Summer School on Transnational History: Becoming a Cosmopolitan Historian

Ma. Mercedes Planta's picture

Organized by History Department, Faculty of Cultural Sciences and Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Universitas Gadjah Mada

Transnational history has produced a significant body of work since its development in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This approach owed its inception as part from the shift from political history that was comfortably located within the national narrative toward social and cultural history in the 1970s and 1980s that developed perspectives such as race, ethnicity, class, and gender that was localized and non-national. These developments, unfortunately, had worried historians because of the parochial and antiquarian nature of local histories. The early 1990s and 2000s saw the publication of David Thelen’s Toward the Internationalization of American Historyand Thomas Bender’s Rethinking American History in Global Age from which efforts to provincialize and denationalize American history has pointed the way for a true dialogue of experts from all parts of the world in imagining differential spaces other than that of the nation-state. This is needed in order to construct an American historiography that could meet the current needs of a globalizing world and place it with emphasis on a perspective of the future. Instead of focusing on local phenomenon, the emphasis was on understanding social, cultural and political ones as a transnational process; reconceptualizing identities, communities, and products within different transnational framework; for instance, Hollywood movies as it was received and recreated on other parts of the globe and thus seeing it not merely as an American cultural product, but a wider globalizing phenomenon.  Bruce Mazlish and Ralph Buultjen’s edited volume Conceptualizing Global Historyexpands this further by bringing forth ideas in developing global narratives of local or non-national identities and spaces. Two approaches that were identified by Thelen has been to focus on either borderlands, as liminal spaces in which national units undergo transformative shifts, and the comparative approach, not merely as a means for national historians to compare each other’s narratives but to create new perspective altogether that is both national and international.

Prasenjit Duara points to the political nature of the act of transnational history. “For me, personally, this reevaluation is necessary to counter the growing trend of ultranationalists, intolerant groups in many parts of the world, such as Japan and India, who are seeking to rewrite textbooks and otherwise seize control of the vast machinery of historical pedagogy established over the past twentieth century.” This warning, published in a book edited by Thomas Bender in 2002, seems prescient today in 2018 when the growth of nativist and anti-globalist discourse has transformed the political landscape of many countries and pushed forth the rise of neo-fascist movements. This reevaluation mainly occurs by training historians themselves to have an internationalist outlook and be cosmopolitan. Cosmopolitan in the sense that their view of history should always place them both in a national and international perspective. As Bender points out “the true cosmopolitan must cultivate a doubleness that allows both commitment and distance, an awareness at once of the possible distance of the self and of the possibility of dialogical knowledge of the other.” Transnational history does not intend to disqualify national history, but to enrich its perspective by allowing other non-national perspectives to have a voice in what Duara has called the ‘machinery of historical pedagogy’ – an important tool in which ordinary people use to develop the boundaries of their identities. As Ernst Renan noted, the national narrative requires a degree of forgetting. This act of forgetting has always been violent with significant long-term implications.

Creating a sense of cosmopolitan distance requires moving one’s self, both spatially, but more importantly, socially and culturally, from one’s national zone. Distancing oneself from the national narrative and its ever-present gaze require meeting students from other identities with their own narratives and gazes. The Summer School to be held at Universitas Gadjah Mada is both a cosmopolitan and denationalizing exercise; gathering students from around the world in order to facilitate that transnational dialogue. The exercise is also meant to try and practice the transnational gaze, reconceptualizing identities in a local manner and identifying transnational relations; looking at the presence of their locality in the spaces and history of Yogyakarta. The students will be trained to identify local narratives and identities in the vicinity of the city of Yogyakarta but also identifying possible transnational connections to their countries or to a more global phenomenon. For instance, looking at the relationship between Yogya’s Buddhist communities and phenomenon with those of other communities in Southeast Asia, analyzing Asian popular culture and how it is received by people in the city in the form of cosplays, how has Western romantic idea of the East in the form of the hippy trail resulted in the rise of tourism and how hippy culture affected the local art scene in Yogya, how has Chinese cuisine affected local food items in comparison to other parts of the world, in what way has the global resurgence of political Islam since the 1970s affected the rise of alternative local Muslim outside of NU and Muhammadiyah and its comparison with the scene from other countries. By localizing these transnational nodes within the fabric of Yogyakarta’s urban space, it interrogates these spaces and push for the emergence of new, transnational narratives from them. The transnational approach allows such a local and semi-isolated place like Yogyakarta to be a rich node of global processes because its framework inherently decenter nodal connections. It also allows us to see in what way has Europe, Australia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and so forth are reflected in the history and identity of Yogyakarta. Such exercise will allow students to identify transnational connections within their own local and national histories.


