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History of diplomacy and technology

‘The longer you can look back, the farther you can look forward.’ This quote from Winston Churchill could be a tweet about the interplay between diplomacy and technology. This page will, by revisiting the history of diplomacy, try to find guidelines for the future of diplomacy in the internet era.

In 2021, we began the learning journey through history with Diplomacy and Technology: A historical journey, a series of open monthly Zoom discussions on the history of diplomacy and technology, led by Dr Jovan Kurbalija, an expert with an academic background in international law, diplomacy, and digital technology. Our aim was to discover how civilizations dealt with ‘new’ technologies, from simple writing, via the telegraph, to the internet. 

This page is created as a result of these monthly sessions. Each stop on the historical journey visits a period in time, and gives you more details, resources, interviews and videos related to the topic. Click on a ‘Dig deeper’ button to discover the additional content. 

Podcast interviews with leading experts
Diplomacy between tradition and innovation | Amb. Stefano Baldi
The telegraph and diplomacy | Tom Standage
Soft and hard power of Byzantine diplomacy | Prof. Jonathan Shepard
The history of drinks and diplomacy | Tom Standage
What can diplomats learn from primates? | Prof. Frans de Waal

A historical timeline

January 2021 | Introduction

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On this page, we first focus on the interplay between continuity and change in the history of diplomacy and technology. Next, we look at information and communication, the two core pillars of diplomacy. Finally, we analyse the impacts technology had on the political environment in which diplomats operated, the topics they discussed, and the tools they used. In applying this methodology, we try to identify common patterns through history, as well as the importance of the time–space context for the interplay between technology and diplomacy. 

Read the summary, or watch the recording of introductory masterclass session of our Diplomacy and Technology: A historical journey series
Dig deeper

February 2021 | Prehistory: The birth of diplomacy and early “technologies”

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To find how diplomacy began, we need to go back to prehistoric times and look at the developments which nurtured proto-diplomacy. Several factors are important in our search for the origins of diplomacy, including the emergence of tools, trade, art, gifts, and the spoken and written language.

Read the summary and watch the recording of our masterclass session Prehistory: the birth of diplomacy and early ‘technologies! Listen to the podcast interview with Prof. Frans de Waal, and browse the list of resources related to the topic.
Dig deeper

March 2021 | Ancient Diplomacy: What can it teach us?

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Writing triggered a more sophisticated way of communication both within and between ancient societies. We navigated through the rich diplomatic heritage of ancient Babylon, Sumeria, Egypt, the Hittite Empire, India, Persia, and China.

Read the summary, listen to the podcast, or watch the recording of our masterclass session Ancient Diplomacy: What can it teach us? Listen to the podcast interview with Tom Standage, deputy editor of The Economist, on the history
Dig deeper

April 2021 | Ancient Greece: Politics, new tools, and negotiations

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We owe the term ‘diplomacy’ to the ancient Greeks (meaning ‘folded in two’). Ancient Greek diplomacy was probably the most open form of diplomacy in history, delivered in plenary sessions. Ancient Greece also made early innovations in communication by developing some type of proto-telegraph. Lastly, they made huge advancements in developing crypto-protected communication.

Read the summary, listen to the podcast, or watch the recording of our masterclass session Ancient Greek diplomacy: Politics, new tools, and negotiations! Browse the list of resources related to the topic. Additionally, time travel to the epoch with the sounds of Ancient Greece.
Dig deeper

May 2021 | Byzantine diplomacy: The elixir of longevity

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Byzantine diplomacy was the key to this empire’s long survival. After the fall of Rome in 476, the Byzantine Empire tried to continue Rome’s tradition and restore its glory, but without the power of the Roman Empire, it had to turn to diplomacy to a greater extent.

Read the summary of the Byzantine Diplomacy episode and find out about Byzantine soft and hard power in our podcast interview with Prof. Jonathan Shepard, historian, and one of the leading scholars on the topic. Browse the list of resources related to the topic. Additionally, browse through the curated list of videos related to Byzantine history.
Dig deeper

June 2021 | Renaissance diplomacy: Compromise as a solution to conflict

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Renaissance diplomacy developed between Italian city-states. In this period the first full diplomatic system was established. It consisted of permanent diplomatic missions, diplomatic reporting, and diplomatic privileges. Another important development was the invention of the printing press. This invention had a considerable impact on all functions of society, including diplomacy.

Read the summary, listen to the podcast, or watch the recording of our masterclass session Renaissance diplomacy: Compromise as a solution to conflict Browse the list of resources related to the topic. Additionally, time travel to the epoch with the sounds of Renaissance Europe.
Dig deeper

August 2021 | The telegraph: How it changed diplomacy

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The key technological invention of the 19th century was the telegraph, which effectively detached communication from transportation. On the diplomatic side, 1814/15 Congress of Vienna laid the foundation for modern diplomacy. The period between the Congress of Vienna and World War I was often described as a golden age of diplomacy, which managed to secure one of the most peaceful periods in recent history.

