“Diplomacy between Crisis and Cooperation”: Fourth Conference of the New Diplomatic History Network, Aarhus University 26-28 May 2021

Report by Karen Gram-Skjoldager

Photo: Lars Kruse / AU Foto

The New Diplomatic History Network was supposed to hold its fourth conference – NDH4 – at Aarhus University, Denmark in May of 2020, following its earlier gatherings in Leiden (2013), Copenhagen (2016) and Middelburg (2018). However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this proved impossible and the conference was postponed for a year, until May 2021, in the hope that this would allow us to convene in Aarhus. By January 2021 it was clear that this would not be possible and the conference was moved online.

Despite the difficult circumstances, the NDH4 conference was the largest conference organized by the network so far. With 59 papers, 20 panels, two keynotes and two roundtable discussions, the conference confirmed the wide academic reach and appeal of the New Diplomatic History agenda. The conference ran smoothly, helped by the many conference participants who volunteered to chair the large number of Zoom sessions and while we were all missing the small talk and social events of previous conferences, academic discussions were as lively, engaging and constructive as we have come to expect from NDH events.

While the focus of the 2018 conference in Middelburg was on how we should frame and conceptualize New Diplomatic History as a relatively distinct inter-disciplinary and multidisciplinary field, the Aarhus Conference clearly reflected how this field has moved forward and is becoming institutionalized. Giles Scott-Smith in his opening statement reported on the successful launch of the New Diplomatic History Network-based journal, Diplomatica, in 2019. Likewise, a roundtable was held on the book series Key Studies in Diplomacy based with Manchester University Press, which is edited by Scott-Smith and Simon Rofe and which will also be brought more into alignment with the NDH identity. During the roundtable, the editors and a number of authors shared their experiences with publishing in the series and encouraged the NDH4 participants to consider it for future publications.

NDH4 was entitled Diplomacy between Crisis and Cooperation, referring to the fact that the multilateral diplomatic practices that came to characterize 20th century diplomacy have recently been disrupted by major economic, ecological and health crises, while zero-sum geopolitics and the rhetoric of putting the national interest “first” have made a strong comeback on the international agenda. At this moment therefore, it seemed pertinent to explore how diplomacy and diplomats have been shaped by and contributed to the development of international orders and connections as well as crises and conflicts across history. What the precedents are for the conditions of diplomacy in the early 21st century?

For these reasons, the theme of crisis and cooperation was at the center of the conference’s two keynote lectures. On day one, Professor Tracey Sowerby of Oxford University delivered an excellent opening keynote on “Diplomacy in an Age of Religious Crisis.” Covering the intricate diplomatic interactions in the context of the fragile landscape of emerging national entities and religious divides of the 16th century, Sowerby highlighted the importance of gender relations, symbolic imagery and other forms of communication as royal courts attempted to negotiate their way through the maelstrom. The talk, which capped a strong presence for early modern perspectives at NDH4, triggered thought-provoking connections with the modern period, for instance the contrast in influence between religious faith and political ideology, and the role of books in diplomatic exchanges.

On day two of the conference, Professor Rebecca Adler-Nissen, University of Copenhagen, followed with an equally impressive lecture entitled “International Negotiations in the Age of Covid-19,” sharing with us some of her team’s pioneering methodological and conceptual explorations into digital diplomacy in the context of European cooperation and the COVID-19 health crisis. In doing so, she both highlighted some of the new diplomatic practices that have emerged as the borders between the diplomatic front and back stages become increasingly blurred, while also stressing the deep continuities in practices that characterize current European crisis management – both offline and online.

The theme of Diplomacy between Crisis and Cooperation was also reflected in the conference’s second roundtable, which considered the issue of embassies during times of crises, based on the 2020 Palgrave volume Embassies in Crisis: Studies of Diplomatic Missions in Testing Situations, edited by Rogelia Pastor-Castro and Martin Thomas. During the roundtable, the editors and a number of contributors to the volume from different professional and disciplinary backgrounds explored how embassies, notionally ‘immune’ from local jurisdiction, in moments of crisis have often been targets of protest and sites of confrontation, and how foreign services and their staff have responded.

Over the conference’s 20 panels, a record number of presenters shared their research. The 59 papers fully demonstrated the diversity of the NDH research community as well as the extent to which this community recognizes New Diplomatic History as a common field of enquiry. As in Leiden, Copenhagen and Middelburg, the conference attracted senior academics as well as PhD students and junior researchers, and the open interchange between levels, disciplines and fields once again proved to be one of the key strengths of the NDH community, even under the constraints of the online format. Our digital debates also extended onto social media where the early modernists in particular did a wonderful job sharing key insights from the conference with the wider research community.

