Thursday, June 19, 2008

Transnationalism - A new Historiographical View

I was fortunate to be able to attend the Organization of American Historians New York City conference in March, 2008. I participated in many excellent workshops and roundtable discussions. The majority of the presenters and participants, in my estimation, were college professors and/or secondary level administrators. I truly enjoyed the level of academic dialogue. Sessions I attended included “Rethinking Race in the American West”, “The Grand Canyon in History”, “Islam in the United States”, “Improving Early American History Instruction” and “State of the Field: History Teaching and Learning”. Considering the range of topics, it was interesting that one term kept popping up in discussions --- transnationalism. I must confess that I was unfamiliar with the term. Apparently, it is a buzz word in the higher echelons of historical thinking and teaching. Transnationalism is part of the growing argument in American History to gravitate towards a more international or global history.

As this is my last blog for the year, I can’t resist tying this into the Book Discussion Group. In our first meeting Dean Bergeron introduced us to the Turner Thesis, which argues that the “Frontier Experience” makes American exceptional. During the year, we had fun discussing/debating this theory while applying it to all the titles we read.

This new trend toward transnationalism completely opposes the idea of American Exceptionalism. I spoke at length with one of the professors, who recommended a book titled: Rethinking American History in a Global Age, edited by Thomas Bender, who is a major proponent for internationalizing the study of American History. This type of approach would have a huge impact upon historiography. The implications regarding European contact in the Americas would be overwhelming. Transnationalism promotes multiracial history and the study of what happens when cultures collide, which culture dominates, and who maintains material resources and whose voice is heard in history. Having read Hampton Sides’ Blood and Thunder, in our Book Discussion Group, I can see an argument for transnationalism; Sides illustrates how the American West was a cultural crossroads between the Americans, the Mexicans, and the Native Americans, and we know whose historical voice has been heard for the last two centuries.

I haven’t yet read Rethinking American History in a Global Age, but it’s on my summer list. I am intrigued by many aspects of this theory. I have always been a proponent of Human History, incorporating a global view with multicultural contributions.

For a sampling of Bender's ideas and the idea of Transnationalism: