Historical Treaties of Southeast Asia

On 1-2 December 2022 the Global Diplomacy Network held its fourth biannual conference (after Tokyo 2016, Venice 2018, all-online in 2020) at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Studies in Uppsala. It was held as a hybrid conference with participants from fifteen countries in Asia, Europe, and America, joining either on-site or online. Moreover, the conference tested an unconventional format of one-hour sessions per paper presentation, designed as conversations between a presenter who provided an impulse, a discussant, and ample time for discussion. Combining local, regional, and international perspectives, the conference discussed the strategic use–and misuse–of communication within early modern global history.

Céline Carayon’s keynote lecture “Decentering Diplomacy: Embodied and Material Exchanges in the Early Americas” challenged orthodox approaches and broadened the participants’ understanding of how agreements between two or more parties were (re-)interpreted over time. Drawing on examples of agreements “written” on wampum belts and ceremonial axes traveling hundreds of miles among communities, Carayon spoke to the need to make objects more central in analyses of diplomatic exchange and to move away from an entrenched focus on “ceremonies of possession” and “scriptocentric” traditions of diplomatic history. 

The eight paper presentations started with Sophie Holm’s exploration of the briefings and translations used by the Swedish Diet during the country’s eighteenth-century century “Age of Liberty”. She examined the administration of translation, touching on issues of access, presentation, and the storage of documents. The paper offered insight into the linguistic burden and process of keeping domestic government actors properly informed. Maarten Manse introduced innovative text recognition software he and Simon Kemper are developing to examine how individual translators and administrators manifest in the archive of the Dutch East India Company. Taking advantage of a corpus stretched across multiple archives, translations, and copies, these digital tools are learning to “read” treaty documents and thereby augment researchers’ ability to access and interpret their context and content. Yanna Yannakakis analyzed the function of custom in law within colonial Mexico arguing that custom became contractual, shifting from a basis in reciprocity to more utilitarian ends and integrating Enlightenment ideas in the process. The paper presented an important on-the-ground perspective of the ongoing negotiation foundational to legal claim-making within Mexico. Alejandro Sell Maestro explored how successive English ambassadors “translated” themselves into Hispanic society during their tenure as diplomatic actors. His paper explored the fashion choices, cultural engagements, and confessional decisions of Richard Fanshawe and William Godolphin in seventeenth-century Spain.

Vladislave Rjéoutski kicked off day two by presenting a “language portrait” of the Russian diplomat Antiochus Cantemir. This novel methodological approach traced how Cantemir mixed and mobilized languages to operate within different registers as he carried out his duties. Matylda Urjasz-Raczko presented a portrait of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth as painted by the Spanish diplomat Guillén de San Clemente. San Clemente’s writings reveal a stubborn impression of the people and society around him as corrupt and untrustworthy, an impression that never faded. Close reading reveals that San Clemente never learned how to access information on the community of which he was now a part. Xia-kang Ziyi examined how Tsushima domain officials mediated the flow of information between Tokugawa Japan and Chosŏn Korea. In this context, as in many others, diplomatic information was also commercial information, and Tsushima agents carefully filtered the information they passed along to Korean officials and toeing the line between supplementing and subverting the information and directives received from the shogunate. Guido Braun re-evaluated the linguistic landscape of an international congress, an early modern innovation that has long dominated the historiography. He argued that language served not just as an instrument, but also an object, of settlement. A linguistic concession could be a sign of peace, while linguistic intransigence might reflect a hardening political stance.


Joshua Batts and Birgit Tremml-Werner

Joshua Batts is a postdoctoral researcher at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Department of Translation, Interpreting and East Asian Studies.

Birgit Tremml-Werner is an associate professor in history at Linnaeus University and a member of the Historical Treaties of Southeast Asia research team.