Read the summary and watch the recording of our August masterclass The telegraph: How it changed diplomacy! Listen to the podcast interview with Tom Standage, deputy editor of The Economist, and browse the list of resources related to the topic.

Dig deeper

September 2021 | Telephone diplomacy: Dialling the ‘red line’

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The telephone facilitated a close contact among heads of state, including various ‘red lines’ for urgent communication, while wireless communication, mainly the radio, was used by countries which didn’t develop telegraph infrastructures on time to close the gap with those who did. Diplomatic issues raised in international policy surrounding telephone and wireless communication, such as security, privacy, and neutrality, are still discussed today in the context of digital policy.

Read the summary, listen to the podcast, or watch the recording of our masterclass session Telephone diplomacy: Dialling the ‘red line’. Browse the list of resources and videos related to the topic.
Dig deeper

October 2021 | Radio and TV broadcasting and public diplomacy

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Radio broadcasting proved to be a powerful communications tool. Politicians understood the power of the radio quite early, between WWI and WWII. For the first time, they could address the wider population directly via radio, without having their message filtered by the press.

Since its invention in 1926, the television has become a main news and entertainment medium. For the first time, we were able to see and hear world news as it happened, and countries and diplomats started using TV as a quick source of information, and a powerful tool for public diplomacy.

Read the summary and watch the recording of our October masterclass, when we discussed how radio and TV broadcasting influenced diplomacy. Browse the list of resources and videos related to the topic.

Dig deeper

November 2021 | #Diplomacy: Internet and social media 

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Diplomats use the internet for meetings, sharing information, negotiating, and communicating. Even ‘corridor diplomacy’, which was strongly linked to traditional diplomacy, has been replaced by emails, Twitter, and Zoom meetings.

Social media has drastically changed what can be achieved at the negotiation table, as internet users and the public affect the process and outcome of negotiations.

Read the summary and watch the recording of our November masterclass, when we discussed the impact of internet and social media on diplomacy. Listen to the podcast interview with Amb. Stefano Baldi, and browse the list of resources related to the topic.

Dig deeper

December 2021 | Future of diplomacy

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Watch the recording of our December masterclass, when we tried to imagine the future of diplomacy.

In 2021, an estimated 2.5 quintillion bytes of data was generated per day. Statistics show that by 2025, 463 exabytes of data will be produced on a daily basis. Described as the ‘oil’ of the 21st century, the potential of data to achieve breakthroughs in various industries and fields is significant. Diplomacy is no exception. Despite popular belief that diplomacy is traditional in nature, it is tasked to continuously adapt to an ever-changing world.

Over the past few years, there has been significant progress in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), which is increasingly becoming part of our everyday lives (from intelligent digital personal assistants and smart home devices, to autonomous vehicles, smart buildings and medical robots) and not just the stuff of science fiction.

With AI’s entry into all aspects of society, it will inevitably influence diplomacy. The more deeply AI is integrated into society, the larger the effect will be on the context in which diplomats operate.

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Events

Resources

2019

The Diplomacy of Ancient Greece – A Short Introduction

Employed against a warlike background, the diplomatic methods of the ancient Greeks are thought by some to have been useless but by others to have been the most advanced seen prior to modern times.... Read more...

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2004

Misunderstood: The IT manager’s lament

Communication between information technologists and their clients – including diplomats - does not work as well as it should. We know that information technology has become ubiquitous. We also know that diplomats rely extensively on web services, electronic mail and ... Read more...

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1998

History and the evolution of diplomacy

Update: Visit our page on History of Diplomacy and Technology, where we try to discover how civilizations dealt with ‘new’ technologie... Read more...

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Histories

Internet and social media: A focus on diplomacy

Diplomacy has adapted to technological advancements through history, including the internet and social media. Digital diplomacy focuses on utilizing these tools to achieve diplomatic goals, influence global policy, and adapt to new topics like cybersecurity. The intern... Read more...

Telephone diplomacy: Dialling the ‘red line’

The telephone, radio, and telegraph have revolutionized communication and diplomacy over the years. Key figures in the development of the telephone, including Bell, Meucci, Reis, and Gray, played significant roles in its evolution. The telephone's importance in diploma... Read more...

The telegraph: How it changed diplomacy

The telegraph had a profound impact on diplomacy, revolutionizing communication and altering the nature of international relations. It facilitated faster exchanges and influenced how diplomacy was conducted, shifting the power dynamics and organizational structures of ... Read more...