Informal Spaces and Practices of Diplomacy, c. 1700-1850

Informal Spaces and Practices of Diplomacy, c. 1700-1850

Kristine Dyrmann, Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities
United Kingdom
Fand statt
In Präsenz
Vom - Bis
19.09.2023 - 20.09.2023
Antonio Pattori, History Faculty & University College, University of Oxford; Maximilian Diemer, History Departement, University of Oxford

Diplomacy is not always, nor solely, performed at formal summits with (mostly male) actors seated around a table of negotiation. The ‘Sattelzeit’ of change in the decades before and after the French Revolution saw a formalisation of diplomacy, yet diplomats and ministers still met in the salons of the Congress of Vienna. This conference organised by KRISTINE DYRMANN (Oxford) at the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) builds upon developments in ‘New Diplomatic History’ with a view to highlight how pre-modern diplomacy was frequently practised on an informal level through personal relations and by actors ‘beyond ambassadors’ – including women, whose roles have received increased attention. The conference also placed greater emphasis on the role of space and the material environments of premodern diplomatic encounters. The event brought together 35 academics and heritage professionals from the fields of history, art history, languages and literature, and from across thirteen countries.

Stressing different spaces of social interaction as diplomatically salient, the first panel offered a re-evaluation of practices such as the royal hunt or collecting for cabinets of curiosity as firmly anchored in the culture of élite sociability, in which Early Modern and Sattelzeit diplomacy was conducted. KRISTOFFER SCHMIDT (Northern Zealand) traced the practice of par force hunting at the Danish court as a space for informal diplomacy between 1670 and 1760. Circumventing the court ceremonial during a meet enabled especially English envoys to approach the king informally with diplomatic matters. The Hunt diminished, however, in its political importance in the early 1700s, and it would never again resume its former role as a vital space for diplomacy surrounding the Danish court. Passing from the outside to the inside, JOSÉ DIAZ-GOMEZ (Granada) shed light on the role of cabinets of curiosities as spaces for diplomatic encounters in the Hispanic Enlightenment. He traced the transformation of these chambers of wonder into more scientifically oriented Enlightenment collections and asserted the importance of these spaces for foreign visitors and their hosts. Finally, Marie Ana Centeno’s private collection – later turned into a museum – in Columbia functioned as a point of attraction for foreign envoys. Although the social prestige of these spaces decreased over time, they maintained importance in the public imagination and continued to provide the background for diplomatic encounters.

The second panel highlighted the role of soft diplomacy and sociability, primarily through the angles of education, marriage, friendship, and forms of social interaction such as dancing. The paper by MAXIMILIAN DIEMER and ANTONIO PATTORI (Oxford) successfully traced the aims, and subsequent failure, of French and Austrian strategies of education and marriage with regards to the Duchy of Parma in the mid-eighteenth century. What emerged is that, far from aiding Bourbon-Habsburg diplomatic contacts with the small Italian principality, attempts to shape a ruler through education and marriage could potentially backfire. The second panel paper, by EDWINA HAGEN and LISA BAKHUIZEN VAN DEN BRINCK (Amsterdam), built upon largely new archival material, namely the correspondence of the wife of a Dutch ambassador with her foreign counterparts. In doing so, they stressed the role of friendship and gender in diplomatic relations at the time of the French Revolution. HILARY BURLOCK’s (Newcastle) analysis of dancing within the British Imperial world instead offered a salient presentation of how diplomatic interactions within the empire often relied on artistic representation. This largely spoke to other panels on the second day of the conference, with interesting parallels being drawn regarding the role of artistic portrayals, visual or sensory, within the wider imperial world. In ensemble, the panel highlighted the varied methods of soft diplomacy, employed by diplomatic actors across various echelons of society.

The third panel was dedicated to the changing role of languages in diplomatic encounters and especially correspondence. SOPHIE HOLM (Helsinki) uncovered the different layers of an Ancien-régime diplomat’s activities by focusing on intentional choices of different languages in diplomatic correspondence. She analysed the official correspondence of Swedish diplomats in the “Age of Liberty” between 1718–1772 and found that, although the official norm required the use of Swedish for matters public, numerous correspondences were conducted in French. Holm perfectly illustrated how the authors of these dispatches navigated the obscure distinctions between 'public’ and 'private’ as well as 'official’ and 'informal’ spheres through their use of different languages, so that they negotiated between the multiple roles held simultaneously by a type-ancien diplomat. VLADISLAV RJEOUTSKI (Paris) added another layer of complexity to the role of the diplomat in the eighteenth century by analysing the interplay between foreign affairs and linguistic choices in the family correspondence of the Russian historian Jacob von Staehlin and his diplomat son Peter. Despite their German origins and Russian context, father and son corresponded exclusively in French. Linking his analysis with the question of language, Rjeoutski concluded that the familial exchange followed the dominant tradition of French as lingua franca for the European aristocratic society, especially appropriate for recounting Foreign Affairs.

