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From Negotiations to Afterlives

Afterword: On Diplomatic Gifts and their Meanings

Postface : Des cadeaux diplomatiques et de leurs significations
Guido van Meersbergen

Abstracts

This afterword addresses some of the key insights emerging from the articles in this issue as ways of reshaping our understanding of diplomatic gifts in a global context. These include the multiplicity of registers of diplomatic communication, the versatility of gifts as floating signifiers whose meanings were shaped by a diverse array of actors, and how the wider contexts and afterlives of gifts affect and illuminate questions of value and agency. Together, they stress the importance of examining political and material exchanges between Britain and the Islamicate world from the late sixteenth to the early twentieth century within a comparative and connected framework. The afterword concludes with a call to look for transformations and continuities that do not align with the conventional narrative of the modern international system as shaped exclusively in and by the West, and above all to better account for the roles that non-Western communities and concepts played in the development of the global diplomatic system.

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  • 1 Harriet Rudolph and Gregor M. Metzig (eds.), Material Culture in Modern Diplomacy from the 15th to (...)
  • 2 On global material culture, see: Giorgio Riello, “The “Material Turn” in World and Global History”, (...)

1As part of the wider socio-cultural turn that has reshaped the study of inter-polity relations over the past two decades, the material culture of diplomacy has emerged as one of the most vibrant areas of research in the so-called “New Diplomatic History”.1 A focus on “things”, the senses, spatiality, and the non-human has vastly enriched our understanding of the cultures of diplomacy, their rituals and symbolic practices, the multiplicity of actors that shaped them, and the meanings invested in and articulated through a variety of exceptional and everyday interactions. In line with the material turn in global history, recent scholarship on diplomatic gifts and other mobile objects has also provided a productive lens for exploring political exchanges in transcultural settings, contributing much needed global perspectives to a field whose basic concepts and narratives remain stubbornly Eurocentric.2 The articles in this special issue further demonstrate the versatility of diplomatic gift-giving as a prism through which to examine and rethink historical themes such as cross-cultural translation and (mis)understanding, asymmetries of power, the gendered politics of consumption, colonial violence and redistribution, and the social lives and changing meanings of objects as agents of imperial, commercial, and scientific exchange. They also invite us to consider political interactions and material exchanges between Britain and the Islamicate world from the late sixteenth to the early twentieth century within a comparative and connected framework, identifying common trends and continuities whilst also highlighting how profound social and political change affected the balance of power between the actors involved and the culture and conduct of diplomacy itself.

  • 3 Mathilde Alazraki, “The Queen and the Sultana: Early Modern Female Circuits of Diplomacy and the Co (...)
  • 4 As per the royal mandate conferred on the illuminator, Edward Norgate, in 1631. See: Anne-Valérie D (...)
  • 5 John Darwin, After Tamerlane: The Rise and Fall of Global Empires, 1400-2000 (London: Allen Lane, 2 (...)
  • 6 Zoltán Biedermann, Anne Gerritsen, and Giorgio Riello, “Introduction: Global Gifts and the Material (...)
  • 7 About disconnectivity, see Zoltán Biedermann, “(Dis)connected History and the Multiple Narratives o (...)

2The first insight emerging from the articles under discussion is a reminder of the multiple registers of diplomatic communication employed in simultaneous and complementary fashion, with objects operating in concert with, and sometimes taking precedence over, texts, orality, and ritual performance. Particularly in the absence of a linguistic common ground, the material dimensions of diplomacy could serve to establish and express a language of honour, magnificence, hierarchy, brotherhood, or indeed sisterhood – as Mathilde Alazraki shows in her analysis of the rhetorical and material exchanges between the Ottoman sultana, Safiye, and Queen Elizabeth I of England.3 The materiality of illuminated diplomatic letters, as argued by Anne-Valérie Dulac, also enabled the letter-as-object to function as an agentic “gift” in its own right, capable of conveying a royal message of authority, friendship, and respect prior to and even independent of the letter’s written content, which was open to the vagaries of (mis)translation. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, English monarchs dispatched the most richly decorated letters to their counterparts ruling over “remote”, “distant”, and particularly “Eastern” domains, a broad category which included (but was not limited to) North Africa, the Ottoman Empire, Russia, Safavid Persia, Mughal India, Siam, Bantam, and Aceh.4 Such examples speak to the thickening of global connections in the early modern age, a period marked by the rise of expansionist states and empires; the intensification of warfare and slavery in pursuit of new lands, markets, capital, and commodities; and dramatic transformations in trade, consumer cultures, technologies, demography, and the environment.5 New channels of commerce, border disputes, piracy and captivity, subjection and tribute, protection and privileges, and the incorporation of outsiders into existing hierarchies were just some of the challenges faced by authorities around the globe that required diplomatic solutions. As contacts between communities from different parts of the world increased in scale and intensity, new forms of political interaction were needed to express and structure new political relationships. In such circumstances, diplomatic gifts could function as “agents of social cohesion”, much like the illuminated letters in Dulac’s analysis.6 At the same time, scholars of early modernity now increasingly stress that such understandings of global connectedness must include a full acknowledgement of the tensions, conflict, and inequalities produced in its wake, including how readily the competitive logic of diplomatic gifting could turn objects into agents of strife and contention.7

