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

The research project in global diplomatic history investigates the largely overlooked role of female and nonbinary (i.e. neither male or female) actors in diplomatic negotiations and imperial expansion 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 take on the role and appearance associated with another gender.

Project information

Doctoral student
Isak Kronberg
Stefan Amirell
Assistant supervisor
Birgit Tremml-Werner
The Craaford Foundation

More about the project

The project aims to read 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 diplomatic negotiations and relations.

The project also turns its attention to transgender practices and the intersection between gender, domestic politics, religion, and colonial or international relations. In doing so, the project seeks to understand how gender dynamics shaped diplomatic, international and imperial relations, 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 period of investigation coincides with the intensified European expansion and colonisation of the region, which is less well studied with regard to gender and politics than 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 The primary sources consist of unpublished archival documents, such as diplomatic instructions, treaties, reports and transcripts of diplomatic encounters between colonial (British, Dutch, French,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 US) agents and the rulers and representatives of indigenous Southeast Asian states and communities.

By addressing the lack of attention to women and transgender practices in the state of the art, the project will contribute to a greatly enhanced 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.

The project is part of the research in:
Centre for Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies