Connected Worlds: History in Transnational Perspective edited by Ann Curthoys, Marilyn Lake
|Reviewed By:||Kirsten McKenzie|
|Reviewed in:||Australian Journal of Politics and History|
|Date accepted online:||14/01/2008|
|Published in print:||Volume 53, Issue 03, Pages 465-504|
This useful and engaging book of essays speaks to the expanding interest in and practice of transnational history. This the authors define, in its simplest sense, as "the study of the ways in which past lives and events have been shaped by processes and relationships that have transcended the borders of nation states" (p. 5). They make clear, however, that the concept embraces both a variety of (often contested) definitions and diverse approaches to history writing. The book includes both reflections on the theoretical, conceptual and methodological questions raised by the approach, as well as demonstrating "in practice what transnational history looks like" (p. 5).
In their introductory essay, Curthoys and Lake trace the recent interest in transnational perspectives to the 1990s when historians such as Ian Tyrrell criticised American exceptionalism and focussed on the importance of tracing the global links of international reform movements and organisations. Interest came also from the spheres of diasporic history and from the revived interest in British imperial history. Scholars began to argue for the importance of placing metropole and colony in the same analytical frame. The book takes up these debates with three historiographical essays (by Tony Ballantyne, Angela Woollacott and Michael McDonnell) which approach the concept of transnationalism by engaging with the genres of world history, postcolonial history and regional history.
The remainder of the book is organised thematically, with essays devoted to migration and voyages, to modernity, film and romance, and to transnational racial politics. Several of these essays are organised around tracing individual lives or organisations, methodologies which have become established ways of anchoring transnational investigations. A final stimulating essay by Patrick Wolfe investigates the "the historical contingency of the convergence between European Islamophobia and Hindu communalism" which influenced both British and Indian historiography (p. 245). This picks up on a key theme of the book - the political imperative of interrogating easy assumptions between "nation" and "history" that repress the "connected worlds" referred to in the book's title.
For Australia, transnational approaches offer the possibility of ensuring that a potentially marginal history is engaged with internationally. Placed outside national frameworks, our history becomes part of broader global stories, concerns and debates. This has practical as well as intellectual advantages - in finding international publishers and audiences, for example. It also has pitfalls, as an anecdote in the introduction to this book demonstrates: Ann Curthoys was asked "by a visiting American historian, 'where did the idea for the Tent Embassy come from? I can't think of anything like that in the US"' (p. 12). Curthoys and Lake suggest that "repudiating national stories history [...] risks losing relevance for a national audience" (p. 13). At a more methodological level, looking for interconnections and similarities can lead historians to discount differences, and to ignore what is distinctive about a particular time and place. The best examples of this historiographical approach step up to the challenge of keeping many local, regional