The fourth panel centred on post Napoleonic diplomacy, with a particular emphasis on the role of personality, intrigue and emotions in geopolitical negotiations. JOHN CONDREN (Nottingham) analysed the experience of two Genevois politicians – Charles Pictet de Rochemont and François d’Ivernois – in the successful admission of Geneva into the Swiss Confederation at the Congress of Vienna. The creation of personal “back channels”, through salons, tea rooms and dinner parties, during their participation in the Congress, was also responsible for the cessation of some Savoyard lands to Geneva’s, and thus Swiss, territory. LUKAS RIJNTALDER (Amsterdam) used the memoirs left by the likes of Von Gentz, or Counts Bernstorff and Münster to analyse the decisions of the Congress of Vienna through the lens of 'emotional diplomacy’. The display of emotions could be used performatively and ceremonially to secure political aims, an approach allegedly pursued by Tsar Alexander I. RASMUS GLENTHØJ (Southern Denmark) took us forward into the second half of the nineteenth century. By analysing the personal links held by Danish civil servant Jens Julius Hansen to important figures in Prussia and France, including Bismarck, Glenthøj successfully outlined the personalities involved in the fight for pan-Scandinavian unification. He reconstructed how these personal networks of intrigue and conspiracy almost led to revolution and the kidnapping of the Danish royal family.

GLENDA SLUGA (Florence) rounded the first day up by delivering an excellent keynote highlighting central problem fields of diplomatic history. Starting from its conceptualisation as history of politics, she urged the participants to historicise the concepts of formal and informal along the differences between national and international gender and class orderings. By tracing back the formalisation and professionalisation of diplomacy during the ‘Sattelzeit’ and the 19th century, Sluga ascertained its simultaneous masculinisation. Whilst the informal spaces of women-led salons surrounding, e.g., the Congress of Vienna had provided elite women with considerable influence, later, more institutionalised diplomatic encounters would actively seek to exclude them. Widening the scope, she also reminded the audience to seek out the place of the bourgeoisie and capitalist economic actors in formal and informal spaces of 19th and 20th-century diplomatic encounters. Finally, she asserted the public, and the role of public media, as an increasingly important influence, if not an actor on the international stage, as the political reference systems of increasingly democratising nation states changed their diplomatic relations.

The second conference day started with a panel on ‘Sea, Trade, and Beyond’. The papers in this session successfully tfocused on the role of maritime diplomacy, and how ships could become a space for diplomatic negotiation. ERIK DE LANGE (London) sought to apply developments in New Diplomatic History onto the notion of Gunboat Diplomacy, with a view to include an analysis of all the personnel on board, the construction of informal spaces, and the role of naval masculinity. The example of the British naval presence off the coast of Naples during the Revolution of 1820 was used as a revealing case study to illuminate his thesis on the nature of maritime informal diplomacy. The second paper on this panel was by BEN POLLITT (London), who, partially through visual analysis, reconstructed the attempts made by James Cook to reconcile with Maori chieftains after the cannibalistic murder of ten members of Cook’s crew. By focusing on artistic exchange and portraits, Pollitt analysed how the ship could be used as a space for diplomatic contacts, and how eighteenth-century art-making could be used as an informal practice of diplomacy aimed at the amelioration of relations between Maori leaders and British explorers. (One paper on Senegambian slave trade had unfortunately been cancelled – it would have marked the ‘beyond’ of the panel).

The sixth panel added a further aspect to diplomatic encounters by focusing how slavery could be intertwined with diplomacy. RANA MUNTEHA ALDEMIR (Vienna) introduced the memoirs of Osman Aga, an Ottoman cavalry officer in Temeschburg. Being enslaved after his capture by the Imperial army in 1688, he came to play an interesting role for his master Count von Schallenberg in the latter’s diplomatic exchange with the Swedish envoy to Vienna. Aldemir reconstructed how Osman leveraged his close ties with Schallenberg’s wife to informally pledge for the safety of his alleged brother and fellow slave, Ali. Although this intervention eventually failed, the paper illustrated how influential even supposedly outside actors could become in moulding diplomatic environments through informal channels. KATE RIVINGTON (Monash) continued to focus on informal communication networks. Tracing the entanglements of the American abolitionist activist Maria Weston Chapman in Paris between 1848 and 1855, she uncovered her numerous connections with leading French and European intellectuals. Chapman frequented a variety of Parisian salons, especially Mary Clarke Mohl’s, where she forged alliances with European liberals in support of American Abolitionism. Her contacts helped the cause in wide-ranging ways, most of them in an unofficial capacity. The paper highlighted the importance of sociability as a vital factor for the antislavery movement across continents.

