Intermediaries in imperial expansion during the long 19th century, c. 1789-1914

Date: 31 August 2017, 02:30–05:00

Venue: Corvinus University, Fővám tér 8, room 334



Colonization and imperial expansion in the modern era has generally been analysed from the point of view of economic, political and military perspectives. Although the role of the men and women ’on the spot’ – be they diplomates, military commanders, traders, interpreters, missionaries, local aristocrats, community leaders or adventurers – occasionally is highlighted in the context of the expansion of individual empires, there have to date been few attempts to understand the phenomenon from a comparative and theoretical global historical perspective.

What kind of dynamics are found in the different contexts of imperialism during the long nineteenth century and what types of actors and agencies can be identified? To date, much of the research on intermediaries has focused on supporters of imperial expansion, but in addition there were other actors who can be labelled, for example, antagonists, neutral observers and adventurers in imperial expansion. To what extent can a general typology of intermediaries in imperial expansion be constructed from these and possibly other categories?

We welcome papers based on empirical studies of any modern colonial empire, both European and non-European, and major as well as minor empires, during the long nineteenth century. We particularly encourage papers that place the historical developments in a global historical context and aim to contribute to an enhanced theoretical understanding of the dynamics of modern imperial expansion, involving the relations between metropoli and colonies, between empires, between colonies and colonies, and between autonomous actors and colonial empires. Studies of non-Anglo-Saxon empires are most welcome, as are papers that highlight the agency of Asian and African actors in the process of colonization and imperial expansion.

Convenor / Chair

Stefan Eklöf Amirell (Linnaeus University)


Stefan Eklöf Amirell (Linnaeus University)

Joachim Östlund (Lund University)

Preedee Hongsaton (Thammasat University Bangkok)

Emil Kaukonen (Åbo Akademi University Turku)



Stefan Eklöf Amirell: Sovereignty and the suppression of piracy in colonial southeast Asia, c. 1850–1914: A comparative study of the Strait of Malacca, Indochina and the Sulu Sea

The paper compares how piracy was defined, suppressed and used as a rationalisation for maritime and territorial expansion by the Britain, France, Spain and the United States in three maritime zones affected by piratical activity. The paper highlights the role of the ‘men on the spot’, including military officers, colonial civil servants, Asian and European merchants and indigenous rulers and aristocrats, with regard to the shaping of the colonial policies that linked the suppression of piracy with colonial expansion. It is argued that the understanding and perceptions of piracy of the intermediaries exercised a great influence on the choice of strategies employed to suppress piracy in Southeast Asia.

Joachim Östlund: The Swedish consular network and the slave trade in the Mediterranean and Red Sea in the 18th and 19th centuries

The role of the Nordic countries in the expanding maritime traffic in the Eastern Mediterranean in the late eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century is usually forgotten. Swedish shippers and consuls were, in different ways, involved in the transportation of African slaves across the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, a circumstance that has only recently been discovered. In contrast to the Atlantic slave trade, however, the Swedish involvement in the Mediterranean slave trade was not sanctioned by the state but carried out as a form of ‘secret service’. This paper explores different intermediaries and their actions within the Mediterranean slave trade economy and argues for the importance of non-colonial European powers in the slave trade routes from East Africa and North Africa.

Preedee Hongsaton: The Siamese gentlemen:  The local men of empire of the never-colonised Thailand at the turn of the 20th century

Thailand's experience with European colonisation at the turn of the twentieth century was rather ambiguous. It was not directly colonised, yet went through similar experiences as other Southeast Asian colonies. This paper proposes that the experiences were determined by the roles of intermediaries whose role was key to the emergence of the Siamese modern state. These ”Siamese gentlemen” were both Siamese and non-Siamese (i.e. Chinese), who by the late nineteenth century received Western education and became the technicians of modern bureaucracy. Paying attention to these agents, this paper argues, will open up a wider discussion about imperialism in Southeast Asia.

Emil Kaukonen: The limits of consular diplomacy: Jakob Gråberg and the Swedish-Moroccan diplomatic crisis of 1822

In 1822 the Swedish vice-consul in Morocco, Jakob Gråberg, was involved in a disagreement with the sultan, Muley Soliman, regarding payment for a shipment of cannons from Sweden. As a result of this dispute, Gråberg had to leave Morocco and a naval squadron was sent from Sweden to re-establish diplomatic relations. What can the crisis and its solution tell us about the effects of the geographical distance between Sweden and Morocco on diplomatic disputes? How should time and distance be taken into account when studying both the relative autonomy imposed on Gråberg and the embassy sent to mediate the dispute?

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