Transnational Moments of Change: Europe 1945, 1968, 1989 (review)
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Reviewed by
Gerd-Rainer Horn and Padraic Kenney, eds., Transnational Moments of Change: Europe 1945, 1968, 1989. Boulder: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004. 239 pp.

"Transnational" is in. There are some good reasons for this. In modern times historians have often (though not always) worked within and even on behalf of states dominated by national traditions. Broad scholarly investigations are often framed by the notion of the nation-state, such as international studies or comparative history in which phenomena within two or more national entities are compared. But with the acceleration of global communication and business over the past fifty years, issues such as migration, trade, and cultural interaction have seemed to call for less limited [End Page 150] framing. Many historians have chosen the term "transnational" to describe studies that seek to avoid the particularism of the national approach. The editors of Transnational Moments of Change seek to provide some concrete examples of what the potentials, limitations, and problems of this approach might be for the study of post–World War II Europe. To sharpen the analysis, they have made the excellent decision to focus on three significant moments of change: 1945, 1968, and 1989.

Unfortunately, only a few of the twelve essays in the book provide powerful examples of the transnational approach. The best of these is in the section on 1989. Padraic Kenney, building on his earlier work about the "carnival of revolution," specifies six modes of contact, as he calls them, that constitute a typology of cultural diffusion: command (high politics); text (writings of engaged intellectuals); legend (response to stories heard); pilgrimage (visits to "holy" sites); courier (specifically arranged visits for interchange); and convocation (holding conferences, assemblies, etc.). A great strength of Kenney's argument is the detailed specificity of the examples he uses to illustrate these modes of contact. Even though he is dealing with the diffusion of revolutionary ideas and enthusiasms among dissidents and opposition activists in only a few countries of East Central Europe in the 1980s, Kenney's typology should prove useful in the investigation of other forms of cultural diffusion as well.

Jarle Simensen seeks to put the 1989 revolutions in Eastern Europe into a global perspective. He argues that they were part of a larger wave of democratization that took place in an increasingly integrated global economic system, of which the centrally planned economies were not a part. Thus integration into the world economy, in which human rights and multiparty elections had become the accepted modes of political organization (at least among industrialized countries), was seen as a solution in Eastern Europe. Although this is not a particularly new argument, it does have the advantage of being broadly conceived. Simensen fears that in certain situations the democratization process may ultimately give way to the creation of merely formal democracies, with globalization providing cover for authoritarian regimes.

Gerd-Rainer Horn argues that the initial aim of transnational history must simply be to show that similarities exist in various areas of the world (or in his case, Europe). Only when similarities are known can one attempt to provide structural explanations for them. Horn's point underscores one of the difficulties facing transnational historians as they attempt to differentiate their work from that of other historians: What is so new about their approach if its starting point is to look for similarities such as those emphasized by comparative historians? Horn in the rest of his chapter compares workers' movements in France and Italy in 1968 and finds that a profound change of consciousness took place in both movements, leading to the establishment of new forms of representation (e.g., factory councils). Horn devotes considerable attention to the movement for worker self-management, but perhaps a more truly transnational (instead of comparative) approach to this subject would have introduced experiences from Yugoslavia and Scandinavia.

ArthurMarwick discusses the student movements of 1968, drawing on his earlier work that highlighted sixteen distinctive features of the cultural revolution from 1958 to 1974. His major contribution here is to condense these into four broad phenomena: [End Page 151] an enormous proliferation of movements, especially youth movements; the spread of sexual freedoms; what he calls "measured judgment," which...