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.


Negotiating Imperialism: Treaty-making in Global Comparative Perspective

2023-06-29 - 2023-07-01

ENIUGH2023 2

Stefan Amirell and Birgit Tremml-Werner are the convenors of the panel Negotiating Imperialism at the Seventh ENIUGH Conference in The Hague.


Martine van Ittersum, University of Dundee

André Johannes Krischer, University of Freiburg

Janne Lahti, University of Helsinki

Michael Talbot, University of Greenwich


Between the seventeenth and early twentieth century, so-called unequal treaties were a crucial instrument of imperial expansion. In recent years, researchers have increasingly turned to treaties and treaty-making in order to understand of how colonial domination was established and of how imperial expansion was linked to the development of international law. What has thus far been less frequently investigated, however, is how the treaties were perceived and negotiated on the ground and how they were forged in inter-cultural encounters often characterised by competition and conflict as well as by accommodation and compromise.

By focusing on the processes of treaty-making, rather than treaties in themselves, the panel seeks to provide a more detailed and nuanced of how imperialism was negotiated and established in various inter-cultural contexts. In doing, so it aims to highlight the role and agency of the men and women ’on the spot’, including a variety of actors beyond the state level and of different national and cultural backgrounds.

The panel explores treaty-making in comparative global historical perspective, gathering  five papers dealing with treaties and treaty-making in different colonial or imperial contexts. Some of the questions asked are: What role did treaty-making play in different asymmetrical contexts? How did treaty-making practices in the Americas, Asia, Africa and Oceania differ from the legal theoretical debates in Europe? How did the treaty-making practices change over time? What are the similarities and differences in relation to different local political and cultural contexts and the practices of different colonial powers? How can the degree of inequality, fraudulence, manipulation be assessed in different treaty-making contexts? How can how can the comparative study of treaty-making in global history nuance our take on current developments in international relations?



List of Dates (Page event details)

  • From 2023-06-29 to 2023-07-01

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.