The international conference ‘Global Diplomacy – A Post-Institutional Approach’, hosted at the Europainstitut in Basel from 30-31 August 2018, aimed to challenge the conventionalism, conservatism, and traditionalism in scholarly attitudes towards diplomatic history. Curiously, methodological approaches to the study of diplomacy are still heavily typified by state-centric analyses and Eurocentric biases. In organizing this conference, the Institute for European Global Studies of the University of Basel and the research center Diplomatic Documents of Switzerland (Dodis) thus set themselves the task of contributing a much-wanted and long-overdue reorientation to the field of diplomatic history by stimulating reconsiderations of accepted theories and practices.
The Konferenzwas structured around four panels, three roundtables, and a session on digital research methods. Impressively, the organizers succeeded in bringing together no less than 40 speakers from Europe, North America, Asia, and Australia. While it would take up too much space to mention all details of each session, the presentations and discussions illustrated the utility and novelty of the project: the development of a globalhistory taking the study of multifunctional actors and their transboundary networks as its analytical entry point. This was exemplified by a series of lively and impressive talks based on prodigious research advancing new historical insights. By shifting levels of analysis to hitherto ignored actors and their roles, in each instance connecting the individual and the national to the international and the global, the talks gave shape to a more comparative and connected history and provided new pathways for understanding the conduct and making of diplomacy on a global scale (for full details, see the conference program here).
Interestingly, these sweeping new explorations go hand in hand with technological innovations for the management and storage of data. A prime example is the ‘Swiss-Diplo database’ which aims to identify and subsequently record the biographical data of all Swiss nationals who represented their country in various forms and capacities between 1848 and 1975. The database serves as a powerful reminder that diplomacy, first and foremost, is conducted by individuals―not countries, organizations, or agencies―who, therefore, deserve due academic attention. In addition, the open character of the database guarantees global access, in turn opening up new vistas for collaboration with relational endeavors and thus ultimately allowing to consider international politics from an integrated, global perspective.
After the conclusion of the two-day conference, our delegation from Waseda University explored collaboration opportunities with the Europainstitut during a fruitful discussion with Prof. Dr. Madeleine Herren-Oesch. Building upon the many years of excellent relations Prof. Dr. Toshiki Mogami has maintained with the Institute, concrete suggestions were made to organize a symposium around the summer of next year in Tokyo. During conversation, the hope was expressed that such a collaborative project will not only lead to a meaningful exchange of views and findings, but also to a transfer of the conference’s ‘academic culture’, most specifically its inclusiveness in terms of different areas of expertise and its frank, critical discussions.
Graduate School of Political Science, Waseda University