International Conference: Global Diplomacy – A Post Institutional Approach

Thomas Bürgisser's picture
Call for Papers
August 30, 2018 to September 1, 2018
Subject Fields: 
Colonial and Post-Colonial History / Studies, Digital Humanities, Diplomacy and International Relations, Economic History / Studies, World History / Studies

This conference aims to contribute to the ongoing debate on the transformation of modern diplomacy from an instrument of arcane foreign policy to an intermediary between foreign policy and transnational and transboundary networks.

As mentioned in recent research debates (e.g. Oxford Handbook of Modern Diplomacy 2013), the merging of diplomacy, global governance, international relations and international law stands at the core of a paradigmatic shift which overcomes institutional limitations by specifying collaborative activities and multifunctional actors in international politics on a global scale. The conference addresses the theoretical and methodological challenges which result from the tensions between an institutional understanding of foreign relations as activities of a sovereign state and the obvious impact of informal activities shaping politics and public spheres as ‹civil diplomacy› not investigated so far. The conference has a strong interest in methodological debates, asking to what extent the history of institutions is useful for documenting the limits of normative orders and rules. Following this perspective, the Swiss case might offer a starting point for similar cases where global expertise oversteps formal limitations in international politics.

Panel I: Networking on Diplomatic and Consular Levels: Western strategies for Asia 1860s to 1945

(Semi-)colonial settings, concession areas and extraterritorial spaces allow studying the interferences between territory-based governance and the regional impact of various global actors on different regions and international societies. Blurring the apparent difference between East and West, Asia presents an interesting opportunity to investigate the dynamic development of multilayered spaces from the 1860s onwards. The main questions addressed are: How did formal colonial powers as well as states profiting from most-favored nation clauses organize their system of representation in different Asian areas? How and to what extent were non-state actors, e.g. merchants as honorary consuls, as well as professional state actors involved in these diplomatic processes? And to what extent did local intermediaries use, transform and profit from extraterritorial claims?

Starting with (but overstepping) the Swiss case as an example for the inclusion of non-state actors and for network-based diplomacy in Asia, the panel aims at developing a sense of converging and diverging diplomatic structures, processes and strategies of different Western states.

Panel II: Entitlements, Practices and Governance on a Global Level

The second panel focuses on the variety of global diplomacy’s actors. The increasing range of thematic issues seems to be a huge challenge for foreign ministries and international organizations. The main questions are: Who is entitled to act on behalf of a state? What is the personal background, the training and education of diplomatic personnel around the globe or the staff working for international organizations? To what extent do foreign ministries guide and control diplomatic relations? And what is the impact of experts and non-state actors with view to the complexity of diplomacy?

Panel III: Neutrals and Neutral States as Global Actors – Motivations, Perceptions, and Economic Interests

Besides considering more actors in international politics, a post-institutional understanding of diplomacy challenges established norms and concepts. Acting as intermediaries in times of war, neutral states offer an opportunity to investigate multifunctional activities, including the question of profits and losses resulting from negotiations on behalf of warring states. In addition, the panel will focus on the interactions between neutrals, including tensions between different understandings of neutrality as an under-investigated perspective in research. As a third aspect, the debate addresses humanitarian interventions from non-state actors, which, in recent debates, are considered as important intermediaries in non-violent interventions. However, beyond the case of ICRC, their activities and practices are less known in historical research, especially when it comes to their activities in the Pacific War. As a forth perspective, the panel addresses the question of who is acting from a neutral position or one perceived as such. Including Jewish organizations active during World War II, the debate compares status and scope of action of neutral non-state actors with regard to enemy aliens and allies on a global scale.

Panel IV: Digital Humanities in the Study of Global Diplomacy

With a new understanding of diplomacy as a field connecting different actors across borders, historiography oversteps the limits of diplomatic source material. The panel will test methodological approaches which are suitable for actor-network analysis and database focused research. To what extent has the digital accessibility of diplomatic documents transformed methodologies and fields of interest in diplomatic history? With JACAR and Dodis as main tools, this panel will take databases into account that allow following diplomatic career patterns, the geographical extension of diplomatic representation and the close entanglement of global trade with diplomatic representation. Besides the presentation of newly developed digital tools with the Asia Directories database among others, the panel will on one hand address the methodological challenges of making available diplomatic connections on a global scale. On the other hand, historians working within digital humanities projects will discuss the opportunities of hyperconvergent infrastructure and ways to share source material.

Panel V: Diplomacy, Transnational Law and Global Studies (interdisciplinary panel)

This concluding panel encompasses the methodological and theoretical framing of new actors in international relations and their problem-solving capacity. With a special focus on refugees and stateless persons, it sheds light on the merging of diplomacy, global governance, international relations and international law. The handling of these two groups of actors shows the limits of traditional foreign and international relations and in doing so, paves the way for an interdisciplinary debate on global governance.


The conference aims to bring together historians as well as researchers from the social sciences and related disciplines with an interest in the history of diplomacy, transnational law and global governance. A common goal is to challenge the former Eurocentric and state-focused diplomatic history in favor of a global history of diplomacy which takes into account border-crossing entanglements and transnational networks.

We invite PhD students, postdocs and senior academics to apply and want to encourage women researchers to send their proposals in order to reach a gender-balanced representation at the conference. Please send your proposal for a paper including information about the applicant (max. 3’000 characters, preferred file format: PDF) to Thomas Bürgisser (thomas.bü until January 15th, 2018. All proposals will undergo a peer review process. Notification of acceptance will be sent out by May 2018.

The conference is organized in the course of the SNSF-project «A Global History of Swiss Diplomacy» (, a cooperation between the Institute for European Global Studies of the University of Basel and the research center Diplomatic Documents of Switzerland ( The conference will be held from August 30th–September 1st, 2018 in Basel and Bern.


Scientific Committee

Prof. Dr. Madeleine Herren-Oesch (Instiute for European Global Studies University of Basel)
Prof. Dr. Toshiki Mogami (Waseda University, Tokyo)
Prof. Dr. Atsushi Shibasaki (Komazawa University, Tokyo)
Prof. Dr. Glenda Sluga (University of Sydney)
Dr. Sacha Zala (Diplomatic Documents of Switzerland / University of Bern)

Organizing Committee

Dr. Thomas Bürgisser
Cornelia Knab
Dominik Matter
Julian Wettengel