  • 8 Ladan Niayesh, “Lost in Translation? The Terminology and Practice of Islamic Gifts in Early Modern (...)
  • 9 For such earlier examples, see: Bernard Cohn, Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge (Princeton: Pr (...)
  • 10 Escribano-Paez, “Diplomatic Gifts”, p. 268.
  • 11 Christina Brauner, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” Stories of Misunderstandings, Concepts of Cultur (...)
  • 12 “Ibid.”, p. 91.

3This brings us to a second insight from the literature on gifts that informs many of the articles in this special issue, namely that of the gift as a floating signifier”, its meanings multiple and unstable.8 Questions about cultural translation have motivated much research on early modern diplomacy in a global context, focusing on the interactions between different modes of expressing, managing, and interpreting asymmetrical power relations. If earlier analyses tended to draw binary distinctions between divergent systems of meaning that remained stable in their differences, recent work has offered means for thinking about the problem of diplomatic understandings and misunderstandings in more complex ways.9 For instance, Jose Miguel Escribano-Paéz has made a plea for explanations that “go beyond previous interpretations focused either on the incommensurability of different diplomatic cultures or on shared understandings across cultural divides”, emphasising how the wide array of actors involved in multilateral diplomatic relationships urges us to consider how multiple understandings interacted in shifting ways.10 Furthermore, Christina Brauner has observed that “early modern stories of misunderstanding and failed communication are more often than not connected to situations of first encounters or at least to situations depicted as first encounters”11 – an understandable focus of much scholarship but one which has skewed our perspective towards the exception and obscured the “rule” that diplomacy was for the most part highly routinised. As she suggests, friction around gift-giving often arose from disagreements rather than misunderstandings, arguing that disagreement ‘presupposes understanding of the other’s position in the first place’.12 Such disagreements are no less interesting than misunderstandings as moments which reveal the underlying arrangements on which diplomatic relations were based and the strategies which different actors adopted to reassert or alter the terms of the relationship.

  • 13 This paragraph is based on Christine Vogel, “The Caftan and the Sword: Dress and Diplomacy in Ottom (...)

4We may consider the case of the French ambassador to the Ottoman Porte, Charles de Ferriol, who in 1700 refused to take off his sword for his audience with Sultan Mustafa II. Rather than misunderstanding Ottoman diplomatic protocol, which did not permit anyone to approach the Sultan carrying weapons, as Christine Vogel explains, Ferriol’s was a calculated act meant to increase French standing in a competitive environment vis-à-vis not just the Ottomans but other European powers as well. Since all European envoys were subject to the custom of being clad in Ottoman robes of honour (kaftans), the practice was accepted by all as a necessary observance despite the associations with submission to Ottoman authority it carried. The French, English, Dutch, Habsburg, and other European ambassadors simply vied with one another for the relative degrees of distinction expressed through the number and quality of robes of honour received. The French had traditionally enjoyed precedence over all other European representatives in Istanbul, and an important part of Ferriol’s job was to maintain this. Aware that the British and Dutch ambassadors had recently received the most prestigious kaftan lined with sable fur, and with the Habsburg ambassador about to arrive, Ferriol’s own receipt of only a simple kaftan during his audience with the Grand Vizier was a clear threat to the status quo. Ferriol’s insistence on wearing his sword, knowing full well that it violated Ottoman protocol, therefore was a strategic decision meant to again tip the balance in his favour. Grounded in a shared understanding of the symbolic meaning of Ottoman ritual, the refusal to admit Ferriol came as no surprise to anyone involved. However, having made a very public point, any ambassador after him consenting to an audience without carrying their sword would implicitly accept a lower ceremonial standing than the French.13

  • 14 Niayesh, “Lost in Translation?”, see in this special issue.
  • 15 John-Paul Ghobrial, The Whispers of Cities: Information Flows in Istanbul, London, and Paris in the (...)

