Tracey Sowerby writes: I recently attended a very interesting workshop on ‘Spaces of Diplomacy’ at UCL organised by the Diplomatic Cultures Research Network. This proved fascinating on a number of levels. In part because the participants were drawn from many different disciplines — international relations, literary studies, geography, history, etc. And also because several of the speakers were practitioners. So this was a useful opportunity to learn about the modern day workings of diplomacy and the cultural concerns contemporary diplomats have.
Prof Iver Neumann discussed sites of diplomacy. He suggested that diplomacy as a lived practice involves different types of sites (embassies, palaces, and even local restaurants!) which have different meanings making them suitable for different types of diplomatic activity. Prof Herman van der Wusten considered how diplomatic networks and practices are influenced by new geo-political configurations and co-ordinated diplomatic bodies representing more than one state. Several other papers raised questions about how governments might balance security concerns with productive communications with other embassies. In recent years there has been a gradual move away from basing embassies at expensive and more vulnerable properties in the centre of cities towards more secure, less expensive and more disparate areas on the outskirts. But the indications are that embassies coordinate and cooperate more easily with one another when it is easier for their diplomats to meet. My own short paper considered how early modern rulers used the political meanings of space in their palaces as a non-verbal means of communicating political messages to visiting diplomats.
Several papers at the workshop were very relevant to the core concerns of the Textual Ambassadors network. Prof John Watkins, one of our network members, discussed how the early modern stage could act as a space for exploring and expressing diplomatic concerns in the early modern period, focussing in particular on pre-modern interdynastic marriage. One of the conference themes was how new spaces of ‘virtual diplomacy’, such as Facebook and YouTube, are impacting on diplomatic practice and how modern governments can respond. This raised some interesting questions. In what ways do new technologies of communication change diplomatic practice? How can they be used to extend the range and reach of ‘cultural diplomacy’? How might diplomacy itself play a role in the cultural transfer of information, ideas and literature as a result of such technologies? How might these developments impact on the decisions governments and diplomats make about how to present themselves? And how might this influence how the broader public views diplomats and diplomacy?
The Textual Ambassadors network is more likely to be pondering the printing press or the emergence of newspapers than Twitter. But we are thinking about some similar issues. For early modern governments, like their modern successors, had to confront new modes of communication and the greater availability of texts and information outside the narrow circle of the negotiating elites, albeit on a less expansive scale.