Early Modern, Global Exchange, Diplomacy, Knowledge Exchange


Traditional histories of Early Modern exchange tend to emphasize the dispersion and adoption (or rejection) of European science and culture. More recently, there has been an historiographical trend to see early modern international interactions as multi-direction exchanges in which all parties are altered in each interaction. The 1685 French-Jesuit Embassy to Siam provides an interesting opportunity to explore the implications of this multi-directional approach. Although this exchange had no significant, lasting impact on either Siam or France, the dynamics at play demonstrate how each party’s attitude towards the exchange impacted their ability to achieve their aims. This paper uses Guy Tachard’s first-hand account of the 1685 Embassy, Voyage to Siam, to explore the political, scientific, and religious exchanges that took place between the French and the Siamese. On each of these levels, the French were consistently concerned with their own perception and cultural superiority whereas the Siamese were primarily motivated by a desire for an intellectual exchange. The Siamese successfully gained scientific equipment and knowledge from the French Jesuits whereas the Jesuits failed to convert Siam to Christianity. Thus, this interaction shows how differing attitudes lead to tangible differences in the outcome of this cross-cultural interaction.