5Examples of this kind provide additional context to Ladan Niayesh’s analysis of seventeenth-century European travellers’ encounters with khil’at in the Persianate world. She shows how the incorporation of foreign terminology in Anglophone texts signals their “resistance to assimilation”, and a recognition, however imperfect, that terms such as khil’at, pīshkash, and taslim carried culturally specific connotations that could not be captured by any English equivalent. As she illustrates through a discussion of Thomas Herbert and Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, the extent to which Europeans grasped the symbolism and hierarchical logic of khil’at varied, although it is evident that their understandings and those of their hosts were “neither aligned unproblematically and commensurably, nor fully opposed”.14 Travel accounts provide some of the richest material for examining such questions, yet they often present us with snapshot views of occasional interactions, many of which reflect the “first encounter” bias discussed by Brauner. We typically obtain a different picture of day-to-day interactions from diplomatic correspondence or the records of trading companies, which better enable us to situate specific episodes – such as acts of diplomatic gifting – within the larger web of social relations in which they were embedded, and which often predated them. Studies that trace a diplomatic relationship over time allow us to understand gift-giving and its meanings as the product of an ongoing process of negotiations involving numerous actors on both sides, including those with in-depth knowledge of the other party. Such research shows that European diplomatic actors in sustained contact with Ottoman, Safavid, or Mughal court cultures became conversant with practices of pīshkash and khil’at. Moreover, they have demonstrated the pivotal role of translators, scribes, officials, and other patrons, intermediaries, and information brokers in familiarising these outsiders with local diplomatic codes and practices, by communicating demands, norms, and expectations.15 In other words, our understanding of moments of gift exchange has much to gain from fuller analyses of “backstage processes”, as exemplified in this special issue by Stéphanie Prévost’s analysis of a much later instance of Ottoman-British gift exchange, that between Sultan Abdul Aziz and Queen Victoria in 1867.

  • 16 Guido van Meersbergen, “‘Intirely the Kings Vassalls’: East India Company Gifting Practices and Ang (...)
  • 17 Guido van Meersbergen, Ethnography and Encounter: The Dutch and English in Seventeenth-Century Sout (...)
  • 18 Van Meersbergen, “‘Intirely the Kings Vassalls’”.

6In my own work on diplomatic contacts between the English and Dutch East India Companies and the Mughal imperial state, I have argued that European diplomatic actors not only participated in but actively adopted Mughal gift-giving practices. Political solicitation at the imperial court but also at the darbars (courts) of nawabs (a title used by provincial governors in Mughal India and some rulers of Mughal successor states) and wazirs (chief ministers) formed a routine part of the activities of both East India Companies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with material transactions operating “as one of several connected registers through which relations of sovereignty, submission, service, and protection were articulated and acknowledged on both sides.”16 Although complaints about Mughal greed or arrogance were common, Dutch and British agents tended to comply with the expectations imposed on them and frequently recognised and valued the signs of distinction communicated within the Mughal gift economy. Focusing on the first century of diplomatic contacts, I emphasise that the “representational strategies, routines of social communication, and responses to courtly ritual of VOC and EIC agents stationed in Mughal India increasingly took shape in response to their understandings of local custom”, the outcome of a process that involved learning through observation as well as through instruction.17 Years of personal and institutional experience in dealing with local political elites familiarised Company agents with the customs of Mughal imperial culture, and they made intensive use of Indian specialists employed as brokers and translators. Their communications with the court were also grounded in long-term relationships with Mughal nobles maintained through correspondence, gift-giving, and mutual favours, which provided the Companies with an important source of advice and advocacy. Moreover, these cases stress the importance of precedent in shaping gift-giving, as earlier gift sets came to constitute the yardstick against which expectations were formed and future gifts were measured, thus emphasising the important role recipients could have in directing the process of gift-giving towards their desired outcomes.18

  • 19 Adam Clulow, The Company and the Shogun: The Dutch Encounter with Tokugawa Japan (New York: Columbi (...)
  • 20 Laver, The Dutch East India Company, viii, p. 56.
  • 21 Ibid., p. 27.
  • 22 Christian Windler, “Afterword: Gift and Tribute in Early Modern Diplomacy: a Comment”, Diplomatica (...)

