Treaty-Making and Cross-Cultural Diplomacy in Asia (16th-20th centuries)
Recently, historians of imperialism and global history have begun to turn their attention to diplomatic encounters and treaty-making in the context of imperial and colonial expansion, particularly in South, East and Southeast Asia from the 16th to the 20th century. In doing so, they have challenged the orthodox view of such treaties merely as obsolete, “unequal”, “fraudulent”, or “colonial” instruments of imperialism. Historians of international law have also in recent years begun to shift their attention from the traditional focus on European developments in international law to the contributions of non-European actors and to the role of negotiations and encounters between Europeans and non-Europeans across the world.
Against this background, treaties between European and other imperial powers on the one hand and Asian states and rulers on the other are no longer understood exclusively as impositions by the imperial powers, but also as the result of accommodation and cross-cultural negotiations. Asian and other non-European actors often appear to have been more well-informed and astute in such diplomatic exchanges than previously acknowledged, and many of them took active part in the treaty-making processes. Influenced by methodological advances in the field of New Diplomatic History, historians of imperialism and international relations in Asia have also begun to explore previously understudied themes in diplomatic relations, including gender, personal relations, translations, rituals, and diplomatic gifts. Taken together, these developments have the potential to produce new and innovative theoretical frameworks and perspectives for understanding how colonial domination was established and maintained in different parts of Asia and beyond.
The conference Treaty-Making and Cross-Cultural Diplomacy in Asia aims to stimulate the discussion and exchange of ideas about these topics and about the theoretical and methodological challenges involved in writing new global histories of imperialism, international relations, cross-cultural diplomacy, treaty-making, and international law from the onset of the European expansion until the end of colonialism in Asia. Themes to be explored include, but are not limited to:
- the exploration of unconventional sources for the study of diplomacy and treaty-making;
- comparative studies between different regions, treaty-making parties, time periods etc.;
- the complex relationship between, on the one hand, violence, conquest, and coercion, and, on the other hand, negotiation, compromise, and conviviality in treaty-making processes;
- the role of translation, literacy, oral traditions, and potential linguistic barriers;
- the role of intermediaries (e.g. interpreters, secretaries, witnesses) and informal actors;
- the relation between traditional Asian instruments of inter-state relations, such tributary systems, and the practice of treaty-making
- the role of symbols, rituals, ceremonies, and gifts in treaty-making processes;
- new concepts and frameworks of analysis for understanding treaties in imperial contexts;
- new methods for studying treaty-making and cross-cultural diplomacy.