Journal Article

The Discreet Charm of the Diplomatic Archive

Mary Lindemann

in German History

Volume 29, issue 2, pages 283-304
Published in print June 2011 | ISSN: 0266-3554
Published online June 2011 | e-ISSN: 1477-089X | DOI:
The Discreet Charm of the Diplomatic Archive

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This article offers a series of personal reflections on the value of diplomatic sources for researching several types of history, and urges early modernists to consider the many uses to which such documentation can be put. It evaluates the richness of interactions between diplomatic history on the one hand, and social and cultural history on the other, and examines the significant contributions the ‘new diplomatic history’ has made in challenging conventional periodizations, expanding the reach of diplomatic history outside its usual Western home, and fruitfully complicating the idea of what diplomacy is and who is affected by it. A range of specific examples drawn from work in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century German and other European archives illustrates the many scholarly advantages diplomatic sources present. The article considers in depth the types of documents available, the ways to access them, and the tools necessary for exploiting them. It explores how scholar can—and should—use diplomatic sources to write several different kinds of histories, including histories of economic life, social relationships, cultural practices, and medicine, to list just a few.

Keywords: diplomatic history; methodology; archives; sources; early modern history

Journal Article.  12242 words. 

Subjects: European History

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