7My understanding of East India Company diplomacy in Mughal India has been informed in important ways by thinking comparatively, looking not just west to the experiences of European diplomats in the Ottoman Empire and North Africa, but also east towards China and Japan, which has been the focus of much recent work. As studies by Adam Clulow and Michael Laver have shown, the annual journey which the Dutch East India Company was obliged to undertake from its small base in Deshima bearing gifts to the Shogunal court in Edo constituted a “ritualistic act of submission” that rendered the Dutch into a position of vassalage akin to that of Japanese daimyo, or feudal lords.19 In the words of Laver, the highly regulated pattern of Dutch gift-giving should be understood as “a symbolic representation of the shogun’s control over all things foreign”, with the shogunate using “the yearly reenactment of Dutch servitude” to demonstrate to Japanese nobles and subjects that it “was the uncontested arbiter of foreign relations in Japan”.20 What in a Japanese context was clearly understood as tribute, he argues, the Dutch were able to justify to themselves as equivalent to a commercial tax, that is “the cost of doing business”.21 In other words, the Dutch outwardly complied with the ceremonial performance of tribute-paying demanded by the Tokugawa regime, though for internal purposes they preferred to attach a different meaning to this fairly degrading ritual, which made it more palatable to them. Remarkably, the basic forms of this diplomatic arrangement carried on largely unchanged from the early seventeenth century all the way to the mid-nineteenth century. It offers a case in point of what Christian Windler describes as “the polysemy of the gift”, namely that it was quite possible for multiple meanings of one and the same gift to coexist without necessarily giving rise to tensions, provided they were directed at different audiences and purposes. As Windler put it, “in diplomatic interactions, establishing clarity about the meanings was not necessarily what the actors themselves aspired to”, as some “would understand that the continuity of peaceful interactions depended precisely on the possibility for each participant to save face by interpreting the practices in their own divergent ways”.22

  • 23 Robert Ivermee, “Gifts, Sovereignty and Power: the British and French Trading Companies in Mughal I (...)
  • 24 Tanja Bührer, “Intercultural Diplomacy at the Court of the Nizam of Hyderabad, 1770–1815”, Internat (...)
  • 25 Shounak Ghosh, “Envoys, Epistles, and Artefacts between Persianate Courts: A Cultural History of Di (...)

8Tokugawa-Dutch relations constitute perhaps the most apparent example of the wider logic of European ceremonial submission to powerful states in East Asia and the Islamicate world which was typical of the early modern period. This core hierarchical principle began to change, at different speeds in different regions, from the eighteenth century onwards, a process exemplified in this special issue through Robert Ivermee’s discussion of gifts by Indian rulers to French and British East India Company agents in the context of the colonial transition in South India and Bengal. Framed around the key question of whether “objects obtained coercively [can] really be considered gifts”, Ivermee argues that due to the shifting balance of power between the French and British on the one hand and the nawabs of the Carnatic and Bengal on the other, “processes of giving and receiving […] became highly transactional in nature, with a specific reward demanded in return for a service rendered”. As a result, “the distinction between gift and payment was all-but dissolved”, leading Ivermee to ask “how much agency remained for the nawab?”23 That this case marks a drastic reversal of the power dynamics that underpinned material transactions is beyond doubt, as is the extortionate use the British in India made of their military superiority to amass wealth and power. Yet by emphasising rupture we should not overlook the fact that the transactional nature of “gifting”, as the outcome of extensive negotiations between parties in an asymmetrical relationship, was itself hardly new. Recent work shows how, in a variety of ways, the British conducted their relations with Indian rulers in the decades following according to established patterns of South Asian political and diplomatic practice.24 Nor should we be too quick to dismiss the probability of the weaker party in a political relationship exerting meaningful agency. In his unpublished dissertation on diplomatic relations between the Mughal and Deccani courts, Shounak Ghosh recounts how when the Mughal envoy Asad Beg Qazwini was dispatched to Bijapur to extract tribute from its ruler, Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah II, the Bijapuri sultan succeeded in asserting his own autonomy and authority whilst still satisfying his powerful neighbour’s demands.25 The articles in this special issue by Stéphanie Prévost and Daniel Foliard likewise illustrate how either side in an asymmetrical relationship might employ gift exchange to exert political agency whether as donors or as recipients.

