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Is It Transnational? A New Perspective in the Study of Communism 1

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This article presents a comprehensive review of the transnational perspective in the study of communism and the implications of this methodological turn for the transformation of the field itself. While advancing new topics and interpretative standpoints with a view to expanding the scope of such an initiative in current scholarship, the author argues that the transnational approach is important on several levels. First, it helps to de-localize and de-parochialize national historiographies. Second, it can provide the background to for the Europeanization of the history of the communist period in former Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Third, and most importantly, the transnational approach can reconstruct the international dimension of the communist experience, with its multiple geographies, spaces of entanglement and transfer, and clustered, cross-cultural identity-building processes. The article concludes that the advent of transnationalism in the study of communism allows for the discovery of various forms of historical contiguousness either among state socialisms or beyond the Iron Curtain. In other words, researchers might have a tool to not only know more about less, but also to resituate that “less” in the continuum of the history of communism and in the context of modernity. The transnational approach can generate a fundamental shift in our vantage point on the communist phenomenon in the twentieth century. It can reveal that a world long perceived as mostly turned inward was in fact imbricate in wider contexts of action and imagination and not particularly limited by the ideological segregationism of the Cold War.

Affiliations: 1: Imre Kertész Kolleg, Jena, Germany


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