Research

I am currently working on a number of interconnected projects that focus on diplomacy, possession and law.

Perilous Embassies: Diplomatic Encounters between Europe and Asia, 1600-1800

This project examines diplomatic encounters on the frontline of the first age of globalization.  The period from 1600 to 1800 was a crucial watershed in human history. For the first time, the world was bound together by maritime trade routes that encircled the globe, tying diverse polities together. In this connected world, the embassy formed one of the most important mechanisms for cross-cultural contact.  This project focuses on European embassies to Asia but also on letters and ambassadors exchanged within Asia.   Parts of the wider project were published in The Company and the Shogun (Columbia University Press, 2014). A 2013 article in the Journal of World History considered diplomatic letters sent from Japan to Southeast Asia in the first decades of the seventeenth century  “Like lambs in Japan and devils outside their land: Violence, law and Japanese merchants in Southeast Asia,” Journal of World History 24.2 (2013): 335 -358)

A Conspiracy Discovered: Reassessing the Amboyna incident of 1623

In February 1623, a Japanese mercenary in the employ of the VOC was arrested for making persistent inquiries into the defenses and garrison of one of the Dutch company’s castles on Amboyna.  After torture, he confessed that he was part of a conspiracy orchestrated by a group of English merchants that occupied a nearby trading post to seize control of the fortification.  Armed with this information, the VOC governor proceeded to arrest, interrogate and ultimately to torture the remaining ten Japanese mercenaries in the garrison, all of whom admitted to signing onto the plot in return for a substantial reward. A few days later, attention turned to the English, who also confessed, also under torture, to a role in a conspiracy aimed at the “taking of the castle, and the murdering of the Netherlanders.” On 9 March, an improvised tribunal of VOC employees with the governor at their head convened to render judgment on the conspirators. The result was an emphatic guilty verdict and shortly thereafter ten English merchants and ten Japanese mercenaries were executed in the public square outside the fortress. This project aims to place the Amboyna conspiracy trial in its Asian context and thereby to understand the forces that were driving it.

Claiming Possession: Asia, Europe and Empire

This project reassesses the nature of claims to possession across the early modern world by shifting the focus to Asia. It examines how Europeans actually claimed possession over people, lands and resources in the shadow of powerful Asian states while also charting the emergence of local counterclaims and processes of legal resistance. Claiming was never only a European enterprise. The proposed research draws key Asian polities into the analysis by considering historical claiming practices across borderland areas