J. Gebke u.a. (Hrsg): Das Diplomatische Selbst in der Frühen Neuzeit

Das Diplomatische Selbst in der Frühen Neuzeit. Verhandlungsstrategien Erzählweisen Beziehungsdynamiken

Gebke, Julia; Mai, Stephan F.; Muigg, Christof
Münster 2022: Aschendorff Verlag
Anzahl Seiten
278 S.
€ 49,00
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Crawford Matthews, Institut für Geschichte, Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg

Early modern diplomatic correspondence, far from merely containing factual reports on foreign courts, is often littered with self-testimony whereby diplomatic actors explicitly thematised themselves. The structural conditions common to much early modern diplomatic activity, including reliance on patronage networks, the disinclination towards a long-term diplomatic career, and the desire to utilise a successful diplomatic posting as a springboard for domestic political advancement, often conditioned the self-testimony contained within letters sent back to a home court. Accordingly, diplomatic actors (broadly defined) were liable to use self-narratives to emphasise their active role in successes, minimise their contribution to failures, and to demonstrate their diplomatic virtues, well-informed nature, and access to important persons.

The Diplomatic Self in Early Modern Times derives from a conference for early-career researchers organised by the University of Vienna in 2016. The book contains an impressive breadth of contributions, consisting of an introduction and 13 case-study chapters dealing with diplomatic actors and entanglements across early modern Afro-Eurasia. Its contributions are thematically divided into four sections, entitled: ‘negotiating’, ‘narrating’, ‘shaping relations’ and ‘the diplomatic self?’

The book aims to utilise current methodologies from self-testimony research and from the cultural history of diplomacy in order to locate ‘diplomatic selfs’. By that is meant the concept of self that diplomatic actors (broadly defined) constructed and expressed in self-testimony whilst negotiating, narrating, and shaping relations. Building on the work of Thiessen and Windler, the editors adopt the ‘actor centred approach’: not solely focusing upon the results of diplomatic activities, but rather the ways in which negotiations were carried out and the scope of action actors possessed.1 Such an approach recognises the multiplicity of roles that those engaged in diplomatic activities simultaneously embodied, for diplomatic actors were also traders, pilgrims, friars, ladies-in-waiting, nobles, and scholars.

However, the book goes beyond this by discussing how diplomats constructed and expressed their ‘diplomatic self’ in self-testimony contained within letters, diaries, memoirs, and political treatises. As this volume emphasises, the writing of self-narratives should be regarded as a social practice2, as the person-concepts expressed therein were heavily conditioned by the social and cultural world in which the author was embedded.3 Correspondingly, self-narratives become excellent sources with which to discern cultural and societal norms, expectations, and group-specific habitus. The plurality of roles and norms allows their mixing, and this generates complex and varied concepts of self, expressed in documents of self-testimony. Here the editors select the analogy of the kaleidoscope, whereby at times, and in certain situations, various combinations of these roles and norms become more prominent. Others, meanwhile, retreat to the background, without, however, entirely disappearing, and can situationally become once again more influential. The process of forming and expressing a ‘diplomatic self’ was therefore permanently being negotiated and renegotiated.

The expectations elicited by the editors' introduction are, however, not entirely fulfilled. Not least because many of the contributing authors utilise particularly broad definitions of self-testimony. Benigna von Krusenstjern's classical definition of self-testimony, upon which this book also leans, defines self-testimony sources as those in which explicit self-thematization occurs.4 That is, the author themselves appears in the text taking action or suffering. Yet, by this definition, several of this book's studies do not engage with explicit self-testimony, and so, a ‘diplomatic self’ remains inaccessible. Certain contributors expand the boundaries of self-testimony so much, that almost all early modern governmental correspondence could be considered as such. Marcus Stiebing, for example, in his contribution on a Weimar court scholar’s foreign policy concept paper justifying intervention in the Bohemian Revolt, argues that said concept paper can be considered as self-testimony, “because it deals with an independently conceived idea” (p. 108). This is despite a singular indirect reference to the author’s self, and disregards Stiebing’s earlier explanation that the scholar received a princely demand to retrospectively justify a particular policy, and that he largely built on the work of a previous scholar. Several contributors also unfortunately choose to summarise, rather than quote their sources of self-testimony. When dealing with such self-narrations, it is important not just what authors said, but how they expressed it. Only by assessing original self-testimony (or translations) can the reader critically assess the historian’s interpretation and analyse the rhetorical strategies employed.

