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What is Diplomatic History?

Eight historians ask what constitutes diplomatic history.

D. C. Watt
(Professor of International History, University of London)

The practice of international history, that is of the history of relations between nation states, began in the nineteenth century with the publication, first, of the great series on international treaties, and then of national diplomatic documents pioneered by the British official blue books and followed by the national publication of documents on the origins of the Franco-Prussian war and on the war of 1914-18. Most historians of nineteenth-century Europe were, even in the early 1950s, essentially historians of European diplomacy, rather than, as today, historians of the domestic developments of one or two European countries. The first Chairs of international history in Britain were founded at the London School of Economics and Chatham House in reaction against the development of nationalist historiography. Their holders, Sir Charles Webster and Professor Arnold Toynbee were prohibited, in the cause of world peace, from teaching history from a national viewpoint, a prohibition as resolutely ignored by the former as it was practised (save in the case of the Palestinians) by the second.

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