Politics and Sociability in a Transcultural Context: The Diplomatic Milieu in Istanbul during the Long Eighteenth Century – Interview with Pascal Firges

This article is part of the TRAFO series “Emerging Topics. Insights from ‘Behind the Scenes’”. Today, we put the spotlight on the workshop „Politics and Sociability in a Transcultural Context: The Diplomatic Milieu in Istanbul during the Long Eighteenth Century.“ The event will take place on November 17, 2017 in Paris and is convened by Pascal Firges (German Historical Institute, Paris) and David Do Paço (Science Po Paris).

Pascal Firges is currently the leader of the research group „Strategies of Power and Interpersonal Relations in Dynastic Centres“ at the German Historical Institute Paris. He holds a PhD from Heidelberg University, where he graduated in 2014 at the Cluster of Excellence Asia and Europe in a Global Context with a thesis entitled: „On Silent Feet. French Revolutionary Politics and Culture in the Ottoman Empire, 1792–1798“.

Please find the Call for papers for the workshop here.

What do you hope to achieve with the workshop Politics and Sociability in a Transcultural Context: The Diplomatic Milieu in Istanbul during the Long Eighteenth Century? Which questions do you want to raise and what kinds of discussions do you want to encourage?

Detail of the engraving ‚Vue de la ville de Scutari, prise de Péra‘ in Antoine Ignace Melling, Voyage pittoresque de Constantinople et des rives du Bosphore (Paris, 1809), unpaginated. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

The aim of our workshop is to contribute to a better understanding of the functioning of diplomacy in a transcultural context. Our goal is to explore a hitherto less studied aspect of transcultural diplomacy, namely the sociability in urban centres on the margins of the European société des princes. In recent years, historians dedicated a lot of energy to refute the earlier paradigm of a Mediterranean ‘Iron Curtain’ that separated the ‘world of Islam’ from ‘Western Christianity’ – both conceptualized as distinct essential cultural entities. The resulting studies showed how much the Mediterranean region had been interconnected, facilitating the exchange of people, commodities, and ideas. Building on the rich findings of this research, we would like to discuss in our workshop, how the general assumptions about the European diplomatic practice after the Peace of Westphalia are challenged when studied from the perspective of the Ottoman capital. This entails also the reassessment of some commonly accepted findings about the history of diplomatic practice in Istanbul. Therefore, what is at stake in this workshop is the integration of the findings of the ‘new diplomatic history’ with the most recent research on Ottoman history.

The event will focus on politics and sociability in a transcultural context: How do you define your approach and the field of ’new diplomatic history‘?

To give a brief and rough answer, some of the main differences between ‘classic’ and ‘new’ diplomatic history are that historians of the latter tend to approach their sources with tool-kits from social and cultural history, whereas ‘classical’ diplomatic historians of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were more interested in political history in a narrow sense. Hence, scholars of ‘new diplomatic history’ are often less interested in big political events and more in the day-to-day practises of diplomacy; they focus less on the history of ‘great men’ and more on all kinds of official and unofficial diplomatic agents and their networks. One of the central propositions in our workshop, for example, is to give up a strict division between the private and the political, since in the context of early modern diplomacy every action that might today be considered as leisure could have had political implications.

Why did you choose to focus on Istanbul in particular – what makes this urban area special in the 18th century and what distinguishes it from other diplomatic centres of the time?

Pascal Firges. Picture: DHI Paris.

During the entire early modern era, Istanbul was one of the most dynamic political venues of Europe and the Mediterranean. It was one of the greatest metropoles of the time and the capital of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious empire with possessions in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Northern Africa. Istanbul was a key location in the European diplomatic system since the time it began to take shape. The first permanent Venetian ambassadors arrived in the (then Byzantine) city of Constantinople in the thirteenth century. By the eighteenth century, the Ottoman capital hosted embassies from all major European powers. Istanbul, therefore, had a peculiar role in the diplomatic system of Europe. It was an important location for European diplomacy, but at the same time foreign diplomats often perceived the Ottoman capital as distinct from other diplomatic posts. This tension between mechanisms of exclusion and integration will be an important aspect of our workshop.


Further contributions to the TRAFO series “Emerging Topics”:


Citation: Politics and Sociability in a Transcultural Context: The Diplomatic Milieu in Istanbul during the Long Eighteenth Century – Interview with Pascal Firges in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 13.07.2017, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/7381.

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