In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section History of Diplomacy

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Primary Sources and Document Collections
  • Ancient Period
  • Medieval Period
  • The Renaissance
  • Early Modern Europe
  • Eighteenth-Century Diplomacy
  • Nineteenth-Century European Diplomacy
  • Non-Western Diplomacy, 1850–1945
  • Twentieth-Century Western Diplomacy, 1900–1945
  • Twentieth-Century Diplomacy, 1945–1999
  • Non-Western Diplomacy, 1945–2000
  • Twenty-First-Century Diplomacy

International Relations History of Diplomacy
David Atkinson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 July 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 02 March 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0013


Diplomacy encompasses the myriad processes of formal and informal communication between and among states. While evidence of protodiplomatic practices exists from the ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman worlds (especially through envoys), the antecedents of modern diplomatic practices can more properly be traced to medieval and early modern Europe. The emerging states of Europe slowly began to institutionalize formal diplomatic customs and conventions in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries, forced as they were to engage with one another for political, geographic, economic, religious, and strategic reasons. Traditionally (and especially since the Renaissance), diplomacy has been conducted by ambassadors and consuls, professional diplomats who function as resident agents of their respective governments in foreign states. Since the early 19th century, the leaders and foreign ministers of the major powers have increasingly opted to conduct direct diplomacy through congresses, conferences, and summits, in addition to dispatching permanent representatives to act on their behalf. There is a vast literature on the history of diplomacy. Much of it is historically oriented, although scholars in international relations and political science have also contributed much to our understanding of diplomacy’s evolving role in the international system. Most of the literature is concerned with delineating and analyzing the major innovations in diplomatic practice from the ancient to the contemporary period. For the most part, the literature is stimulating and coherent. New researchers and novice undergraduates will find it accessible, comprehensible, and easily digestible, and experienced scholars will find much to augment, challenge, and enrich their ongoing research agendas.

General Overviews

General overviews of the history of diplomacy, not surprisingly, tend to be historically oriented, although a number of studies especially recommend themselves to students of international relations. Undergraduates and graduate students, as well as veteran scholars, will find a wealth of ideas, insights, and possible research topics in these surveys. De Souza and France 2008 is an excellent starting point for new students in ancient and medieval diplomacy. Eleven well-written, wide-ranging, and accessible essays provide a solid grounding in the period, while also highlighting the many parallels and divergences between ancient and modern diplomacy. Designed primarily for undergraduates, Anderson 1993 is an excellent chronological and thematic introduction to early modern and modern diplomacy. Hamilton and Langhorne 1995 takes a similar approach, outlining the evolution of modern diplomatic practice from the ancient period to the modern, primarily for an undergraduate audience. Berridge, et al. 2001 adopts a similar chronology, but focuses instead on the major diplomatic theorists from Machiavelli to Kissinger. For an introduction to 19th- and 20th-century diplomacy, Kissinger 1994 is a lucid place to begin, combining a solid grasp of history with the author’s own personal experiences. Keylor 2005 is another excellent overview of 20th-century international relations that expertly introduces the student to every important diplomatic event of the period. Those seeking a more theoretical approach to the subject will find Lauren 1979 and Barston 2006 easily accessible, expansive, and stimulating introductory readers.

  • Anderson, Matthew S. The Rise of Modern Diplomacy, 1450–1919. New York: Longman, 1993.

    Broad and well-written collection of thematic and chronological chapters on history of early modern and modern diplomacy. Aimed at undergraduates. Topics range from ancien régime diplomacy to aspirations of international peace to balance of power diplomacy. Very helpful survey for beginning researchers; useful insights for veteran researchers. Valuable bibliographical essay.

  • Barston, Ronald P. Modern Diplomacy. 3d ed. New York: Longman, 2006.

    Essential theoretical introduction to development of diplomatic practice and diplomatic institutions. Informative and cogent chapters on negotiation, diplomacy and finance, commerce and diplomacy, mediation, treaties, and terrorism. Useful case studies. Especially noteworthy for occasional inclusion of pertinent diplomatic correspondence. Particularly suitable for undergraduates and beginning graduate students.

  • Berridge, G. R., Maurice Keens-Soper, and T. G. Otte. Diplomatic Theory from Machiavelli to Kissinger. New York: Palgrave, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230508309

    Nine very useful essays on key diplomatic theorists from the Renaissance to the modern era. Includes lucid and thoughtful essays on Machiavelli, Grotius, Richelieu, Satow, Nicolson, and Kissinger. Historians and international-relations scholars of all periods and experience will find much to appreciate here.

  • De Souza, Philip, and John France, eds. War and Peace in Ancient and Medieval History. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    Engaging introduction to diplomacy in the ancient and medieval periods. Collection of eleven lucid essays covering Greek, Persian, Roman, Byzantine, and Anglo-Saxon diplomacy. Focus on treaties, peacemaking, and war. Also useful for historians of modern diplomacy. Suitable for undergraduates, with new insights for graduate students and experienced researchers.

  • Hamilton, Keith, and Richard Langhorne. The Practice of Diplomacy: Its Evolution, Theory and Administration. New York: Routledge, 1995.

    Short, solid introduction to development of diplomatic practice. Especially suitable for international-relations undergraduates and survey courses. Overly brief treatment of ancient, medieval, and Renaissance diplomacy. Non-European examples also require more attention. Stronger on 19th- and 20th-century European diplomacy.

  • Keylor, William R. The Twentieth Century World and Beyond: An International History Since 1900. 5th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

    Excellent, reliable, and comprehensive overview of 20th-century international relations. Unusually lucid and cogent introductory text that covers every important diplomatic event of the period. Undergraduates and graduate students in particular will find it stimulating and coherent, and will benefit from its broad and wide-ranging approach.

  • Kissinger, Henry. Diplomacy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.

    Classic study of modern diplomacy, with particular emphasis on the 20th century. Especially interesting, albeit often opinionated, insights from the author’s own experience. Focuses almost exclusively on geopolitics. Eminently readable, characteristically provocative and authoritative. Important starting point for both international-relations scholars and historians of all levels.

  • Lauren, Paul Gordon, ed. Diplomacy: New Approaches in History, Theory, and Policy. New York: Free Press, 1979.

    Slightly dated but nevertheless important attempt to bridge historical and theoretical studies of diplomacy. Concerned partly with improving interdisciplinary communication and partly with the uses of history in policy making. Essays consider quantitative approaches, crisis decision making, bureaucratic politics, coercive diplomacy, and alliances.

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