  • 26 Jennifer Pitts, Boundaries of the International: Law and Empire (Harvard: Harvard University Press, (...)
  • 27 Glenda Sluga, The Invention of International Order: Remaking Europe After Napoleon (Princeton and O (...)
  • 28 Pitts, Boundaries of the International, p. 155.
  • 29 Stéphanie Prévost, “Ottoman Sultan Abdul Aziz’s State Visit to Britain (July 1867): A Case in Negot (...)
  • 30 Daniel Foliard, “Les statues dites « kafirs » du musée Guimet : politique des dons et compétitions (...)

9The episode discussed by Prévost takes us squarely into the new international order of the nineteenth century, forged in the decades following the Congress of Vienna (1814-15) in a context of European imperial expansion and Great Power domination. As European legal theorists devised a new normative framework “to demarcate the boundaries of the international legal community”, non-European powers such as the Ottoman Empire experienced a drastic “demotion” of status.26 In the words of Glenda Sluga, “[t]he modernization of diplomacy is the story of who could legitimately engage in diplomacy”, and the Ottomans’ “marginalization in the developing manner of politics between states is in part a modern story”.27 Whilst the empire was formally “admitted” as a member of the Concert of Europe at the end of the Crimean War in 1856, “many jurists continued to question its capacity to participate as a full member of the European ‘family of nations’”.28 Sultan Abdul Aziz’s vying for symbolic recognition of his status on par with that of other European rulers, in the form of investment with the Order of the Garter, aptly symbolises the dramatic role reversal in diplomatic relations compared to previous centuries. Though part of a new system of signs of distinction, the logic behind his pursuit of the Garter is nonetheless familiar from earlier traditions of diplomatic investiture such as that of khil’at. The lasting importance of personal relations and inter-dynastic ties as expressed through ornamental means is one of the continuities that cautions us against viewing modern diplomacy solely in terms of a break with past forms. In the way that Ferriol bargained to assert French status within the international community from a subordinate position at the Ottoman court, Sultan Abdul Aziz seized the opportunity of his state visit to Britain to press Queen Victoria to grant him the honour that would raise his status to that of his fellow monarchs, Napoleon III of France, Victor Emmanuel II of Italy, Wilhelm I of Prussia, Alexander II of Russia, and Francis Joseph of Austria.29 Another striking example of diplomatic agency wielded from a position of relative weakness is provided by Foliard in his study of the gift of so-called “Kafir” statues to France in the 1920s by the Afghan Emir Ḥabībullāh, which he argues was used to signal Afghanistan's emancipation from British imperial tutelage after a century of political and military involvement from across the border in British India.30

  • 31 Marine Bellégo and Thérèse Bru, “La diplomatie botanique : don, troc et échange d’objets végétaux a (...)
  • 32 Laver, The Dutch East India Company, p. 37-54; Felicity Heal, “Presenting Noble Beasts: Gifts of An (...)

10To return to the versatility of gifts and counter-gifts as an analytical lens, the respective contributions by Foliard and Marine Bellégo and Therèse Bru also remind us of the many ways in which diplomatic exchange was embedded in, and urges us to take account of, multiple wider contexts, be it imperial, corporate, scientific, museological, or the personal networks of collectors and private correspondents. In Foliard’s analysis, the mobile trajectory of statues from “Kāfiristān” (or Nuristān) to Kabul and onwards to Paris underpins a set of connected reflections on religion and state-building, modernity and historicity. Bellégo and Bru, on their part, offer a rich account of the “botanical diplomacy” conducted by Nathaniel Wallich, director of Calcutta’s botanical garden during the 1820s.31 Their analysis of the circulation of fragile and perishable yet no less coveted objects – plants, seeds, and specimens – whose scientific and monetary value was uncertain, not only directs our focus back to the different dimensions of a gift economy and its associated value systems, but also expands our assessment of the materiality of diplomacy by emphasising the crucial importance of preparation, preservation, and transportation. Related skills and expertise were wrapped up in the gift itself and added to its rarity, a process also familiar from the gifting of living animals.32 This once more highlights that the material culture of diplomacy relates to much more than just gifts, including aspects of dress, food, cosmetics, packaging, the material settings of presentation and display, and objects of authority such as royal letters, as shown by the various articles in this issue. Finally, by taking us beyond the domain of inter-polity relations proper, Bellégo and Bru’s account also clearly shows how private networks both overlapped with and helped sustain larger diplomatic aims and interests.

