Trans-national approach crossing disciplines

by on January 8, 2009  •  In Uncategorized

The following report on a panel at the American Historical Association from Inside Higher Ed summarizes a new development in history that parallels some of the new legal journals and multi-national law school programs:

…The [new] focus on transnational [history] is on movements or ideas or conditions that cross national borders and that are not best examined through the structure of the nation-state. So somebody could do research comparing key events that took place in various countries, doing lots of comparative work about government leaders and their actions, and that would be global or international [or in law, comparative], but not transnational.

Many of the most significant developments in history — whether in religion, philosophy, the environment, or other aspects of life — happen “irrespective of national identities,” said Akira Iriye, a professor of history at Harvard University. “It’s a very exciting moment in the profession to see so many historians moving in this direction.”

Erika A. Kuhlman, associate professor of history and director of women’s studies at Idaho State University, offered an illustration of why. She studies gender and war, and noted that war — commonly fought between nation-states —- would seem like an unlikely topic to consider without the organizing framework of the nation-state. But looking at the end of World War I from a transnational gender perspective, rather than a traditional focus on which countries won and which lost, reveals that women saw rights and positions eroded in the post-war years — whether they were living in the “winners” or “losers” of the conflict. “Patriarchy was re-instituted by shunting women back to their roles of wife and mother,” she said.

Pierre Yves Saunier of the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique, in France, is applying a transnational history approach to the study of nursing. He noted that children’s novels over the years to encourage girls to enter nursing have similar heroic themes, and that nursing education developed along similar principles over the years in different countries with differing educational systems. Nursing is important in understanding the history of medicine, the role of gender in providing medicine, and public health — and its history isn’t about countries, Saunier said. …

Some observers here said that they believe transnational history has the potential to lead to dramatic changes in the profession. Rana Mitter, a professor of history at the University of Oxford, said that transnational approaches could change history from a “lone scholar” discipline to one more like “a physics lab,” with group contributions. “The inability of all of us to learn 15 languages or cope with 17 different archives” could encourage “a more team-based type of historical practice,” Mitter said. While some have long advocated such a shift, transnational methodologies could be “a motivation to make it happen.”


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