprivation or political persecution generally as a transnational topic, since it involves the experiences of migrants escaping one national context and entering another for the sake of survival or a better life in the future. Even some political historians concede that developments that took place within separate nation states such as the establishment of constitutions, which transformed politics from monarchical absolutism towards mass participation, could be interpreted as a transnational process moving from Western to Eastern Europe, because it seemed to follow a similar pattern everywhere. Hence, transnational historians should remember that they can build upon an impressive body of scholarship, produced by the _Gesellschaftsgeschichte of the last decades. As the contributions to this symposium indicate, the greatest potential of a transnational approach lies, nonetheless, in the questions, raised by the new cultural histories. In the high cultural field of letters, Nina Berman reminds us that much creative endeavor took place before the construction of a German nation state and that its subsequent borders never completely coincided with the scope of German-speaking cultural production. Intellectual influences among authors, stylistic trends among artists, academic exchanges between scholars almost always transcended official boundaries, even if the nation state time and again tried to harness these energies for its own legitimation. In the ethnological area of cultural practice, Young-sun Hong emphasizes instead the feed-back effects from Cold War competition in the Third World to the metropolitan centers, focusing on the “construction of national identities in both East and West” through its mediation by non-metropolitan audiences. Regarding the traditional field of international politics, Ronald Granieri argues that even diplomatic history might profit from transnational approaches by paying greater attention to perceptions of decision-makers and attitudes of constituencies, shaped by the mass media. Mutual influence, cultural hybridity and unspoken assumptions seem therefore to be particularly suitable areas for a transnational perspective. But a transnational approach, it should thirdly be pointed out, cannot presume to be a universal wrench that manages fix all historical problems. Even its advocate Klaus Kiran Patel outlines in his inaugural lecture not only its many possibilities, but mentions also some of the pitfalls of writing transnational history. There are large areas of the past which were primarily formed by the nation state during the last two centuries, such as its own administration, regime structure, social welfare system, economic policy or promotion of national culture. All of these aspects were no doubt influenced by external conditions and responded to outside examples, but their development was primarily affected by internal considerations. Also the classic area of “inter”-national affairs, such as diplomacy and war, dealt chiefly with relations between nation states in the modern era and even efforts at international cooperation such as the League of Nations were based on the existence of sovereign states. No doubt some civil society initiatives such as of the Red Cross, the Boy Scouts or scholarly associations originated in transnational impulses, but even they were eventually organized once again by national sections. By questioning the territorial basis of developments, a transnational approach can recover historical problems that do not fit the national narratives and thereby also shed a different light back on the nation state. It is therefore important to realize that the transnational approach to the German past also has some inherent limits. Since the brutality and racism of Wilhelmine colonialism have been neglected, their problematic legacy no doubt requires further attention. But were the Germans really as deeply affected by imperialism as their British, French, Dutch, Belgian, Spanish or Portuguese neighbors, not to mention the Americans? A more profitable alternative might be, as Philipp Ther suggests, looking at the fantasies of Eastern colonization that poisoned relations with Poland as well as Russia and provoked the Holocaust. The recent reemergence of attention to global history is unquestionably a positive development, because it promises to de-provincialize both American and German conceptions of the past. But can macro-developments such as the intensification of economic exchanges, spread of popular culture, erosion of the welfare state or failure of international governance really be conflated with a more micro-level understanding of transnational history? Similarly, the renewal of international history through broadening the scope of actors and including a cultural dimension can only be applauded. But one might ask, what is to be gained by subsuming a well established area of scholarship that is currently somewhat out of favor under a new label of trans- rather than international history? Instead of endorsing or rejecting a transnational perspective in principle, German historians ought to explore carefully what kind of new insights this additional approach can shed on the Central European past. Heady proclamations of an impending paradigm change might make younger scholars feel good who are in search of a generational cause beyond postmodernism, but crossing borders is not in itself morally superior, since the havoc created by global capitalism, just to mention one bête noire, is beginning to rival the suffering caused by the nation state. Only convincing research results presented in a compelling fashion will justify a new approach in the long run. Based on his experience with comparative history, Hannes Siegrist, therefore, calls for the elaboration of criteria which would allow an assessment of the quality of transnational work. Skeptics will only be convinced by an impressive body of works that implement the transnational perspective successfully and demonstrate by example what scholars have been missing by a nation-centered approach. At a time when the linkages between people in different countries seem to be increasing rapidly, it makes a great deal of sense to pay more attention to the antecedents of this _Vernetzung_ in the past. There are many topics, ranging from smuggling or trade to migration and family networks, from the dissemination of ideologies like Marxism or Fascism to the spread of architectural styles like Bauhaus modernism that await a transnational analysis. Especially the history of contested borderlands like the Alsace or of social transgressions like interracial unions can profit from such an approach. From a North American distance, it has always struck this commentator as odd that scholars should, through their linguistic preparation and academic training, replicate the national divisions in which continental historians were trapped as a result of their birth and citizenship. Aware of the multiple transatlantic connections, historians in the US ought to have fewer difficulties in embedding German developments into their European and global contexts. Hence a widening of the scope beyond the nation state offers exciting possibilities – but it must be accompanied by a clearer definition of its meaning as well as a more candid admission of its limits.