Global Royal Families: Concepts, Cultures, and Networks of International Monarchy, 1800-2020

This article is part of the TRAFO series “Emerging Topics. Insights from ‘Behind the Scenes’”. Today, we put the spotlight on the conference Global Royal Families: Concepts, Cultures, and Networks of International Monarchy, 1800-2020” which will take place on 16-18 January 2020 at the German Historical Institute London. We talked with one of the conveners, Falko Schnicke, about the upcoming conference.

As one of the conveners of the upcoming conference “Global Royal Families”, how did you come up with the idea for this event?

When Cindy McCreery, Robert Aldrich (both from the Department of History, University of Sydney, Australia), who are the co-conveners of this conference, and I discussed our current research on different aspects of the global engagements of Western and non-Western monarchies, it felt natural to combine our studies at a certain point. The familial nature of monarchy in global terms, we found, plays a role in all our individual projects and deserves more analysis. Moreover, kinship and gender feature among the interdisciplinary cross-cutting research themes of the German Historical Institute London, which made it easy for us to decide where to host the conference. The University of Sydney too was convinced by our approach and is co-financing the event. It has been a great pleasure developing the concept of the conference with Cindy and Robert, sharing ideas across continents ourselves.

The call for paper elaborates how royal families maintained manifold overseas connections, for example by exchanging visits with relatives on foreign thrones or by undertaking royal tours of distant colonies. With this perspective, studying monarchies seems to be an almost “natural” global research field; however, monarchies are often conceived as national icons: how will the upcoming conference tackle this paradox?

This is much less a contradiction than it might seem at first appearance, because trying to go beyond national perspectives does not mean ignoring the nation as an influential factor. Historically the nation, and, of course, its relationship with empire, was, in fact, highly significant, especially to historical actors of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries – the period that we are studying at the conference.

However, it would be negligent to discount the fact that members of most Western and non-Western royal families, despite being usually celebrated as icons of nationalism, all over the world have formed part of a transnationally connected and globally acting elite. How exactly this worked in European, Asian, and African contexts is the topic of our conference.

Thus, the conference will promote the underdeveloped dialogue between royal studies and global history. It contributes to the discourse on global history as ‘connected history’ and focusses on moments of global and transregional entanglements, resulting exchanges and transfers. At the same time, the conference offers a number of globally comparative case studies. Focussing on the practices of royal families and monarchy as an institution, it also enhances the methodological interrelatedness of global history and microhistory, using families as a lens for global biographies, historical agency and boundary crossing.

During her state visit to India in 1961, the Maharaja and Maharanee of Jaipur entertained Queen Elizabeth II (centre, holding a camera) and Prince Philip with a Tiger hunt. Photo taken by KEYSTONE Pictures USA, 25 January 1961. Copyright: Keystone Press / Alarmy Stock Photo.

How do you hope to shape the future debate on royal families in a global perspective with your conference? Which questions do you plan to bring up and discuss with the participants?

The conference builds, of course, upon the global scope of recent research on monarchies. In the case of the United Kingdom, to mention only that example, historians and political scientists have been drawn to consider the evolution of the ‘empire’ into the ‘Commonwealth’, and also the role of the Windsor dynasty in decolonisation. We are also happy that participants in the conference will be talking about royal dynasties in Germany, Denmark, Spain, India, South Africa, Japan, Hawai’i and other countries.

Enhancing those existing approaches, the conference will systematically address royal families on three levels.  First, we will address concepts of global monarchy in order to differentiate various types and models of global royal families in Europe and other continents. To that end, marriage practices, royal monogamy/polygamy and the politics of bloodlines will be considered, but also patterns of succession to thrones and the public and private roles of minor royals. Secondly, we will look at cultures and practices of global monarchies. Papers we have chosen will study royalty and heritage, royal family traditions such as gatherings and ceremonies, issues of gender in regard to royal families, and the educational and training exchanges of heirs and junior royals between courts. Finally, we will investigate global networks providing insight into topics such as travel and tourism, cultures of letter-writing and gift-giving, consumerism and collecting as integral to material culture.  We will also discuss the dissemination of European styles of dress, ceremonial and the awarding of honours as part of court cultures in places like Thailand, and the influence on European royal families and courts of colonialism.

These are all exciting topics, and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to conduct this conference. It would not be possible without the enormous support of the director of the German Historical Institute London, Christina von Hodenberg, but also of all my colleagues here; and it is a great pleasure to collaborate with such inspiring scholars as Cindy and Robert, from whom I am learning a lot.


Falko Schnicke joined the Max Weber Foundation’s German Historical Institute London in 2015 as Research Fellow in Modern History. Since 2017 he is also Visiting Fellow at the University of Southampton. A graduate of the University of Hamburg (MA 2009), he has previously held positions at the Humboldt University Berlin (2009-2012) and the University of Hamburg (2013-2015). He is a cultural, political and intellectual historian of Britain and Germany from the late eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. He obtained his doctoral degree in 2014 with a dissertation about nineteenth-century German historiography entitled “Die männliche Disziplin. Zur Vergeschlechtlichung der deutschen Geschichtswissenschaft (1780-1900)”, published in 2015. He has written on the history of historiography and Johann Gustav Droysen, the history of biography, the history of masculinity, university history as well as on historical methods and theory. Currently he is conducting a research project in contemporary British history. It explores the practices of state visits in twentieth-century Britain and the foreign policy functions of the British monarchy.


Citation: Global Royal Families: Concepts, Cultures, and Networks of International Monarchy, 1800-2020, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 20.09.2019, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/?p=19665.


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