Diplomacy situated: settings, personas, practices. Fifth Conference of the New Diplomatic History Network.

University of Turku, Finland, 25th-27th May 2023

The conference agenda may be seen here: https://sites.utu.fi/ndh/

photo: University of Turku


Report by Louis Clerc

The 5th conference of the Network for New Diplomatic History, held in Turku, marked the 10th anniversary of the inaugural NDH conference in Leiden, 2013. After the Aarhus 2021 online conference organised through the brilliant efforts of Karen Gram-Skjöldager, the Turku iteration of our conference was a hybrid event. It allowed a broader participation and, despite a few inevitable hardware problems, worked well as a way to extend the conference’s reach.

The conference demonstrated how much our network has been able to establish and consolidate its sub-field during the past decade. The maturity of our network was clearly visible in the volume and quality of the proposals: with 85 individual or group presentations, 4 round table panels, and 3 keynotes, the conference gathered some 150 experts in the various fields of diplomatic studies and new diplomatic history. Amongst those more than 80 were on site in Turku. While diplomatic studies and diplomatic history can be seen as conceptually fuzzy, the conference’s panels proved that a wide variety of approaches have the possibility to communicate and cross-fertilize in their approach to diplomacy and diplomatic practices. The conference was rich in such encounters, and a few scientific one-liners emerged, from diplomacy as a procedural activity to the description of consular services as a global bureaucracy.

The Turku conference continued the trend established in Aarhus of considering specific themes linked to diplomatic history. This time, the conference was dedicated to the study of ‘situated diplomacy’, considering the settings in which and through which diplomacy has been incarnated throughout history, involving sites (real, virtual, fictional), practices, and personas.

photo: University of Turku

The keynotes gave a round-up of the various ways this theme can be approached. Deepak Nair, speaking from Australia, emphasized through the example of ASEAN politics the role of cultural frames in the study of diplomatic relations. Nair’s call for nuanced area knowledge and outreach towards the sociology of various countries involved clearly resonated with what modern diplomatic historians work to achieve. In his turn, Lorenz Lüthi reflected on the politics of place, suggesting the materiality of diplomatic relations, while Laurence Badel pondered the architecture and “diplomaticity” of cities from Paris to Cairo, expanding her reflection to proto-diplomatic networks and agents. Responses to these keynotes were characterised by robust discussions on the conceptual contexts the speakers operated in.

The answer to these interrogations was however, in my view, to be found in the wide array of papers and subjects developed in the conference’s many panels. Those demonstrated well enough the richness and sophistication of approaches hosted under the umbrella of New Diplomatic History, and their capacity to communicate.

One particularly pleasant element to observe was the presence of young researchers, attracted by the academic richness but also by the network’s high degree of openness. The Network of New Diplomatic History is an easy place to reach out to, a functioning clearing house for ideas and projects. This was obvious both from the conference panels and from the buzz of discussions in the conference reception and drinks on Friday night. This open discussion between academics of all levels proves to be one of the key strengths of our community, in what was for quite a few of us the first on site conference after the long years of COVID. Such an endeavor would be impossible without those of you who volunteered or accepted to work as chairs and discussants: to all of you, an especially warm thank you.

Each meeting organized by the network has demonstrated the rich breadth and depth of the study of diplomacy across disciplines and periods, and NDH5Turku2023 has aimed to continue this trend. The network has also gained structure as a publishing enterprise, with the emergence of Diplomatica and the series Key Studies in Diplomacy by Manchester University Press. During a workshop dedicated to these publishing opportunities, Giles Scott-Smith was asked especially about Open Access, a challenge most academic publishers will face in the coming years. 

Finally, the closing session gave Kenneth Weisbrode the possibility to wrap things up. He emphasized the way New Diplomatic History concerns itself not only with building the context necessary to explain critical junctures and events, but also with reconstructing the conditions of diplomacy, its continuities both material and immaterial, the patterns of time, self, and space it expresses. That these continuities and conditions of diplomacy would be worthy of consideration in themselves, not only as parts of explaining great events, seems to be one of the bases on which the Network rests. 

During the conference reception, Nicolas Badalassi from SciencesPo Aix-en-Provence announced that he would take the task of organising the next conference in Aix in May 2025 – thank you Nicolas! The challenge will be to keep the conference as inclusive as possible, both in terms of mixing chronological periods and disciplines, but also in terms of broadening the geographical scope of our events. No doubt that the 6th NDH conference will continue a fantastic trend!

photo: University of Turku