Few aspects of early modern statecraft left more traces in written and visual sources than the activities of diplomats and those who represented states in less official capacity. Traditional historiography has connected the history of diplomacy with the rise of the nation state, bureaucrats, and official documents exchanged between states that were considered bounded and sovereign. Probing and challenging one of the oldest narratives in modern history, this 4 credit course explores the political culture of early modern international relations and diplomatic practice. Based on a comparative analysis of source materials across a broad geographical and linguistic spectrum, we will examine the assumptions that underpin the relations between states in a period of European history when diplomacy was a more or less personal affair between rulers rather than the domain of representatives of abstract nation-states. The focus will be on defining and examining the age of Baroque in its wider social and cultural implications, while also occasionally spanning the Renaissance and the “Sattelzeit” after the French Revolution to address issues of change and continuity in the longue durée. Rather than studying and comparing individual national diplomatic institutions, we will centre our discussions around concepts of sovereignty, power and statehood, the role of religion, hybridity, status, honour, gender, theatricality, social and cultural hierarchies, natural law, the vocabulary of kinship and the equality of states, ritual, the tensions between centre and periphery, notions of progress and the European states-system, ideas about the balance of power and their critics, as well as intercultural transfer. Students will work with a variety of published and unpublished materials according to their preferred regional focus: from the classic diplomatic report, peace treaties, and protocols of solemn receptions, to ciphered (and decoded) communications, beautifully decorated letters and political messages hidden in ornate architecture, travel accounts, poems and plays about diplomats, theoretical musing about the nature of political representation and the role of ambassadors’ wives, splendid objects presented as gifts and fascinating paintings depicting embassies from the Far East. Through the sphere of diplomacy, students will study early modern societies, politics and culture more broadly, gaining experience in working with interdisciplinary approaches that will be useful across other fields of history as well. The assisted use of archival materials will be encouraged as will be the use of foreign languages (all required texts will also be made available in English translation).
- Teacher: Jan Hennings