The last panel emphasised the role of cross cultural and cross confessional contacts across the eighteenth-century global mediterranean world. MAJID EMBARECH (Côte d’Azur) analysed commercial and financial relations between France and the Deys of Algiers. In doing so, Embarech shifted the emphasis from Franco-Algerian colonial relations to assessing how trade and gift giving shaped the relations during the pre-colonial context, illustrating an already emerging imbalance of power as France sought to displace Ottoman interests in the region. FLORIAN AMBACH (Innsbruck) presented the centrality of personality in the construction of primitive and informal relations between states. Through a global micro historical approach hinged upon the career of Franz Dombay, an Austrian interpreter, diplomat and spy at the Moroccan court, he conveyed the importance of language, translation, and informality in early diplomatic relations. He successfully highlighted the simultaneous duality of the construction of new diplomatic contacts which went hand in hand with intrigue, espionage and the process of obtaining secrets.

ELAINE CHALUS (Liverpool) summed up major results of the conference panels and provided additional remarks on the importance of expanding the notion of diplomacy further into the social realm. Maintaining that diplomacy is part of political history, which ought to be conceptualised as politics in society, the study of influences is to be placed at the centre of our research. Re-entering agency comes with a more nuanced understanding of the range of potential actors involved in diplomatic practices, and the importance of their gender, class, and other characteristics. Chalus also highlighted the importance of sociability, diplomatic linguistic practices, and other forms of exchanges as a vital part of diplomatic encounters, ranging from representative dancing to grand dinners, to exchanges in correspondence. Finally, Chalus brought home the centrality of space and place; that the diplomatic historian ought to be especially attentive to the materiality of the spaces where diplomacy was practiced, and the role of space and materiality in shaping formal, but even more so informal diplomatic encounters. Chalus closed with remarking how the conference presentations had shown the invigorating variety of diplomatic practice and the importance of examining the role of the informal in diplomatic and political history.

Conference overview:

Kristine Dyrmann (Oxford): Welcome and introduction

Panel 1: Spaces and practices: Representation and entertainment
Chair: Steve Gunn (Oxford)

Kristoffer Schmidt (Northern Zealand): The Danish par force hunt as an informal space of diplomacy (1670-1760)

José Antonio Diaz-Gomez (Granada): Spaces for Diplomacy and Fascination: Cabinets of Curiosities in the Hispanic Enlightenment

Aidan Jones (London): Entertaining tsardom: Nicholas I’s visit to conservative England

Panel 2: Spaces and practices: Education, letterwriting, and dancing
Chair: Tracey Sowerby (Oxford)

Maximillian Diemer (Oxford) / Antonio Pattori (Oxford): The duchy of Parma between Vienna and Paris: informal aspects of enlightened diplomacy (1748-1789)

Edwina Hagen (Amsterdam) / Lisa Bakhuizen van den Brinck (Amsterdam): The diplomacy of friendship. Emotions in letters as a diplomatic practice. A reconstruction based on the incoming mail of Geertruida Francisca van der Goes-de Eerens, informal diplomat at the Danish court, 1785-1793

Hilary Burlock (Newcastle): The Dance of Diplomacy: Sociabilities and identities in British imperial outposts

Panel 3: Language
Chair: Nicole Pohl (Oxford Brookes)

Sophie Holm (Helsinki): Creating informal spaces through language – Linguistic practices in Swedish eighteenth-century diplomatic correspondences

Vladislav Rjéoutski (Paris): Family correspondence as a diplomatic space in eighteenth-century Russia: Jacob and Peter von Staehlin (1760s-1780s)

Panel 4: The Napoleonic Wars and the Congress of Vienna
Chair: Michael Drolet (Oxford)

John Condren (Nottingham): Making Geneva Swiss: informality in the negotiations of Charles Pictet de Rochemont at the Congress of Vienna, 1814-1815

Lucas Rijntalder (Amsterdam): Through the eyes of von Gentz: Emotions and emotional diplomacy during the Congress of Vienna, 1814-15

Rasmus Glenthøj (Southern Denmark): Diplomacy, nationalism and revolution: Bismarck and Scandinavia

Glenda Sluga (Florence): Where does the history of diplomacy belong?

Panel 5: Sea, trade and beyond
Chair: John Condren (Nottingham)

Erik de Lange (London): Beyond the Gunboat: The Ship as a Site of Diplomacy

Ben Pollitt (London): The Sympathetic Cannibal: A Satire (on Diplomacy)

Panel 6: Slavery and abolition
Chair: Michael Depreter

Rana Aldemir (Budapest): Diplomatic Intrigue in Vienna: Unearthing the Role of the Ottoman Slave and an Austrian Countess

Kate Rivington (Monash): Maria Weston Chapman, French Salons and the Sociability of Antislavery in the Mid- Nineteenth Century

Panel 7: (In)formal diplomacy in the Mediterranean
Chair: Kristine Dyrmann

Majid Embarech (Côte d’Azur): A cordial understanding? Commercial and financial relations between the kingdom of France and the deys of Algiers (1750-1792)

Florian Ambach (Innsbruck): Translator, informant, spy? Franz Dombay and the (in)formal channels of Austrian diplomacy in Morocco (1783–1792)

Final comment & Closing remarks

Elaine Chalus (Liverpool) / Kristine Dyrmann (Oxford)