New approaches to the history of soft power in the 19th and 20th centuries

New approaches to the history of soft power in the 19th and 20th centuries

Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. 10-11 December 2020

Deadline: 1 September 2020 (was: 15 May)


In response to Covid-19-related disruption we have extended the deadline for the submission of abstract to the workshop. The new deadline is 1 September 2020 and we aim to contact selected participants by mid- September.

THE EVENT WILL NOW BE ORGANISED ONLINE and there will be no registration fee. Our aim remains to foster an encouraging environment for colleagues at all stages of their career to present new work and receive constructive feedback.


Scholars of modern foreign and international relations are giving increasing attention to the role of culture, education, propaganda, and public relations in diplomacy. Thirty years after the publication of Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power, in which Joseph Nye coined the phrase ‘soft power’, the field of soft power has grown to incorporate emotions (Gienow-Hecht 2009), the role of crowds and performance (Goeschel 2016; Mort 2017), and “sport diplomacy” (Blaschke 2016) amongst other important elements. In addition historians have been approaching cultural diplomacy not only through foreign policy analysis, but also through a cultural history of the field (Mori 2011; see also the series of international workshops organised by Mort, Goeschel, and Tunstall Allcock at the University of Manchester and the Institute of Historical Research, London in 2016-2018).

Invigorated by transnationalism, scholars have paid attention to the role of religious orders, academics, and migrants in shaping soft power (Sarah Curtis 2016; Tronchet 2014). While there has been an increased scholarly interest in the role of internationalism in modern public diplomacy (Iriye 1997), historians of soft power continue to make significant contributions to our understanding of nationalism and the making of modern states: studying cultural and public diplomacies is a particularly fruitful way to understand how nations, states, and communities viewed themselves and were constructed, not just ideologically, but socially and administratively.

The study of soft power in the modern period is unequal, with much attention understandably paid to the Cold War when culture offered a surrogate for damaged and blocked political dialogues. But practices that aimed at promoting a nation abroad were not invented after the Second World War, nor were they inexistent before then. Some historians have traced their origins back to the nineteenth century with the formation of nation states (in Europe) and the growth of ministries of foreign affairs. In addition, the historiography has largely omitted soft power policies produced by and targeting so called “periphery countries”. Therefore, much remains to be written if we are to fully appreciate the history of soft power and its associated key concepts (public and cultural diplomacy, propaganda, publicity, promotion, oeuvres -in the French context, public relations) and the multiplicity of meanings with which these ideas and practices were endowed globally throughout the modern period.

We are inviting scholars to re-assess historical studies of soft power (including in the fields of cultural diplomacy, public diplomacy, and propaganda) and suggest ways in which this area of study can move forward over the next decade.

We particularly invite contributions on the following themes:

  • Strategies for prestige-building in modern international relations
  • Writing a cultural history of diplomacy
  • The role of material culture in soft power
  • The environment, design, and architecture of soft power
  • Methodologies and chronologies of soft power
  • Agents of soft-power and their identities
  • The globalization of soft power
  • Early and/or peripheral experiences of soft power
  • Transnational transfer of knowledges and models of public diplomacy
  • The audiences of soft power (foreign or domestic audiences, diaspora…)
  • The relevance of the distinction between soft and hard power


The conference will take place at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and is co-organised by a team of researchers based in Chile and the United Kingdom who are keen to bring together scholars from the Americas and beyond. We expect to organise a follow up workshop on soft power in the world which is scheduled to take place in Britain in 2021. During this second event, there will also be an opportunity for historians to exchange with practitioners of cultural and public diplomacy.

We are pleased to be able to host international researchers working on soft power in Chile. This country is often overlooked in global studies of modern soft power, and considering that we particularly welcome speakers whose research focuses on peripheries of soft power this location is all the more meaningful to us.

This two-day workshop invites scholars at all stages of their careers, working on nineteenth and twentieth century history to reflect on soft power in relation to their research, but also to ask new questions which can help the field move in fresh directions. Selected participants will present a twenty-minute paper (day 1) followed by participation in a round table about specific methodological and conceptual issues which they have been facing in their research (day 2). We hope that this format will allow all presenters to receive relevant and valuable feedback as well as forge fruitful connections with colleagues working on soft power. The working languages of the workshop will be Spanish and English. We appreciate that not all participants will be bilingual, we will ask presenters to share a draft version of their paper one week before the workshop, hoping that advanced copies of contributions will facilitate debates during conference. For the round tables (day 2), we will provide informal interpretation so that anglophone and hispanophone scholars can exchange ideas.

In light of the climate emergency, we want to underline that we will consider paper proposals from participants who wish to attend by video call and are available during both days of the conference. We are planning to live-stream day 2 of the conference (via facebook live or an alternative) so that scholars who join us remotely on day 1, as well as other scholars interested in the topic and the general public can contribute to the debate. Please do mention if you wish to contribute via video call on your application.


Each proposal should comprise a paper title, abstract of 400 words, and a one-page CV in a single PDF or MS Word file.

Submissions should be emailed to and queries should also be directed to this email address.

While we cannot guarantee it at this stage, we hope to have some funds to cover travel and accommodation expenses of PhD students and early career researchers who will present at the conference.

The deadline for abstracts is 1 September 2020 and applicants will be contacted shortly afterwards.


  • Dr Sylvia Dümmer Scheel (Conicyt post-doctoral fellow, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile)
  • Dr Charlotte Faucher (British Academy post-doctoral fellow, University of Manchester)
  • Dr Camila Gatica Mizala (Conicyt post-doctoral fellow, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile)

Emilia Robin

Chercheuse associée à l'UMR SIRICE. Violons d'Ingres : guerre froide, médiation scientifique, logiciels libres

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