In organizing the panels, the conference continued the format introduced at the Middelburg conference of focusing on a particular theme and mixing different perspectives, time periods and/or different disciplines to facilitate wide-ranging (and sometimes unexpected) dialogue. As in Middelburg this format worked really well and as in previous years, an impressively broad range of topics were addressed and debated at the conference, ranging from early Cold War diplomacy and European cooperation to civil society actors, citizen, science and religious diplomacy. A number of new themes and approaches also emerged, most notably diseases, emotions and the transnational circulation of ideas.

Despite the difficult circumstances, therefore, NDH4 achieved its main goals. The benefits of mixing different time periods, Western and non-Western perspectives and theoretical perspectives in the exploration of diplomacy were evident once again. We can already look forward to NDH5 which will be organized by Louis Clerc at the University of Turku in 2023.


Day 1 – 26 May:

10.00-10.20 Welcome

10.20-10.30 Break

10.30-12.00 Panel session 1:

Panel A: Wartime Diplomacy

Wim Coudenys, University of Leuven, “High Politics from a Small Country. Colonel A.K. Prezhbiano and Belgian-Russian Relations during WWI (and after)”

Julia Eichenberg, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, “Informal Encounters and Transnational Networks.  European Diplomacy in British Exile during the Second World War”

Cathleen Sarti, University of Oxford, “Fortunes of War – A Diplomat in Danish Service Becoming Rich Through Conflicts”

Panel B: Diplomacy and Health                                                     

Charlotte Backerra, University of Göttingen, “Influenza, Podagra, and the Diplomatic Body: Illnesses as Times of Crises in Early Modern Diplomacy”

Jonathan Chilcote, Florida College, “Healthy, Peaceful, and Uplifted: American Missionary Goals in the Post-Great War and Post-Spanish Flu World”

David Do Paco, Sciences Po, “Lazaret Diplomacy: Health Crises and International Cooperation in the 18th-Century Habsburg Mediterranean World”

Larissa Muriel Versloot and Kristin Anabel Eggeling, University of Copenhagen, “Zooming in on Trust: Diplomacy under COVID-19”

Panel C: European Cooperation – Global Counter Perspectives              

Francois Doppler-Speranza, Université de Strasbourg, “‘Europe Gets More Game Every Day’: Basketball and European Integration since the 1950s: A Diplomacy of S(p)orts”

Elisabet Carbó Catalan, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, “Latin-American Discourses on Cultural Diplomacy (1930s–1940s)”

Frank Gerits, Utrecht University, “South Africa, the EEC and the African Dimension of Diplomatic History (1945–1985)”

12.00-13.00 Lunch break

13.00-14.15 Keynote speech, Tracey Sowerby, Oxford University: “Diplomacy in an Age of Religious Crisis”

14.15-14.30 Coffee break

14.30-16.00 Panel session 2:

Panel A: Conference Diplomacy

Lena Oetzel, Universität zu Salzburg, “Early Modern Peace Congresses as Diplomatic Spheres and the Agency of the Diplomats”

Bérénice Guyot-Réchard, King’s College London, “Governing the Sea: UNCLOS Negotiations and the Making of Contemporary International Diplomacy”

“Yui Chim Lo, Oxford University, “Learning about Diplomacy and Asia: The Asian Relations Conference in 1947 and its Chinese and Indian Delegations”

Panel B: Diplomacy, Peace and Conflict                                                  

Lior Lehrs, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, “‘The Road Not Taken’: The Amirav–Husseini Peace Initiative of 1987”

Peter Jones, University of Ottawa, “Track Two Diplomacy in Intractable Conflicts: Lessons from the Ottawa Dialogue”

Amit das Gupta, Universität der Bundeswehr, München, “Diplomatic Crisis Management in Development Policy – the Aid Pakistan Consortium 1965–1972”

Panel C: Diplomacy and International Civil Society                                            

Suzanne Hoeben, Independent Scholar, “The Eddy Effect and Other Adventures in Interwar Internationalism”

Alice Byrne, Aix Marseille Université, “University Co-operation in Post-War Western Europe: ‘a Completely New Kind of Co-operation’?”

