Carnet de recherche: Robin Schmahl

June 29, 2021: Today I had the pleasure to organize and moderate a talk by Dr. Guido Steinberg (SWP) in the framework of the Youth Forum of the German Foreign Affairs Association lecture series. Upon reflecting on the history of the Saudi / Iranian struggle for regional hegemony, Dr. Steinberg gave us a historically informed perspective on the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (JCPOA), Israeli rapprochements to the Gulf states, as well as possible futures of European foreign policy in the region.

June 21-24, 2021: Reporting back from the Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz (GSTA): this week I had the unique opportunity to revisit the Prussian Privy Archive in Berlin. Last time, I have concentrated on exploring the official correspondence between the Prussian Chargé d’Affaires at the Sublime Porte and the Prussian Court in 1797-1803. Although I came back with the primary intend to digitalize these files mounting to over 1000 pages, I also took the opportunity to skip through some of the Prussian mission’s Privata. In a file that collected documentation around Oberst von Knobelsdorff’s application for holidays (6 months, after 17 years serving non-stop as Chargé d’Affaires!), I came across a special piece of correspondence. It seems that Knobelsdorff on his way back to Prussia, brought with him a personal letter by Sultan III to the Prussian King. Although the letter merely dealt with obligatory royal salutations and show of respect, it is nonetheless an exciting document recording the historically strong relations between the Prussian court and the Sublime Porte.

June 16, 2021: Today, I had the amazing opportunity to participate in a workshop on safer research practices organized by the Berlin Center for Global Engagement. We discussed the manifold ramifications for conducting research in the field when operating in authoritarian contexts. The great team with a lot of first-hand expertise helped us thinking in new ways about assessing risks before, during and after working in the field. (Check out the team’s new book!) The discussions were fruitful especially since we were so many people from different scientific contexts: I cannot recall that I ever had the opportunity to discuss my research with a historian, a political theorist, a biologist, an anthropologist and a nutritionist (i.a.) at the same time! Given the global encroachment on free scientific practice, I am thankful to the team that I have had such an expedient introduction into the topic. Stay safe(r)!

June 2, 2021: Today, I had the opportunity to moderate and co-host a lecture by Ambassador Wiggemark, the head of the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo [EULEX], in the framework of the Youth Forum of the German Foreign Affairs Association lecture series. We discussed EULEX’s special role in the functioning of Kosovo’s judicial system and talked about the young country’s turbulent past. Touching upon the internal operations of the EU’s biggest CSDP civil mission, Ambassador Wiggemark was kind enough to invite a delegation of the Youth Forum to visit EULEX’s headquarters in Pristina. (“You should come to Kosovo, there is great coffee here!”) So, with a bit of luck, we might be enjoying a nice cup of Kosovar mocha later this year: I’ll keep you updated!

From April 6 to 8, 2021, I had the opportunity to conduct archival research at the Privy Prussian Archive (Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz) in Berlin. I was hoping to find some interesting manuscripts documenting the French expedition in Egypt, 1798-1801, from a Prussian perspective.

After struggling with the old library catalogue that is written in Kurrent – an old form of German cursive script – I ordered the correspondence between Berlin and its Chargé d’Affaires at the Sublime Porte in Constantinople, Friedrich Wilhelm von Knobelsdorff, between 1797 and 1802. Because the correspondence fell under diplomatic protocol the text is not only written in French, but also en chiffres, i.e. encrypted in a specific code of numbers.

non-decyphered text en chiffres

This code would then be deciphered (literally de-numbered) by a clerk in Berlin who held the applicable key and then presented the text to the relevant authorities and/or the Prussian Monarch. Sometimes the addressee marked the text or put direct notes in the documentation. Here, von Konbelsdorff conveyed the news that Napoleon Bonaparte had invaded Egypt, which prompted the addressee to put down his rather emotional reaction of “le défendre jusqu’à la dernière goutte de sang” [sic] (defend it until the last drop of blood).

Decyphered correspondance with annotations

I am looking forward to revisiting the archive and working more with this amazing source – so keep posted: there is more to come!