The Diplomacy Challenge

Sultan Mehmed IV
Photo caption

Sultan Mehmed IV

"One must remember that the diplomat’s hope is in man’s reason and good will…. Even Machiavelli himself was not in practice Machiavellian.”

—Garrett Mattingly, Renaissance Diplomacy

During the Early Modern era (1450–1750), the expansion in maritime trade and the incorporation of the Americas into worldwide exchanges meant the world became increasingly interconnected. These connections led to a greater need for diplomatic relations with other states. Like many modern institutions, diplomacy as we know it today had its origins during this period. 

This unit asks teams of students to play the role of diplomats in the Early Modern era. Each team is charged with a particular empire, and students compare the perceived national interests of their empires to the empires of other teams. In the process, they must consider multiple perspectives and anticipate the actions and reactions of their diplomatic peers.

Students will do the authentic work of diplomats by first gathering intelligence through selected primary and secondary sources, then by building relationships with other diplomats through a reception banquet, and finally by negotiating treaties in the interest of their empires.

This unit has been conceived as a process. To gain maximum benefit, it is suggested that the lessons be taught sequentially.

  • In Lesson 1 students organize an intelligence briefing;
  • In Lesson 2 students present the intelligence briefing;
  • In Lesson 3 students analyze primary sources (“intercepted intelligence”);
  • In Lesson 4 students write a toast to an empire with which they want to trade;
  • In Lesson 5 students deliver a diplomatic toast to another empire at a diplomatic reception;
  • In Lesson 6 students plan a strategy for negotiating a trade treaty;
  • In Lesson 7 students negotiate and write a trade treaty.

Guiding Questions

How did Early Modern empires use diplomacy to maintain and expand their power?


How do diplomats use intelligence to build relationships?