The perfect ambassador: International Relations and the origins of Diplomacy (1500-1800)

Course Description: 

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 Students will work with a variety of published and unpublished materials according to their preferred regional focus: from the classic diplomatic report, peace treaties, and protocols of solemn receptions, to ciphered (and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).

Learning Outcomes: 

1. a critical understanding of the range of historiographies of international relations applied to early modern polities
2. develop an understanding of early modern and modern diplomacy in comparative perspective; a critical understanding of the range of historiographical debates about the historical development of inter-state relations, international political thought, the practices of diplomacy, political culture etc.
3. mediate between historiographical debate and source criticism
4. present their analyses and arguments clearly and concisely in accordance with the scholarly conventions of historical writing and oral presentations


• Attendance at all meetings is mandatory. Up to two unexcused absences will be tolerated before your final grade is affected.  Any unexcused absence after that would result in automatic decrease of the final grade by half a letter grade. Alternatively, a student who misses more than two units (two 100-minute sessions) in any 2 or 4 credit class without a verified reason beyond the student's control can submit an 5-8 page paper assigned by the professor, which as a rule covers the material in the class missed. The paper is due no later than 3 weeks after the missed class.
• Participation in the discussion: 20 pts
• Presentation and discussion questions: each student will be responsible for preparing a set of 3-5 discussion questions related to weekly readings of sources and secondary literature, twice during term: 20 pts
• Final Paper (8-10 pages in length, Times New Roman, double-spaced, font 12) on a topic of your choice: 60 pts. The Final Paper is due on 21 December 2017. Please consult with the course leaders and submit a topic and research question by week 4, a bibliography by week 8 and an outline by week 10.