Migrating Repertoires of Diplomacy: Strategies of British Negotiation with Indigenous Peoples in the British Empire, 1800–50

AHA Session 227
North American Conference on British Studies 6
Sunday, January 10, 2016: 8:30 AM-10:30 AM
Room 303 (Hilton Atlanta, Third Floor)
Dane K. Kennedy, George Washington University and National History Center
Dane K. Kennedy, George Washington University and National History Center

Session Abstract

Migrating Repertoires of Diplomacy:  Strategies of British Negotiation with Indigenous Peoples in the British Empire, c. 1800-1850

This panel will discuss the repertoires of negotiation and diplomacy the British used in their dealings with Indigenous peoples in the southern seas in the early nineteenth century.  It will address efforts to create systems of cultural communication that would foster conciliatory relationships between the imperial presence and Indigenous peoples. Professors Kate Darian-Smith, Penelope Edmonds, and Richard Price will present papers.  Professor Dane Kennedy will serve as Chair and Commentator.  Professors Darian-Smith and Penny Edmonds’ papers will feature local research drawn from their long engagement with the histories of Indigenous peoples of Australia.  Professor Price will address the ideological and cultural context for such diplomacy in the early nineteenth century British Empire.

The papers by Darian-Smith and Edmonds will reveal the wide range of strategies of diplomacy employed by the British in their attempts to establish communication and alliance with Indigenous peoples.  They will show how such repertoires, using similar techniques and methods, migrated across the empire often from North America to the new colonies in the  Pacific.   These papers will draw upon their work recently published in a jointly edited book, titled Conciliation on Colonial Frontiers (Routledge: London, 2015).  Professor Darian-Smith’s paper will illustrate how practices developed by the British in North America were imported into New South Wales in the early 1800s as attempts were made to create diplomatic relations with the Aboriginal tribes.  Professor Edmonds will shine a light upon little-known efforts by Governor George Arthur Governor of Van Diemens’ Land (Tasmania) in the 1820s to conduct a form of visual diplomacy by distributing narrative picture boards (known as Proclamation Boards) around the colony depicting his desire for conciliatory relations with the Aboriginal people, within a period of marital law and extreme frontier violence. Edmonds argues that the imagery reflects emergent liberal, British evangelical and humanitarian ideas of the late 18th century, themes also found in the iconography of other political objects made during this period such as British and North American ‘peace’ or treaty medals.

Richard Price, will address the ideological context of such diplomacy in the early nineteenth century Empire, a moment when humanitarian sentiments lay at the heart of imperial ideology in the southern seas.  Yet Governors like George Arthur found themselves presiding over atrocious acts of violence against Indigenous peoples.  Price’s paper will focus on the tensions between conciliation and coercion that were implicit in imperial negotiating as reflecting the ambiguities of the humanitarian effort at colonial governance.

All three papers, however, will also address the legacies that these diplomatic efforts left in the history of empire.  Price will suggest how the legacies of humanitarian policies carried over in the later rhetoric of a liberal British empire.  Edmonds and Darian-Smith will show how the imagery of these instruments of diplomacy continues to figure in the contemporary culture of Indigenous peoples of Australia, keeping alive the often traumatic memories of this seemingly distant past.

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