Brussels (Belgium), December 6-7, 2018
Conference organized by the History Department of Ghent University, in collaboration with the Institut für Neuzeit- und Zeitgeschichtsforschung (Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften), the Arenberg Foundation, and the Austrian Cultural Forum in Brussels
Ellen Welch (The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Arno Strohmeyer (Universität Salzburg/Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften)
Bernardo José García García (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)
Proposal submission deadline: January 31, 2018
Until recently, historians primarily viewed early modern diplomacy as the realm of diplomats representing sovereign states and engaged in formal negotiations. The emphasis of scholars was on the outcome of such talks. However, few fields of history have undergone such radical changes as research into early modern diplomacy has in the last three decades. Besides monarchs and their representatives, historians now also take into account non-state actors. In addition, the focus has shifted from the results of diplomatic talks to the process of negotiating, and from political and economic topics to the cultural and social interchange between states, non-state actors and their agents. More than ever before, this ‘new diplomatic history’ takes into consideration the mental and cultural frameworks in which diplomats operated.
This conference proposes to broach a new topic that is in line with these trends: attempts to influence public opinion abroad as a means by which to smooth the way of official diplomatic engagements. Therefore, it is necessary to take a look below the surface of official state-to-state dialogue and analyze what scholars call ‘public’ and ‘cultural diplomacy’, and which governments intentionally applied on a large scale during the Cold War and the current War on Terror. Cultural diplomacy can be defined as the exchange of ideas, information, art, and all aspects of culture among nations worldwide in order to foster mutual understanding and diminish prejudice (J.M. Waller, The Public Diplomacy Reader, Washington, 2007). More generally, public diplomacy or the art of communicating with the publics of foreign countries supplement the traditional duties of ambassadors and consular officials. However, the concept of public diplomacy carries a certain ambiguity. It can refer to the activities of governments, which sometimes support these cultural encounters and help influence public attitudes abroad in support of national objectives. It can also refer to non-governmental interaction of private groups and interests in different countries, and the ways in which these impact policy formation.
Whether overtly political or not, strategies that we now consider cultural and/or public diplomacy are not new phenomena. The underlying principles have been applied ever since larger groups of human beings began to interact. In the early modern period, monarchs, cities, estates, corporations, and individuals tried to influence interlocutors abroad with books, pamphlets, and prints. Diplomats intentionally spread messages through works of arts, gifts, theatre, opera, and sophisticated ceremonies. And the transnational flow of ideas, fashion, and style also affected contacts between diplomats and agents.
This conference seeks to discuss the strategies that different players in the field of early modern foreign affairs adopted in order to influence public opinion abroad – or, more generally, to gain influence abroad – and thus pave the way for successful diplomatic campaigns. More specifically, this conference focuses on the lands ruled by the different branches of the Habsburg dynasty between ca. 1550 and 1750, the period par excellence of the baroque cult of monarchy. The geographical focus on the Habsburg lands is not a coincidence. The composite nature of the Spanish and Austrian Habsburg Monarchies, as well as their constant involvement in warfare across the continent, compelled to active diplomacy. It can even be stated that foreign relations were central to the sprawling Habsburg states.
The participants are invited to explore the different strategies of cultural and public diplomacy that the Habsburg envoys and agents, as well as their interlocutors, employed. The following questions serve as guidelines:
- How did political actors in the context of Habsburg international relations try to influence public opinion in general – or the views of specific groups – abroad?
- What societal networks (cultural, financial, intellectual, etc.) did these actors employ in order to address the public abroad?
- What media (pamphlets, letters, newspapers, pieces of art, ceremonies, theatre, images, etc.) did these actors use, what was the content of their messages, and what were their intentions?
- What public (audience, readership) did they aim to reach?
- To what degree were early modern initiatives that we would now label public and cultural diplomacy intentional or coincidental? Can we speak of strategic psychological operations in the early modern period?
- What was the impact of attempts to address and engage large groups of foreigners? How can we measure their impact or success?
- How did governments or non-governmental actors respond to such actions in the field of cultural and public diplomacy?
- How did actual occurrences (i.e. emerging conflicts, the start of talks during a conflict, the opening of peace conferences) affect the attempts at cultural and public diplomacy?
We welcome both talks that examine how actors from within the Habsburg lands attempted to address publics elsewhere, as well as talks that focus on foreigners trying to engage Habsburg subjects. We also ask that participants take into account what was considered ‘foreign’ and ‘abroad’, and what was not.
Candidates are invited to submit a title and abstract of 500 words maximum before January 31, 2018. These, accompanied by the affiliation and address data of the candidate can be sent to Klaas.VanGelder@UGent.be. Candidates will be informed regarding the acceptance of their proposals by March 2018 at the latest. The conference language is English.
Conference Website: www.habsburgculturaldiplomacy.ugent.be