Historical Treaties of Southeast Asia

A research program in global diplomatic history

Historical Treaties of Southeast Asia is a collaborative research program in Global Diplomatic History financed by the Swedish Research Council and running from 2022 until the end of 2027.

A team of seven researchers based in Europe and Southeast Asia investigate the role of treaties and treaty-making in the imperial expansion and colonisation of Southeast Asia from the eighteenth to the early and twentieth century.

The researchers systematically analyse all bilateral treaties concluded between a European, American or Japanese imperial power and a Southeast Asian polity between the eighteenth and early twentieth century. In addition, a selected number of diplomatic treaty-making processes are studied in detail. In doing so, the project aims to bring about a new and more nuanced understanding modern imperialism of relevance not only to Southeast Asia but globally.


Online Seminar: Round and about Banda: protection-tribute treaties in the eastern archipelago in the early 17th century.

Picture for Tristan Mosterts seminar
2023-12-19 13:15 - 15:00

Presenter: Tristan Mostert (Leiden University).

The role of diplomacy and treaty-making in early European colonialism has long been an issue of interest to historians, and the eastern archipelago has provided a particularly rich ground for its study. As the VOC and some of its predecessors tried to obtain access to, and soon, a monopoly on, the spices originating from the region, they would typically do so by entering into treaties offering protection against a common enemy, in exchange for exclusive deliveries of the spices in the region at a fixed price.

Many authors on the topic have been keen to emphasize that these treaties should not be considered a form of equal partnership, or a recognition of local autonomy, noting, for instance, that for all the lofty European legal theory that undergirded them, the earliest  such treaties in Maluku were meant to ‘enforce obligation by consent’: an alternative to outright conquest, perhaps, but with the same ultimate goals. Taking this line of reasoning even further, Martine van Ittersum has argued that much of this lofty theorizing was tailored to the exigencies of the VOC and its expansionist agenda in the first place. For the Banda Islands, for instance, she contended that these treaties were instrumental in drawing down the Bandanese ever deeper into a spiral of dependence and violence. ‘Coen’s brutal conquest of Great Banda presents an inconvenient truth for many global historians writing today who are eager to ascribe agency to indigenous peoples through various forms of ‘negotiating’ and ‘resisting’ empire,’ she darkly observed.

This presentation will revisit some of the work of Martine van Ittersum and others on the topic, and then broaden the scope to treaties outside the Banda Islands proper, investigating whether these treaties and the process by which they came about can shed fresh light on the specific and oft-cited example of Banda and place them in a wider regional context.

To participate, please register in advance via:

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All Dates

  • 2023-12-19 13:15 - 15:00

Southeast Asian perspectives on British and Dutch colonialism: New research project

Shadow figures depicted in an old manuscript

Historical Treaties of Southeast Asia program member Maarten Manse has been awarded a three-year project grant by the Swedish Research Council to explore the role of Southeast Asian actors in British and Dutch colonialism in the region.

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Colonialism, Slavery and Local Histories in Early Modern Asia

For several hundred years after 1498, seafaring European powers developed and co-opted a complicated network of commercial relations along the coastlands of the Indian Ocean World and Asia. For the most part, they did not open up new waterways but took advantage of existing systems of trade and exchange. European commerce was often established by brute force but also through negotiations and treaties, often in combination with violence or threats of violence.

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Manila, Philippines
Conference organized by the Historical Treaties of Southeast Asia research project.

Presenter: Deborah Besseghini (University of Turin) Pre-registration required.