These drawbacks do not afflict all the chapters of this book, and it contains several strong contributions. In the first section, dealing with negotiations, Corina Bastian and Lena Oetzel both study how particular concepts of diplomatic self were constructed in correspondence and used to facilitate successful negotiation. Bastian demonstrates how female court favourites used self-narratives to stage themselves as empathetic mediators engaged in ‘active listening’ to overcome conflict situations. Oetzel assesses a diplomat’s self-testimony on his suffering under defamatory attacks from allied diplomats and his varying approaches to attacks upon his own and his patron’s honour, that in turn reveal much about the expected qualities of diplomats and the socially constructed nature of concepts of self.

The section on ‘narrating’ contains interesting contributions, however the thematic thread of the 'diplomatic self' as revealed through self-testimony is missing from the majority. Only Rike Szill manages to convincingly argue that her source, a historiographical work on the fall of Constantinople by a Byzantine historiographer, can be regarded as self-testimony intended for a specific audience. Therein the author constructs a conception of self as a knowledgeable and skilled negotiator, a patriotic Aegean islander, and a pragmatist willing to negotiate with the new regional hegemon. Szill also recognises specific Byzantine literary traditions and the less direct ways in which the ‘literary self’ was therein expressed, thus providing a useful methodology to facilitate the reading of additional genres as self-testimony.

The section on ‘shaping relations’ is the book’s strongest. In it, Juliane Märker and Christian Gründig demonstrate the value of assessing diplomatic correspondence as self-testimony, for what it reveals about the working conditions of diplomats, and how the multiplicity of roles a diplomat performed conditioned their constructed sense of self. Julia Heinemann’s excellent contribution convincingly demonstrates how both ladies-in-waiting and accredited male diplomats were able to utilise the body of the Spanish queen as a medium through which they could emphasise their own self-conceptions, as medical experts, reliable ‘diplomats of peace’, and trusted royal confidants. It is moreover shown how male and female diplomatic actors stood not in competition, but complemented each other.

The section on ‘the diplomatic self’, deals with the multiplicity of roles particular diplomatic actors carried out, be they friar-diplomats in Asia (Birgit Tremml-Werner) or Sahelian pilgrim-trader-diplomats (Rémi Dewière). Nevertheless, broader theses about how these actors’ self-conceptions impacted upon their work, particularly when mixing roles, remain inadequately discussed. This is partly because of limitations inherent to the sources, but also due to under quotation and analysis. Nonetheless, Tremml-Werner does demonstrate how friar-diplomats were able to exploit role switching and diplomatic ambiguities, while Dewière’s chapter discusses external ascription of person-concepts to diplomats, and raises questions about how these may have shaped self-concepts expressed in self-testimony.

This book would have benefited from additional proofreading before publication. Style inconsistencies are present between chapters. Typos, missing punctuation, and font errors are also noticeable throughout. The English chapters were clearly not proofread by a native speaker, and several contain awkward turns-of-phrase, untranslated words, as well as syntax and spelling errors. Nevertheless, this book’s impressive breadth of thirteen case studies contributes towards a greater understanding of diverse facets of early modern diplomacy. Its thought-provoking espousal of methodological tools from self-testimony research will undoubtedly stimulate other scholars to turn to their sources and to attempt to locate the diplomatic self(s) expressed therein.

1 Hillard von Thiessen / Christian Windler (eds.), Akteure der Außenbeziehungen. Netzwerke und Interkulturalität im historischen Wandel, Cologne 2010, pp. 1–12.
2 Gabriele Jancke, Autobiographie als soziale Praxis Beziehungskonzepte in Selbstzeugnissen des 15. und 16. Jahrhunderts im deutschsprachigen Raum, Cologne 2002.
3 Kaspar von Greyerz, Ego-Documents. The Last Word?, in: German History 28 (2010), pp. 273–282.
4 Benigna von Krusenstjern, Was sind Selbstzeugnisse? Begriffskritische und quellenkundliche Überlegungen anhand von Beispielen aus dem 17. Jahrhundert, in: Historische Anthropologie 2 (1994), pp. 462–471, here p. 463.

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