C – Mobilities, migrations, and transnational actors

Setting the boundaries of transnational action

Event Details

  • Date

    Saturday, 27 June - 8:30–10:30

  • Venue
  • Theme
    C – Mobilities, migrations, and transnational actors
  • Katja Naumann (Wissenschafts Campus EEGA)
  • Antje Dietze (Leipzig University)
  • Daniel Laqua (Northumbria University)
  • Katharina Kreuder-Sonnen (University of Vienna)
  • Kasper Braskén (Åbo Akademi University)
  • Saila Heinikoski (Finnish Institute of International Affairs)


  • Antje Dietze
    Katja Naumann
  • Katharina Kreuder-Sonnen
    The historiographic challenges of history writing without borders – the case of Modern ‘Polish’ history in a transnational perspective

    The historiographic challenges of history writing without borders – the case of Modern ‘Polish’ history in a transnational perspective

    If a historian looks for good examples of transnational interconnection she will certainly find one in modern Polish history. The Polish society of the 19th and 20th centuries was part of multi-ethnic empires, it was multi-lingual, multi-religious and its members were on the move within and beyond Europe. The impressive transnational biographies, international networks and patterns of global exchange which resulted from these interconnections receive increasing scholarly attention. The proposed paper will analyse the historiographic challenges of transnational history writing discussing the example of global scientific travel and exchange of Polish ‘experts’ during the 20th century. On the one hand it will show how the transnational perspective achieves to write Polish actors into European and global histories of science. On the other hand it will discuss how cross-border interconnections in the scholarly field were limited in time and restricted to specific segments of society only, how they were regulated by political structures on the national and international level and how they were contested by local, regional and national frames of thought. The question resulting is thus: Is Polish history (of science) transnational history? The paper will propose approaches from global microhistory and Actor-Network-Theory in order to tackle this question and show how multi-layered and malleable loyalties and identities of actors can be taken into account.
  • Kasper Braskén
    “Unreliable and Thoroughly Undesirable”: Transnational Anti-Fascist Activism and the Problem of Police and Governmental Interference

    “Unreliable and Thoroughly Undesirable”: Transnational Anti-Fascist Activism and the Problem of Police and Governmental Interference

    The characterisation above originates from a report by the British border patrol agents in Bristol when the Hungarian born anti-fascist and anti-stalinist Arthur Koestler tried to enter the UK in 1940. Despite his impressive credentials as a transnational anti-fascist activist he was initially refused entry and placed in a British internment camp. Using Koestler and other examples from the world of transnational anti-fascism this paper addresses the many obstacles and problems standing in the way of cross-border activism during the interwar period. It will focus on the active measures taken against these “undesirables” by governmental and intergovernmental agencies to hinder travels and networking in Europe and colonial territories. Rather than looking at these problems as a one-sided effort by governmental agencies, I argue that the active measures to hinder transnational activism in fact helped to renew and invigorate the means and methods of transnational activism. The paper thus offers a way to re-think the history of transnational activism as an active learning process where transnational activists, on the one hand, and police and surveillance agencies on the other, pushed each other to develop new ways to both enable and (again) restrict transnational activism. As some avenues of activism were blocked, other perhaps unforeseen spaces and passages of activism were opened up in the process, while in many other instances transnational activism was altogether inhibited. The paper is based on new archival findings from the British National Archives, the German Foreign Office Archives, and the archives of the Communist International in Moscow.
  • Saila Heinikoski
    Politics of exclusion within the European Union: from Schengen to the European Border and Coast Guard

    Politics of exclusion within the European Union: from Schengen to the European Border and Coast Guard

    The paper will address the politics of the European Union that have increasingly sought to exclude third-country nationals from the European Union. Starting from the development of the Schengen area in the 1980s, European states have aimed at enabling the free movement of Europeans, which arguably requires enforced control at the external borders. From the perspective of European integration theory, the paper seeks to trace historical and contemporary arguments for how the creation of the area without internal border control has even come to justify the creation of the European Border and Coast Guard with its own corps of 10,000 officials.


Global and transnational historians investigate a wide variety of exchanges, circulations and entanglements that evolved across societies in different parts of the world; often they employ actor-centred and biographical approaches. This focus has helped to advance source-based studies into cross-border interaction, and in effect, an increasing number of actors have come to the fore who established and managed transnational, trans-imperial or trans-regional connections. In addition, such studies have carved out different forms of connection and the inner workings of exchanges and circulations. Aiming to overcome abstract notions of connectivity and globality, the debate has recently moved on towards conceptual reflections on the various formats, qualities and conditions of cross-border action, the different spaces of interaction, and the wider effects of connections and entanglements. Researchers have long been fascinated with the emergence of trans-boundary actors, networks and spaces. With all the enthusiasm for mobility, transgression and networks however, there is a risk of paying less attention to the limits, constraints and challenges of transnational action, or to the numerous cases in which connections have failed, were discontinued, marginalized or restricted. The research literature shows that while exchanges and entanglements across borders and other spatial boundaries increased massively over the course of the nineteenth century, they have often remained temporary, unsteady and disputed. Moreover, these connections were hardly ever global as such, but were usually bounded and specific, varying in range and scope. Following along these lines, our panel proposes to focus more closely on the delimitations and ambivalences, as well as on the fragility and failures of transnational activities. In the first place, we would like to investigate the social arenas and scopes of action such actors carved out for themselves. We ask whether they made efforts to increase the social integration and public recognition of their transnational endeavours, or to what extent they actively separated themselves in particular spaces, milieus, professions or organisations which allowed for their trans-boundary and intermediary activities. We want to analyse the place transnational actors occupied in different social contexts, how integrated or excluded they were, which strategies they pursued to remain both externally and internally connected, and under what circumstances they stopped engaging in trans-boundary networks. Secondly, we are interested in the ways that other actors reacted to them and delimited the boundaries of their transnational action. Political decision-making and legal frameworks, social differentiation and hierarchies, as well as the construction of cultural, ethnic or religious boundaries played an important part in the patterns of integration and exclusion that transnational actors were confronted with. We thus propose to explore to which degree separation or integration seemed necessary or desirable to them or to other actors in their social environments. Such a perspective has, we believe, the potential to give insights into the ways societies manage their relation to the wider world and delimit arenas and channels, as well as institutions and social groups that are more closely involved with connectivity while shielding the rest from these interactions. Overall, we invite investigations into the different forms of marginalization, segregation and control of transnational activities in different societies.