Pete Millwood, University of Hong Kong, “From Crisis to Cooperation in US-China Relations: People-to-People Exchanges in the Sino-American Rapprochement, 1969–1978”

Panel D: Yugoslavia’s Non-Aligned Foreign Policy as a Mechanism of Regulating Internal and International Crises

Jovan Cavoski, Institute for Recent History of Serbia, “Overcoming Identity Crisis: Yugoslavia’s Diplomatic Efforts in Transforming the Loose Non-Aligned Group into a Fully-Fledged Movement (1965–1970)”

Aleksandar V. Miletić, Institute for Recent History of Serbia, “‘Ideological Diplomacy’ in an Era of a Foreign Policy Crisis: the Yugoslav Communists, Western European Socialists, and the Origins of Yugoslavia’s Non-Alignment (1950–1954)”

Natalija Dimić, Institute for Recent History of Serbia, “The Third World Debates a First World Crisis: the 1961 Belgrade Conference and the Erection of the Berlin Wall”

Day 2 – 27 May:

09.00-10.30 Panel session 3:

Panel A: The Diplomatic Self                                                                   

Carlos Sanz Díaz, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, “Ambassadors of the Self. The Quest for Relevance and Legitimation in Self Representations of Diplomats in Democratic Spain, 1975–present”

Henrik Rosengren, Historiska institutionen, Lund, “Gunnar Jarring, and the Concept of Diplomatic Personae”

Paschalis Pechlivanis, Utrecht University, “Diplomacy, Politics and the Concept of Duty under Authoritarian Rule: Christos Xanthopoulos-Palamas and the Greek Junta (1967–1974)”

Panel B: Diplomacy and Citizen Mobility                       

Irit Chen, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, “In the Thicket of Origins and Spaces: The Attitudes of Israeli-German-Jewish Diplomats to the Renewal of Jewish Life in Germany 1953–1965”

Rosa Magnúsdóttir, Aarhus University, “Love Across the Iron Curtain: Soviet-American Intermarriage and Family Reunification during the late Cold War”

Astrid Hedin, Malmö University, “Peace and Equality – Communist Regime Travel Controls as State Capacity for the Dissemination of Strategic Narratives”

Panel C: Diplomacy between Sovereignties                                                         

Tessa de Boer, Leiden University, “Caught between Sovereignties:  Navigating Diplomacy between The Hague and Amsterdam, 1648–1795”

Gert Huskens, Université libre de Bruxelles-Ghent, “Beyond the ‘Place des Consuls.’ Network Analysis and the Foreign Diplomatic Corps in Egypt ca. 1800–1914”

Tanja Bührer, University of Bern, “British and Asian Diplomatic Intermediaries at South Indian Courts: Local Cooperation and the Transition from Intercultural Diplomacy to an exclusive European International law during the Long Nineteenth Century”

Tiago Viúla de Faria, Colégio Almada Negreiros Campus de Campolide, “Sowing Crisis but Making Amends: The Disrupting Diplomacy of the Portuguese in Late Fourteenth-century England”

Panel D: Diplomatic (Re)Inventions in the Emerging Cold War Order – a Biographical Exposé

Victoria Phillips, London School of Economics, “Hidden in Plain Sight: Female Diplomats and their Networks in Cold War Hotspots”

Laura Almagor, University of Sheffield “Isaac N. Steinberg’s ‘Glorious Spiritual Path’: Socialist Revolutionary Ideology, Jewish Politics and Cold War Diplomatic Realities, 1945–1957”

Haakon A. Ikonomou, University of Copenhagen, “Helle Bonnet, the Washington Scene and Cold War Couture”

10.30-10.45 Coffee break

10.45-12.00 Keynote speech, Rebecca Adler-Nissen, University of Copenhagen: “International Negotiations in the Age of Covid-19”

12.00-13.00 Lunch break

13.00-14.30 Panel session 4:

Panel A: Unconventional Diplomats across Cultural Divides

Alice Xiang, Duke Kunshan University, “Re-imagining China via Constantinople: Kang Youwei’s Alternative Diplomacy in 1906 Istanbul”

Thomas Barrett, University of Oxford, “The Reserved Scotsman among the Silk-garbed and Peacock-plumed Celestials: Halliday Macartney and the Transformation of Diplomatic Practice in Qing China’s London Legation, 1877–1905”

Gianpietro Sette, Libera Università di Lingue e Comunicazione, Milan, “Salvago and Corsairs: Two Unconventional Diplomatic Actors and a Failed Mission in the 17th century Mediterranean”

Panel B: Science and Diplomacy

Maria Rentetzi, FAU Erlangen Nuremberg, “Diplomatic Studies of Science: What Happens When History of Science Meets the New Diplomatic History”

Gabriela Radulescu, TU Berlin, “Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence as Science and Law Diplomacy”

Irina Fedorova, TU Berlin, “Soviet Scientists’ Diplomatic Role in the Beginning of the Cold War”

