Care-Package Diplomacy: Intellectual Ephemera and the Exchange of Luxury Foods across the Early Modern Western Mediterranean

Friday, January 4, 2019: 4:10 PM
Crystal Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Fabien Montcher, Saint Louis University
The exchange of books, scholarly ephemera (book lists, library drafts, manuscript proofs), and luxury consumables were a regular part of political communication during early modern diplomatic crises, such as, for example, the Iberian revolts of the mid-seventeenth century. This paper will show the circumstances under which such material exchanges between major cultural capitals like Rome, Madrid, Paris, and Lisbon, functioned effectively as “care packages” consisting of both intellectual materials and food products, and which aimed to secure fluid political communication among agents working for a common diplomatic system. This paper argues that, beyond simply fostering the circulation of political ideas, such packages were crucial for sustaining new, weak, or endangered state information systems who had to rely on a high degree of informality. The gifts of information and goods embodied by these care packages were used as an alternative form of political communication, thus functioning as a kind of inner diplomacy which invited reciprocity and loyalty among members of the same system. In order to contribute a new lens to the history of diplomatic gifts, this paper develops the concept of “cultural care packages” to show how early modern scholarly, artistic, and food material cultures in contact contributed to “crisis diplomacy” and served to facilitate political communication.
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