This is the third post in a series by Jesse Hysell, one of this year’s AHA Today blog contest winners. His posts examine material exchanges between Venice and Egypt in the early modern period. Previous Posts include: Cultural Encounters and Material Exchanges in the Venetian Archives and The Politics of Pepper: Deciphering a Venetian-Mamluk Gift Exchange
My last post examined how diplomatic gift exchange between Venice and Cairo in the early modern period enabled communication and cooperation between their rulers. As I continued my research into these practices, my findings led me to confront an inevitable question: What happened to ambassadorial gifts after they had changed hands?
By Elizabeth Schmidt
“The purpose of foreign policy is to promote national self-interest, not the well-being of others.” This provocative statement from the audience sparked a spirited discussion at a Washington History Seminar in April. In response, I argued that nations must embrace a definition of self-interest that is informed by historical and cultural understanding.
By Terry Lautz
The United States has held great ambitions for China for a very long time. Prior to the 1949 Communist revolution, the American public cherished the idea of China as a Christian, capitalist, and democratic nation.
Western religion would enlighten people who were perceived as backward and heathen; American business would lift the Chinese out of poverty; and liberal education would inspire progressive government. The long-standing missionary impulse to save the Chinese was reinforced when the United States allied with Chiang Kai-shek against Japan during the Second World War.
At the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice, just a few feet from Piazza San Marco, where thousands of tourists come each day to pose for pictures and eat gelato, sits a manuscript—Codice Marciano It. XI, 66—containing an invaluable account of a crucial diplomatic mission to Egypt from the 16th century. I consulted this text, which holds the only surviving version of Giovanni Danese’s eyewitness report of Ambassador Benedetto Sanudo’s embassy to the sultan in 1503. Danese, Sanudo’s personal secretary, has left us a wealth of information on the materially based forms of diplomacy that helped maintain a stable relationship between Venetians and Mamluks in the early modern period.
Typical historical research is not sweaty business. In fact, as I began this, I was shivering in the reading room of the Barbados National Archives—an airy, light-filled space inside a 19th-century leper hospital with gorgeous pine floors stained the color of Barbadian mahogany. In contrast to days spent in the archives, fieldwork can come with heat, humidity, and lots of dirt depending on the site. Visiting a manicured historical site that has to conform to visitor expectations about accessibility, for example, is generally less hot, humid, or dirty, whereas pulling off the road to climb around a derelict building can evoke one’s inner Indiana Jones.
One of the strangest and most fascinating source encounters I have experienced so far while working in the Venetian archives concerns the role of food in the records of a set of diplomatic missions to Cairo. In one case, in the early morning of December 17, 1489, at the citadel of Cairo, Pietro Diedo, the Venetian ambassador to Egypt, delivered an assortment of gifts to the Mamluk sultan Qaytbay.
By Linda Colley
“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?”
This is the question on which citizens of the United Kingdom will vote on June 23. Historians have actively participated in the debate during the lead up to the national plebiscite. A group of 42 calling themselves Historians for Britain have advocated leaving the European Union, while a much larger group of historians have signed a letter saying that leaving the EU will “condemn Britain to irrelevance.” Given the long interwoven fates of the countries that now make up the European Union, contributions by historians are vital to understanding the geopolitics of remaining or leaving.
By Colleen Anderson
Outer space travel during the Cold War is most often associated with the Space Race, when the United States and the Soviet Union competed to achieve increasingly ambitious milestones in space travel. However, outer space exploration during these years stretched far beyond the borders of the US and USSR. Across the globe, people followed developments in space travel, from the launch of the first satellite Sputnik in 1957 to the Apollo moon landing in 1969. Scientists and engineers from places such as Europe, Japan, China, and India participated in space research and built the technology used on manned and unmanned space missions.