Course Description

Gaining a cosmopolitan and transnational perspective on place and history allows a rethinking of identities and boundaries that creates a multicultural and multi-narrative reading of current and past realities. This ability is important in today’s world of increasing sectarian and nationalist polarization, producing important counter-narrative that is local, national as well as transnational in scope.


Learning Outcome

  • To emphasize understanding about history and transnationalism in Southeast Asia
  • To discuss contemporary issues related to transnationalism in Southeast Asia in culture, social and religion context.
  • To emphasize understanding about transnationalism process network in Southeast Asia.


Method and Output

The structure of the course is as follows: the duration of the course is two weeks, comprised of five days of lectures, two days of field research, two days preparation research result and one day presentations. The lectures are comprised of introductory courses on the theories of the transnational approach and history and its relationship with non-state identity formation, including religious, ethnic, racial, class and others. The first day is composed the theoretical underpinnings of transnationalism from the perspective of various disciplines such as history, anthropology or social and political science. The rest of the four day lectures will be divided thematically into four identities: religious, minorities, personal (popular culture) and political. The participants will be assigned with relevant literatures beforehand. Considering the transnational nature of the phenomenon discussed, the participation of each student to contribute to the discussion using the examples and insights of their own communities and countries is essential for the success of the lectures. Each student will be encouraged to break away from their national group and cultivate a distance in order to place himself/herself in a cosmopolitan perspective.

The second week will be filled with five field researches into communities and urban spaces of Yogyakarta, including the Chinatown district of Ketandan, the Muslim district of Kauman and communities of art, popular culture consumption and so forth. The students will meet with members of each community and participate in some form activities, from having lunch in a restaurant to cultural activities. Both the meeting and activities can hopefully create new linkages.


Time and Place

Date                    : 27th August- 7th September 2018

Time                   : 7am-15pm

Course Venue   : Faculty of Cultural Science, Universitas Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta



  • Prof. Dr. Vincent Houben (Asian and African Studies, Humboldt-Universitat zu Berlin, Germany)
  • Prof. Dr. Bambang Purwanto (Universitas Gadjah Mada)
  • Prof. Dr. Kate McGregor (Melbourne University)
  • Prof. Dr. Jos Gommans (Universiteit Leiden)
  • Prof. Dr. Danny Wong Tze Ken (University of Malaya)
  • Dr. Pham Van Thuy (Vietnam National University)
  • Dr. Sri Margana, M.Phil. (Universitas Gadjah Mada)
  • Dr. Erwan Agus Purwanto (Universitas Gadjah Mada)
  • Dr. Farabi Fakih (Universitas Gadjah Mada)
  • Dr. Francis A. Gealogo (Ateneo de Manila University)
  • Dr. Adisorn Muakpimai (Thammasat University)
  • Ariel C. Lopez, M.A. (University of the Philippines Diliman)
  • Onanong Thippimol (Thammasat University)


The course is free but limited to 30 participants only and please read carefully important information below:

  • Applicants are BA/MA students of Humanity Studies and Social Sciences all over the world
  • Communication during the course will be in English
  • All selected applicants are granted free accommodation
  • All selected applicants are expected to secure their own travel expense and itinerary from and to their home country
  • Refreshments and lunches during the first week of the course are available
  • USD 150 grant for ten applicants from Southeast Asian countries who write the best motivation letter. The grant will be given during the course.