  • 33 Bruneau, “The Long Nineteenth Century”.
  • 34 Pitts, Boundaries of the International, p. 14; Zarakol, “Modernity and Modernities”, p. 416.
  • 35 Nadine Amsler, Harriette Harrison, and Christian Windler, “Introduction: Eurasian Diplomacies Aroun (...)
  • 36 “Towards a Global Diplomatic History (c. 1400-1900)” (AH/Y001621/1): https://gtr.ukri.org/projects? (...)
  • 37 For more information, see the Global Diplomacy Network (GDN): https://www.su.se/english/research/re (...)

11Straddling the early modern and modern periods, this special issue on “Diplomatic Gifts and Countergifts between Britain and the Muslim East, 17th-early 20th Century” invites us to look across what is traditionally regarded as a sharp divide in the history of diplomacy and international relations.33 As recent scholarship has shown, the conventional narrative about the modern international system ‘as developed exclusively within Europe and then exported to the rest of the world’ from the nineteenth century onwards disregards how frameworks of international law and sovereignty emerged through global and imperial interactions, as well as that “developments in Europe were not endogenously driven but very much influenced by developments in what is now called the East”.34 Research on the decades either side of 1800 has also urged us to consider Asian-European diplomacy in terms of “transformation and continuity”, rather than only the former, and stressed “the lingering of the Ancien Regime” more generally.35 Yet the reconceptualization of diplomacy as the product of global interactions still has a long way to go. Future work might productively ask how diplomatic norms, structures, and practices of varying cultural origin influenced one another and changed as the result of global entanglements; which agents and processes were most influential in this development and why; and particularly what role non-Western communities and concepts played in the development of the global diplomatic system.36 These are some of the principal questions addressed in the AHRC Research Network “Towards a Global Diplomatic History (c. 1400-1900)” (AH/Y001621/1), which I co-lead with Birgit Tremml-Werner and Lisa Hellman. By connecting and comparing the dynamics of diplomatic exchange in different cultural and geographical contexts between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries, we aim to attain a deeper understanding of the interactive development of diplomacy as it played out in a variety of global settings. Most of this work still lies in the future, but with the growing number of case studies now available we can begin to undertake it.37

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Talbot, Michael, British-Ottoman Relations, 1661-1807: Commerce and Diplomatic Practice in Eighteenth-Century Istanbul (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2017).

Vogel, Christine, “The Caftan and the Sword: Dress and Diplomacy in Ottoman-French Relations Around 1700”, in Claudia Ulbrich and Richard Wittmann (eds.), Fashioning the Self in Transcultural Settings: The Uses and Significance of Dress in Self-Narratives (Würzburg: Ergon Verlag, 2015), p. 25-44.

Wilkinson, Callie, Empire of Influence: The East India Company and the Making of Indirect Rule (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2023).

Windler, Christian, “Afterword: Gift and Tribute in Early Modern Diplomacy: a Comment”, Diplomatica 2, no. 2 (2020), p. 291-304.

Zarakol, Ayşe, “Modernity and Modernities in International Relations”, in Mlada Bukovansky, Edward Keene, Christian Reus-Smit, and Maja Spanu (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of History and International Relations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2023), p. 410-423.

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Notes

1 Harriet Rudolph and Gregor M. Metzig (eds.), Material Culture in Modern Diplomacy from the 15th to the 20th Century (Berlin and Boston: Walter de Gruyter GmbH, 2016); Zoltán Biedermann, Anne Gerritsen, and Giorgio Riello (eds.), Global Gifts: The Material Culture of Diplomacy in Early Modern Eurasia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017). On New Diplomatic History, see for instance Julia Gebke, “New Diplomatic History and the Multi-Layered Diversity of Early Modern Diplomacy”, in Dorothée Goetze and Lena Oetzl (eds.), Early Modern European Diplomacy: A Handbook (Berlin and Boston: Walter de Gruyter GmbH, 2024), p. 27-47, and other contributions in the same volume.

2 On global material culture, see: Giorgio Riello, “The “Material Turn” in World and Global History”, Journal of World History 33, no. 2 (2022), 193-232. About the Eurocentrism of diplomatic history and international relations, see, among others: Andrew Hurrell, “Towards the Global Study of International Relations”, Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional 59, no. 2 (2016), p. 1-18; Ayşe Zarakol, “Modernity and Modernities in International Relations”, in Mlada Bukovansky, Edward Keene, Christian Reus-Smit, and Maja Spanu (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of History and International Relations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2023), p. 410-423.

