The Mediality of Diplomatic Communication

Habsburg Envoys in Constantinople in the Mid-17th Century

Politics is shaped by the modern media society. Therefore it consists not only of objective argumentation but has to be staged and communicated in an appealing way in the media. This media imprint of politics is, at present, more intensive than ever; however, it is at its core not a new phenomenon, as it is based on communication. At the same time, the nature of communication depends on the specific character of the media involved.

This research project examines the communication of Habsburg diplomats in Constantinople with the Imperial Court in Vienna. The knowledge held about the Ottomans in the Holy Roman Empire and by the Habsburg Monarchy originated mainly from diplomacy. The project focusses on the two most important media. On the one hand are the letters of the envoys, which have received little research attention thus far. These letters include a wealth of information about political negotiations as well as detailed accounts of the life in the city, and the culture and society of the Ottomans. On the other hand are the travel reports written during diplomatic missions. The focus is on a virtually unknown travelogue written in 1650 and lost in the turmoil of World War II. Fortunately, an old microfilm was discovered and digitally restored, rendering the text legible with the help of picture-editing programs.

The letters of the diplomats and their travel reports are analysed from the perspective of media studies and compared with each other. Modern computer-based text analytical methods are utilised. The starting point is the assumption that different media construct reality in different ways: the manner in which reality is constructed via television differs from that of the daily newspapers or the radio, while letters differ from travel reports. Taken to the extreme, media can be understood as active agents that follow their own patterns of behaviour. On the foundation of these preliminary considerations is constructed the basic thesis of this project, namely that the information sharing and knowledge transfer that occurred between diplomats and the Imperial Court was primarily shaped by the media: what people knew about the Ottomans was dependent on the underlying rules of the media.

The project leads to a deeper understanding of the construction of knowledge of the Ottomans. It also provides insight into the historical dimensions of transculturality and related topical problems such as dealing with otherness and the relationship between Christians and Muslims. Media not only write their own history, but also influence history: the results of the research project are therefore of relevance to the understanding of Habsburg-Ottoman relations and 17th–century international politics in general.

Press reports:

“Computer enttarnen Diplomaten” (Die Presse, Wissenschaft, 14.4.2018, Online, 13.4.2018)

“Die Zeitung kam aus Konstantinopel” (Salzburger Nachrichten, Wissen, 21.4.2018)

“Wie Gesandtenbriefe das Türken-Stereotyp prägten” (Österreich Journal, 174/2, 28-29, 2.5.2018)

Wie Gesandtenbriefe das Türken-Stereotyp prägten” (Uni Salzburg, Apa Science, 4.4.2018)