Panel C: Diplomacy between Democracy and Authoritarianism             

Sielke Beata Kelner, Leiden University Institute for History, “From Capitol Hill to Jilava Prison: Christian Transnational Activism, the Case of Father Calciu-Dumitreasa, and US-Romanian Diplomatic Relations”

William Gray, Purdue University, “Monopolists and Interlopers: West German Diplomats vs. Non-State Actors in Latin America, 1958–1975”

Amir Reza Emami and Fatemeh Zare, Yazd University, “From Crisis to Cooperation; A Comparative Study of the Public Diplomacy of the Rouhani and Ahmadinejad States in the Foreign Policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Case Study: Iran’s Nuclear Case)”

Panel D: Consular Networks in International History                              

Sam Coggeshall, Columbia University, “Consuls and Continuity Before and After the Russian Revolution”

Simeon Andronov Simeonov, Brown University, “The Consulate at Work: Clerks, Servants, and Family in the Early-Nineteenth-Century Consular Atlantic (1780–1850)”

Holly Chase, Brown University, “Revolution from Below: Balkan Consuls Between Social Policy and Foreign Policy in the 19th Century”

Houssine Alloul, University of Amsterdam, “Wavering Representatives of the Nation: Reading Consular Lives in an Ottoman Port Town”

14.30-14.45 Coffee break

14.45-16.15 Roundtable 1: Writing and Publishing about Diplomacy Today: A Talk with Authors and Editors – Key Studies in Diplomacy Book Series              

Giles Scott-Smith, University of Leiden

J. Simon Rofe, SOAS

Iver Neumann, Fridtjof Nansen Institute

Alanna O’Malley, University of Leiden

Lorena De Vita, Utrecht University

Day 3 – 28 May:

09.00-10.30 Panel session 5:

Panel A: Unacknowledged Diplomats                  

Kristine Dyrmann, Aarhus University, “Salon Diplomacy, Neutrality and Revolutionary War: Charlotte Schimmelmann’s Sociability in Copenhagen, 1789–1795”

Susanna Erlandsson, Uppsala University. “Gendered Diplomacy after World War II: Margaret van Kleffens in the United States”

Sven Mörsdorf, European University Institute, “Frau Konsulin Lippich: Searching for Unacknowledged Female Diplomats in the Austro-Hungarian Consular Service”

Panel B: Early Modern Diplomacy

Maurits Ebben, Leiden University, “Early Modern Consuls at Work for the Interest of Merchants and for their Private Profit: The Dutch Case in the Mediterranean World”

Andreas Pacher, Diplomatic Academy Vienna, The Diplomatic Tweet and Its Equivalents in Early Modern Diplomacy”

Klaudia Kuchno, European University Institute, “Easier Said than Done. Instructions for Papal Diplomats in Early Modern Poland”

David de Boer, University of Amsterdam, “Refugee Advocacy and the Rise of Humanitarian Diplomacy, 1700–1750”

Panel C: Security, Multilateral, and Bilateral Diplomacy                         

Margot Tudor, University of Exeter, “Reputation on the (Green) Line: Revisiting the ‘Plaza Moment’ in United Nations Peacekeeping Practice, 1964–1966”

Phillip Dehme, St. Joseph’s College, New York, “The Two-Pronged Diplomacy of Creating Modern Economic Sanctions during the 1919 Paris Peace Conference”

Thomas Soden, European University Institute, “Cold War Partners? West German Diplomatic Practice in Bilateral Negotiations with the United Kingdom during the ‘Troop Reductions Debate’: 1955–1960”

Panel D: Reading Diplomatic Images in Cold War Asia                          

Naoko Shimazu, Yale University and University of Singapore and Matthew Phillips, University of Aberystwyth, “Images as Methodology”

Tom White, Yale University, “Picturing Power: a Photographer’s View”

Deepak Nair, University of Singapore, “Diplomatic Image and its Afterlife:  Bangkok 1967 and the Making of ASEAN’s Creation Myth”

Dejan Djokić, Goldsmiths, University of London and Humboldt University of Berlin, “Reading Images of Non-Aligned Diplomacy: Tito, Sukarno and the 1961 Belgrade Conference Reframed”

10.30-10.45 Coffee break

10.45-12.15 Roundtable 2: Embassies in Crisis: Studies of Diplomatic Missions in Testing Situations

Martin Thomas, University of Exeter

Rogelia Pastor-Castro, University of Strathclyde

Mary Heimann, Cardiff University

Lorena De Vita, Utrecht University

Isabella Ginor, Truman Institute, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Gideon Remez, Truman Institute, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

12.15 Final remarks: Giles Scott-Smith, University of Leiden