Nation, Nationalismus und die Terror-Management-Theorie (German Edition)
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Last but not least it gestures to a new practice — except that we run into a bit of a problem here. What transnational historians actually do, is not really represented well in the current volume, which leads us to query what this discrepancy might be all about. Transnational history is part and parcel of a shifting sense of history or, perhaps more properly, of an shifting sense of what historians accept as legitimate subjects and methods.
The protocol of what historians do, and what they cannot do, have been changing hugely and is commonly underestimated.
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Needless to say, there has been considerable debate on this matter. But the fact is that entire new subjects, practices, and explanatory strategies have come about over the last few decades. None of this is the doing of transnational history per se. But the latter has picked up these new trends and merged them in a distinct field of research, which is why historians who are only tangentially involved in the actual business of transnational history find so many resonances and may consider themselves part of it.
Undoubtedly, the most enticing element of transnational history is its sense of openness and experimentation.
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 comes with a disregard for older scholarship and a lack of knowledge, if not dismissal, of intellectual traditions. But older scholarship and intellectual traditions have not been kind to transnational actors and agents, which have been around for a long time without being noticed.
Therefore, opening up space for them without hemming them in by conventions requires genuine effort. In part, though, it reflects a puzzlement over, and an on-going inquiry into, who these actors are and how best to tell there history. Such open-ended journeys — surprisingly often into genuinely un-charted domains — are the main reasons why transnational history has caught on.
At stake here is the amalgamation of nation, history, and the West. Although transnational history is many things to many people, it does not trust this amalgam.
It may reject paradigms, but it sure has a bone of contention. If the nation, irrespective of its continuing importance, is no longer considered to be second nature or is no longer refashioned into a second skin, the very concept of the nation, the nation-form, is opened up for renewed questioning. The resulting impasse is more than historiographic. It indicates that the nation and its memory is always already in question, because it collides with and interacts in a wider world.
If the Sonderweg generation took the nation to be quite self-evidently insular, they could have known that it takes walls to insulate the nation and its memories. In this world, questions of norms and values, of normativity, do not emerge from isolation, but from interaction.
It is another one to wonder and to reflect on, what kind of work these cross-border actors and agents are doing because much as nations they are never innocent or self-evidently good. The one thing that will not work is to wish them away. The second feature is a heightened sensitivity to agency, the relative capacity of individuals and collectives to act. Old-style modernization theory was a casualty of this upheaval long before transnational history came into play. World systems theory followed much the same pattern, except that it had the logic of capitalism and empire, the world-system, wield supreme power and flushed everything into its metropolitan, semi-peripheral, or peripheral space.
In the meantime, neither capitalism nor empire have disappeared, but the turn to cross-border traffic 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.
The very sense of nation changes in the presence of migrants, as has been demonstrated in abundance lately. The logic of capitalism and empire teams with people and ideas which are difficult to contain in their respective spaces.
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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.
Where an older approach discerns force-fields and vectors of change and hence presumes a stable universe of fields , Jelavich, following Marshall Sahlins, looks at the moment of collision between words. 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.
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Convergence toward a normative modernity, it turns out, has not happened, not least because it failed to deliver the goods when it was tried. Transnational history 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. 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.
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. The long and the short of this is that the development of nations is predicated on transnational interaction.
In any case, the exogenous perspective of transnational historiography competes with, and supersedes the genealogical principle that has defined history and historiography for so long. 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, it is poised to develop, not simply another perspective, but a different national history.
For the time being, it rather amounts to 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. 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. Though lacking the programmatic focus of the American project, this approach is also at the center of transnational history in the German context. 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. 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. 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 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.
They were, or so it appears, cosmopolitans without consequence.
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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. 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-form is, after all, among the few truly global phenomena.