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Andrew Mitchell, ‘new diplomatic history’, and cultural networks in Britain and Europe

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Taylor, DB ORCID: 0000-0003-3353-4781 2019 , 'Andrew Mitchell, ‘new diplomatic history’, and cultural networks in Britain and Europe', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

This thesis examines the career of British diplomat Andrew Mitchell (1708-1771) in the context of ‘new diplomatic history’. This emerging sub-field of diplomatic history has strong links to the greater emergence of cultural history over the last two or three decades. It is interested in the lives of diplomats outside of signing treaties, attending conferences, and paying court to rulers and kings. Therefore, this thesis utilises Mitchell’s cultural pursuits – defined as his interests in science and literature – to place new emphasis on his political career in London, and his diplomatic mission to Prussia from 1756-1771. The key aim of the thesis is to argue that Mitchell’s diplomatic mission was predominantly carried out as a form of cultural diplomacy, in which Mitchell forged strong links with Prussia’s ruler, Frederick II (the Great) through their shared intellectual and cultural interests.
The thesis is structured almost entirely in chronological order, but as the chapters are presented in a thematic way, there is some chronological overlap. As in reality, where Mitchell’s interests intersected and overlapped with those of Frederick, Britain, and their respective courts, this thesis seeks to shed light on the factors that allowed Britain and Prussia to maintain a diplomatic relationship throughout the Seven Years War (1756-63). One of the key reasons, this thesis argues, was Mitchell’s way of conducting his diplomacy. Interspersed with the obvious political duties incumbent upon Mitchell in Prussia was an awareness that becoming closer to Frederick on an intellectual and philosophical level could be of some advantage to the alliance.
Chapter 1 is an introduction, and Chapters 2 and 3 provide both new research and evidence on Mitchell’s early life and greater context for the argument that Mitchell carried out cultural diplomacy. Chapter 4 argues that Mitchell successfully developed an intellectual network between Britain and Prussia, drawing upon that he had already established in Britain to create a new one in Prussia. In doing so, his mission to Prussia was characterised from the outset as one with deep roots in the power of culture to affect change at the highest levels. With the cultural credit of being a friend of the poet James Thomson and the philosopher/historian David Hume, Mitchell made quick headway among the burgeoning German intellectual and literary world at this time.
The central elements of science and literature in diplomacy are addressed in Chapters 5 and 6. It is argued that not only did Mitchell not consider science to be a tool of specific states or kingdoms, he freely shared his access to inventors and their inventions, to scientists and their experiments, with his Prussian friends in a way that built up his cultural credentials and established him as a nexus figure in Prussian and German interests in British science. When it came to literature, Mitchell’s aforementioned friendships and connections placed him in high standing, and won him the attentions of leading German Enlightenment figures such as Lessing, Gellert, Sulzer, and Euler. In promoting German authors to the avowedly Francophile Frederick, Mitchell tackled Frederick’s derisory view of German literature through his privileged diplomatic access and status. These two chapters demonstrate the power of this form of diplomacy to place Mitchell and Britain as key elements of Frederick’s cultural thinking.
Chapter 7 brings the thesis to a head by returning to the political elements which form both the foundation of Mitchell’s mission, his raison d’etre, and which ultimately overpowered the cultural elements of his diplomacy. It is argued here that cultural diplomacy was successful insofar as the political situation reflected the relative isolation of Britain and Prussia, but that the practice of cultural diplomacy could not withstand the exigencies of the reality of politics, and that it fractured when Frederick’s biggest threat, Russia, was neutralised with a change of ruler. These ultimately eroded Britain’s alliance with Prussia, therefore undermining the cultural elements which Mitchell had pushed for the duration of his mission.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Taylor, DB
Keywords: Britain, Prussia, Mitchell, Diplomacy, Culture, Science, Literature, Knowledge
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Copyright 2019 the author

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