3 Mathilde Alazraki, “The Queen and the Sultana: Early Modern Female Circuits of Diplomacy and the Consumption of Gendered Luxury Items between East and West”,in this issue of Revue Française de Civilisation Britannique.

4 As per the royal mandate conferred on the illuminator, Edward Norgate, in 1631. See: Anne-Valérie Dulac, “« [T]o write and Lyme in Gold and Colours certain Letters »: correspondance diplomatique enluminée dans l'Angleterre de la première modernité”, in this issue of Revue Française de Civilisation Britannique.

5 John Darwin, After Tamerlane: The Rise and Fall of Global Empires, 1400-2000 (London: Allen Lane, 2007); Charles H. Parker, Global Interactions in the Early Modern Age, 1400–1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010); Jerry H. Bentley, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, and Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks (eds.), The Cambridge World History Volume 6: The Construction of a Global World, 1400-1800 CE (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

6 Zoltán Biedermann, Anne Gerritsen, and Giorgio Riello, “Introduction: Global Gifts and the Material Culture of Diplomacy in Early Modern Eurasia”, in Global Gifts, p. 1-33, at p. 24.

7 About disconnectivity, see Zoltán Biedermann, “(Dis)connected History and the Multiple Narratives of Global Early Modernity”, Modern Philology 119, no. 1 (2021), 13-32. For the argument that “a shared understanding of the political meaning of tributes” could lead to “the escalation of violence”, see: Jose M. Escribano-Páez, “Diplomatic Gifts, Tributes and Frontier Violence: Circulation of Contentious Presents in the Moluccas (1575-1606)”, Diplomatica 2, no. 2 (2020), p. 248-269, at p. 263.

8 Ladan Niayesh, “Lost in Translation? The Terminology and Practice of Islamic Gifts in Early Modern Travel Accounts in English”, in this issue of Revue Française de Civilisation Britannique.

9 For such earlier examples, see: Bernard Cohn, Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996); Kim Siebenhüner, “Approaching Diplomatic and Courtly Gift-Giving in Europe and Mughal India: Shared Practices and Cultural Diversity”, Medieval History Journal 16, no. 2 (2013), p. 525-546.

10 Escribano-Paez, “Diplomatic Gifts”, p. 268.

11 Christina Brauner, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” Stories of Misunderstandings, Concepts of Culture and the Process of European Expansion”, in Stephanie Wodianka (ed.), Chaos in the Contact Zone: Unpredictability, Improvisation and the Struggle for Control (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2017), p. 81-108, at p. 93.

12 “Ibid.”, p. 91.

13 This paragraph is based on Christine Vogel, “The Caftan and the Sword: Dress and Diplomacy in Ottoman-French Relations Around 1700”, in Claudia Ulbrich and Richard Wittmann (eds.), Fashioning the Self in Transcultural Settings: The Uses and Significance of Dress in Self-Narratives (Würzburg: Ergon Verlag, 2015), p. 25-44.

14 Niayesh, “Lost in Translation?”, see in this special issue.

15 John-Paul Ghobrial, The Whispers of Cities: Information Flows in Istanbul, London, and Paris in the Age of William Trumbull (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); Michael Talbot, British-Ottoman Relations, 1661-1807: Commerce and Diplomatic Practice in Eighteenth-Century Istanbul (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2017); E. Nathalie Rothman, The Dragoman Renaissance: Diplomatic Interpreters and the Routes of Orientalism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2021); Peter Good, The East India Company in Persia: Trade and Cultural Exchange in the Eighteenth Century (London, I.B. Tauris, 2022).

16 Guido van Meersbergen, “‘Intirely the Kings Vassalls’: East India Company Gifting Practices and Anglo-Mughal Political Exchange (c. 1670-1720)”, Diplomatica 2, no. 2 (2020), p. 270-290, at p. 273.

17 Guido van Meersbergen, Ethnography and Encounter: The Dutch and English in Seventeenth-Century South Asia (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2022), p. 196.

18 Van Meersbergen, “‘Intirely the Kings Vassalls’”.

19 Adam Clulow, The Company and the Shogun: The Dutch Encounter with Tokugawa Japan (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014); Michael Laver, The Dutch East India Company in Early Modern Japan: Gift Giving and Diplomacy (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2020), p. 14.

