Sultana of Jolo leaving residence of General Arolas

New PhD project

Gender, Diplomacy and Imperialism: How non-male actors and transgender practices shaped the colonial world of 19th century maritime Southeast Asia.

Isak Kronberg's research project in global diplomatic history examines the largely overlooked role of females and nonbinary (i.e. neither male or female) actors in the diplomatic negotiations and imperial expansion which occurred in maritime Southeast Asia during the 19th century. The project also explores the diplomatic significance of transgender practices, by which an individual who normally identified with a particular gender temporarily could play a role and take on an appearance in fact associated with another gender.

The project aims to analyze the primary sources pertaining to diplomatic and imperial relations in colonial maritime Southeast Asia (present-day Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Brunei and East Timor) from a gender perspective, focusing in particular on how women and nonbinary individuals influenced colonial as well as diplomatic negotiations and relations. It also turns its attention to transgender practices and the combination of gender, domestic politics, religion, and colonial or international relations. By doing so, the project seeks to understand how gender dynamics shaped diplomatic, international and imperial relations, therefore asking: 

How did the gendered perceptions and expectations and the sayings and doings of the actors involved in cross-cultural diplomatic and political encounters influence the processes of diplomacy and international and imperial relations in maritime Southeast Asia between c.1750 and 1941?

The examined period coincides with the intensified European expansion and colonisation of the region, which is less studied with regard to gender and politics compared to both the pre- and post-colonial periods. The primary sources consist of unpublished archival documents, such as diplomatic instructions, treaties, reports and transcripts of diplomatic encounters between colonial (British, Dutch, French, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish and American) agents and the rulers and representatives of Southeast Asian states and indigenous communities. By addressing the lack of attention to women and transgender practices in the state of the art, the project will contribute to a deeper understanding of the process of colonisation in Southeast Asia, as well as, from a theoretical point of view, of the role of gender and sexuality in colonial and postcolonial political contexts.