Lecture course on History Beyond Methodological Nationalism

This lecture course was offered by the Asymmetries-project at the University of Helsinki in Spring 2015

Target Group: MA and post-graduate studies, 5 study units
Spring semester 2015, period III, Jan 20 – Feb 19, 2015, at 14–16 PM
University Main Building (Fabianinkatu 33), Room 10
Language: English
Responsible course teacher:
University Lecturer (on research leave) Marja Jalava

This course examines the transnational and cultural transfer approaches that have recently grown increasingly popular in historical research. In the era marked by intensified global interconnectedness, the nation-states with their contemporary borders are not anymore taken as natural, given units of analyses, and there is a growing interest in flows, linkages, and identities that cross or supersede other spatial units or the phenomena and dynamics within them.

The course provides an overview on the up-to-date debates on transnational analysis and cultural transfers. It also presents concrete cases of research where these methods have been used. Of special interest are a small-state perspective and asymmetrical relations which have often been neglected in a discussion concerning entanglements and transfers between dominant cultural regions of Europe.

The course consists of lectures by five lecturers with different disciplinary background. It will be asked, among other things, of how do cultural transfers and transnational approaches contribute to the rethinking of the national bias? How can they be applied in the embedding of various national histories with wider Nordic, European, and global contexts and what new perspectives do they open? Where do the limits of these approaches lie?


The course attendance (10 lectures, 20 contact hours) together with course exercises: a learning diary and an essay of c. 10–15 pages (based on lectures and additional readings) counts for 5 study units.


Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015
Marja Jalava: From “imitation” to” transnationalism.” Reflections on the conceptual history of cultural interaction

This introductory lecture starts from a well-known fact that the 19th-century professionalization and institutionalization of history as a modern academic discipline took place in an intimate relationship with the rise of nationalism and new nation-states in Europe. As a result, historical research is even today largely dominated by methodological nationalism, that is, the assumption that nations or nation-states are the basic units of historical analysis. However, the period from the 1870s onwards was also marked by the rapid development of global interconnectedness and the acceleration in mobility of people, goods, and ideas, boosted by the expansion of industrial capitalism and colonialism. This was reflected in approaches that acknowledged encounters and interconnections beyond and regardless of the national borders. Hence, under the illusory uniform framework of the nation-state we are able to find thick, intertwining layers of competing paradigms. By a survey of some key terms used in the present-day discussion (such as ‘cosmopolitanism’, ‘international’, ‘transnational’, ‘cultural exchange’, ‘hybridization’), this lecture offers a historical overview of the conceptual landscape that is discussed in more detail and by way of empirical examples in the following lectures.

Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015
Johanna Rainio-Niemi: Transnational “Turn” from the Perspective of Political and International Relations History

During the past fifteen years, a transnational “paradigmatic turn” has been turning into a mainstream among scholarly historians. Once again, like many times in the history of the history discipline, the aim has been to go beyond the nation as a pre-fix unit and context of historical analysis. This lecture continues the introduction of the students with the most recent transnational turn. Even though transnational history is not new in its entirety, it may contain a genuine opportunity for revising the established research methodologies especially in those fields of the history discipline – such as political or international relations’ history – that have had most trouble finding their distinctive niche in the post-nation state age. To illustrate, concrete examples of research applying these perspectives are presented.

Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015
Stefan Nygård: A transnational cultural history of Europe

Historians of the 19th and early 20th centuries are faced with coinciding contrary developments: on the one hand the peak of the nation-state and the consolidation of national identities and boundaries, on the other hand the intensified circulation of goods and persons and increasing international interdependencies. Different disciplines have suggested different ways of approaching these dichotomies. This lecture will look comparatively on the question of cultural transfers within the history of literature, art and science.

Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015
Emilia Palonen: Central Europe – transit space

Historically, the area between the Habsburg Empire and Russia and Prussia, has been a transit space. This lecture first explores the way in which transitory existence affected political life in this part of Europe, the emergence of national borders, and the ways in which they have been contested or fading. Industrialization in the 19th century intensified the flux of immigration in regional centers such as Budapest. Intellectual histories became transformed in this process which was also tied to the emergence of nationalism and contestation between national homogenization as modernization and multicultural realities also in this region. The second part investigates the (re)emergence of ‘Central Europe’ as a political concept, and a tool for dissident transformation in the 1980s. It also ponders on the role of state and nationhood, and transnationalism in this context. At the end of the lecture, and the discussions we can explore the phenomena of the recent pro-European demonstrations, in the light of what has been brought up in the lecture.

Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015
Johan Strang: Studying regions as a way of overcoming methodological nationalism

This lecture suggests that studying (meso-)regions can be an helpful way of overcoming methodological nationalism. Regional perspectives are important particularly because they situate the national narratives in a larger comparative framework, but also because they provide access to a large number of contacts and networks – a transnational space – often overlooked by nationalist history writing. Focusing on regions can also be valuable as they often represent alternative and failed national projects. This is not least true of the Nordic region. That said, it is also important to avoid methodological regionalism, regardless whether we are studying Norden, Europe or any other regional construction. In this lecture we will therefore also discuss the ways in which Norden has been construed as a special transnational space, where on the one hand national constrains has been overcome, but where on the other hand, the national paradigm always has remained strong.

Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015
Emilia Palonen: Between cosmopolitanism and transnationalism: Agnes Heller as a transnational intellectual

This lecture returns to the notions of cosmopolitanism and transnationalism. It looks at local, national, regional, European, transatlantic interaction and reflects on the dichotomies through intellectual history. It explores the Hungarian Jewish philosopher Ágnes Heller as a transnational intellectual, and demonstrates a particular center-periphery relation. Heller, born in 1929, appears as someone whose biography stands as a representation of (a short) 20th century, usually from the margins. She has become a multi-sited intellectual. As many other Hungarian dissident intellectuals, she has resumed the 1980s role of East European post-Marxists: an activist critic for her native country. In Hungary ‘cosmopolitan’ is traditionally assigned against the Jewish intellectuals, particularly politicized in the Hungarian context. This lecture redescribes transnational as something capturing Heller’s subjectivity: transiting but growing roots.

Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015
Stefan Nygård: A European intellectual space?

The notion of a borderless republic of letters survived well beyond the enlightenment and continues to shape approaches to intellectual history, the history of ideas as well as conceptual history. When discussing intellectuals as a social group, we can relate this perspective to Karl Mannheim’s concept of the free-floating intellectual, largely untouched by social constraints. This lecture will, firstly, present a critical consideration of the republic of letters model of intellectual history based on the notion of “field” proposed by Pierre Bourdieu, and, secondly, discuss alternative ways of conceptualising transnational intellectual spaces that take into consideration the hierarchies, asymmetries and obstacles involved in the international circulation of ideas and intellectuals.

Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015
Marja Jalava: Reappraising comparative history

In the early 20th-century historical research, the comparative method was introduced by figures like Otto Hintze and Marc Bloch as a way to relativize or challenge the self-evident role of nations, states, or nation-states as the basic units of history. Consequently, during much of the 20th century, historical comparison was regarded as the most important means to go beyond methodological nationalism and to establish general explanatory models instead of national “pseudo-explanations.” From the 1990s onwards, however, a growing criticism has been launched from the camp of cultural transfer studies and entangled history approaches (histoire croisée). This lecture will discuss this criticism and the problems related to comparative history, but, by using the case of early 20th-century history-writing in Norway and Finland as an example, it will also argue that comparison, transfer, and histoire croisée should be seen as mutually supplemental perspectives rather that pitted against one another.

Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015
Johanna Rainio-Niemi: Transfers and Translations Across the Atlantic: Heikki Waris and the Making of Modern Social Sciences in Finland

Professor Heikki Waris (1901–1989) is one of the key figures in the history of modern social sciences and welfare state policies in Finland. Waris – the first professor in the academic discipline of “social policy” at the University of Helsinki in 1948–1968 – is often regarded as one of the ‘great men’ in the history of national social policy history. This lecture discusses Heikki Waris’s lifework, the histories of modern social policy, the welfare state and modern social sciences from the perspectives of transnational and international history. Focusing on Waris’s close connections with the modern American social science milieu, the lecture demonstrates how transnationally attuned approaches can open up new research horizons and enrich the national historical narratives.

Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015
Johan Strang: Peripheral eclecticism and Swedish universalism –analytic philosophy in the Nordic countries

This lecture will discuss the history of analytic philosophy in the Nordic countries as an example of the interconnectedness of Nordic and European intellectual life, the different manners in which cultural transfers take place, and the different ways foreign contacts and relations are drawn upon in the Northern peripheries of Europe. Finally, the lecture will also penetrate into the differences of the intellectual cultures of the different Nordic countries, with Norwegian and Finnish intellectuals being more self-consciously peripheral, but also more internationally oriented than their blindly universalist Swedish colleagues.