20 Laver, The Dutch East India Company, viii, p. 56.

21 Ibid., p. 27.

22 Christian Windler, “Afterword: Gift and Tribute in Early Modern Diplomacy: a Comment”, Diplomatica 2, no. 2 (2020), p. 291-304, at p. 294 and p. 296.

23 Robert Ivermee, “Gifts, Sovereignty and Power: the British and French Trading Companies in Mughal India, 1735-65”, in this issue of Revue Française de Civilisation Britannique.

24 Tanja Bührer, “Intercultural Diplomacy at the Court of the Nizam of Hyderabad, 1770–1815”, International History Review 41, no 5 (2019), p. 1039-1056; Callie Wilkinson, Empire of Influence: The East India Company and the Making of Indirect Rule (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2023).

25 Shounak Ghosh, “Envoys, Epistles, and Artefacts between Persianate Courts: A Cultural History of Diplomacy in the Early Modern Islamicate World” (unpublished PhD thesis: Vanderbilt University, 2024).

26 Jennifer Pitts, Boundaries of the International: Law and Empire (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2018), p. 4; Quentin Bruneau, “The Long Nineteenth Century”, in Mlada Bukovansky, Edward Keene, Christian Reus-Smit, and Maja Spanu (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of History and International Relations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2023), p. 454-468, at p. 462.

27 Glenda Sluga, The Invention of International Order: Remaking Europe After Napoleon (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2021), p. 13 and p. 21.

28 Pitts, Boundaries of the International, p. 155.

29 Stéphanie Prévost, “Ottoman Sultan Abdul Aziz’s State Visit to Britain (July 1867): A Case in Negotiated ‘Ornamental’ Diplomatic Gifts”, Ein this issue of Revue Française de Civilisation Britannique.

30 Daniel Foliard, “Les statues dites « kafirs » du musée Guimet : politique des dons et compétitions impériales dans l’Afghanistan du début du XXe siècle”, in this issue of Revue Française de Civilisation Britannique.

31 Marine Bellégo and Thérèse Bru, “La diplomatie botanique : don, troc et échange d’objets végétaux au XIXe siècle”,in this issue of Revue Française de Civilisation Britannique.

32 Laver, The Dutch East India Company, p. 37-54; Felicity Heal, “Presenting Noble Beasts: Gifts of Animals in Tudor and Stuart Diplomacy”, in Tracey A. Sowerby and Jan Hennings (eds.), Practices of Diplomacy in the Early Modern World c. 1410-1800 (London and New York: Routledge, 2017), p. 187-203.

33 Bruneau, “The Long Nineteenth Century”.

34 Pitts, Boundaries of the International, p. 14; Zarakol, “Modernity and Modernities”, p. 416.

35 Nadine Amsler, Harriette Harrison, and Christian Windler, “Introduction: Eurasian Diplomacies Around 1800: Transformation and Persistence”, International History Review 4, no. 5 (2019), p. 943-946, at p. 945 (emphasis mine); Houssine Alloul and Michael Auwers, “What is (New in) New Diplomatic History?”, Journal of Belgian History 48, no. 4 (2018), p. 112-122, at p. 117.

36 “Towards a Global Diplomatic History (c. 1400-1900)” (AH/Y001621/1): https://gtr.ukri.org/projects?ref=AH%2FY001621%2F1

37 For more information, see the Global Diplomacy Network (GDN): https://www.su.se/english/research/research-groups/global-diplomacy-network

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References

Electronic reference

Guido van Meersbergen, “Afterword: On Diplomatic Gifts and their Meanings”Revue Française de Civilisation Britannique [Online], XXIX-3 | 2024, Online since 10 June 2024, connection on 24 July 2024. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/rfcb/12555; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/11vhj

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About the author

Guido van Meersbergen

University of Warwick

Guido van Meersbergen is Associate Professor in Early Modern Global History at the University of Warwick and director of the Global History and Culture Centre. His work focuses on the Dutch and English East India Companies, early modern diplomacy, and global travel, and includes the monograph Ethnography and Encounter: The Dutch and English in Seventeenth-Century South Asia (2022). With Birgit Tremml-Werner (Stockholm) and Lisa Hellman (Lund), he co-leads the Global Diplomacy Network.

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The text only may be used under licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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