Blog Posts

Looking for the National Dream

Ulf Brunnbauer and Ursula Prutsch very kindly invited me to present a paper at the conference they organized on “Looking for the National Dream: Austro-Hungarian Migrants in the Americas in Comparative Perspectives,” held at the Center for Advanced Studies at LMU-Munich in July 2017.

I presented on “The Habsburg Consular Service in Comparative Perspective,” using data from the US National Archives that surveyed global consular services in 1897 and select consular services in 1907, as well as the listings of foreign consuls in the United States published annually in the Register of the Department of State. (Thanks to Natalie Coffman and Kiara Day for their assistance with data entry!) I argued that the Habsburg government did not opt to use their consular service to the extent that most other European governments did, though they were in the process of a significant expansion when World War I began in 1914.

US and European governments used the flexible institution that was the consular service in a variety of ways, but one key use was to maintain ties with migrants living and working abroad. In that sense, the Italian consular service was the most active, and the Habsburg service was headed in that direction in 1914. I pointed out that there were many reasons for not having a large consular service; in particular, because most consular officials worked for fees rather than salaries, they were difficult to control and hold to professional standards. Here’s a comparison of the Italian and Habsburg services in the United States in 1907:

The Habsburg government’s consular presence in the US was slightly higher than average, but well below most large European countries. (Russia’s service was smaller.) For much of the late nineteenth century, the Swedes had the largest US presence:

SHAFR panel on Aid and Emotions

At the 2017 SHAFR conference, I participated in a panel entitled “The Gift of Giving? Aid and Emotion in U.S. Foreign Relations,” which united alumni of the 2012 SHAFR Summer Institute, including Institute organizers Frank Costigliola and Andy Rotter. My co-panelists included Shaul Mitelpunkt, Elisabeth Piller, and David Greenstein, and our commentator was Barbara Keys.

My contribution was titled “’The sympathies of the Consul are strongly aroused’: Contemplating US Consuls’ Out-of-pocket Aid to Americans in Distress Abroad in 1902,” and it was based on responses to a survey that the State Department conducted in early 1903. Unlike the governments of many other states, including the Great Powers, the US government did not have a public fund for assisting the return to the United States of Americans who fell into financial destitution abroad, or for short-term relief of such people. A few consuls in larger cities with significant numbers of Americans could call on private American aid societies to offer such assistance, but most consuls had to pay out of their own pocket. If they refused to pay, they risked criticism from their local hosts and the press back home.

In their responses to the survey, consuls expressed a wide variety of emotions, but frustration was perhaps the most frequently in evidence. Consuls were annoyed with the large numbers of people who came to ask for help, disrupting the routine of the office. Many who asked for help were professional fraudsters, and consuls were frustrated when they were conned, though most seemed to take that as par for the course. “Tramps” came in for particular opprobrium, and consuls expressed a range of reactions, from those who always gave tramps money to get them moving out of the district to those who refused all requests and made statements that expressed deeply held class prejudices.

I am working on an article based on this material. And since I can’t do a post without a visualization, here’s another work in progress coming out of these records: consulates with typewriters in 1903.

Studies on the British Consular Service

This is not a complete list, but it provides a starting point for those with an interest in the British consular service.

D. C. M. Platt, The Cinderella Service: British Consuls since 1825 (London: Longman, 1971).

P. D. Coates, The China Consuls: British Consular Officers, 1843-1943 (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1988).

Lucia Patrizio Gunning, The British Consular Service in the Aegean and the Collection of Antiquities for the British Museum (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009).

The Works of Rudolf Agstner

Rudolf Agstner, an Austrian foreign service officer, wrote dozens of books and articles about aspects of the Habsburg consular service in various parts of the world. His work is a good source of specific details about the location of posts and who occupied them.

A few of his publications:

Rudolf Agstner, Austria (-Hungary) and Its Consulates in the United States of America since 1820: “Our Nationals Settling Here Count by the Millions Now’’ (Zürich: LIT Verlag, 2012).

Rudolf Agstner, “From Apalachicola to Wilkes-Barre: Austria(-Hungary) and Its Consulates in the United States of America, 1820-1917,” Austrian History Yearbook 37 (2006): 163–80.

Rudolf Agstner, From Halifax to Vancouver: Austria (-Hungary) and Her Consular and Diplomatic Presence in Canada, 1855-2005 (Vienna: Institut für Strategie und Sicherheitspolitik, 2005).

Rudolf Agstner, “Austria (-Hungary) and Her Consulates South of the Rio Grande (1828-1918): A Survey,” in Transatlantic Relations: Austria and Latin America in the 19th and 20th Centuries, ed. Klaus Eisterer and Günter Bischof, Transatlantica 1 (Innsbruck: StudienVerlag, 2006), 85–120.


N. Phelps’s U.S.-Habsburg Relations

Chapters 3, 4, and 5 of my 2013 Cambridge University Press book, U.S.-Habsburg Relations from 1815 to the Paris Peace Conference: Sovereignty Transformed deal with US consuls in the Habsburg Empire and Habsburg consuls in the United States, particularly as they attempted to deal with the effects of migration between the two countries in a period when passports were not required; questions about citizenship were rife.

Chapter 3 offers a broad history of the US Consular Service, stressing the expansion of its mandate from facilitating trade to promoting trade and then protecting citizens abroad. As I have done more research on consular services, I do think that trajectory holds for the US presence in the Habsburg Empire, but consuls in other parts of the world performed the full range of functions from the beginning of the service’s existence. Each individual post had its own unique profile of activities.

F. de Goey’s Consuls and the Institutions of Global Capitalism

Ferry de Goey’s 2014 book, Consuls and the Institutions of Global Capitalism, 1783-1914, was published in the Perspectives in Economic and Social History series from the London-based Pickering & Chatto. It offers a comparison of the British, German, US, and Dutch consular services in the Americas, Africa, the Middle East, and East Asia. Brief case studies of particular consuls make up most of the chapters, and there is considerable emphasis on the first half of the nineteenth century.

De Goey points out that consuls as a whole have an ambiguous record when it comes to generating international trade, but they did facilitate the growth of capitalism by concentrating a wide variety of state functions in one flexible and inexpensive office.

B. Whelan’s American Government in Ireland

Bernadette Whelan’s 2010 book from Manchester University Press, American Government in Ireland, 1790-1913: A History of the US Consular Service, provides a detailed, analytical account of the consuls who represented the United States in Ireland in the long nineteenth century. The consuls’ roles in the US Civil War, immigration and naturalization, and Irish nationalism feature prominently.

Ulbert and Prijic’s Consulship in the 19th Century

Jörg Ulbert and Lukian Prijac, eds., Consuls et Services Consulaires Au XIXe Siecle = Die Welt Der Konsulate Im 19. Jahrhundert = Consulship in the 19th Century (Hamburg: DOBU, Dokumentation & Buch, 2010).

The volume contains an overview of the US Consular Service that emphasizes reform and professionalization: Christoph Strupp, “Das US-amerikanische Konsularwesen im 19. Jarhundert” (218-33).

The thirty-four other essays in the volume include overviews of several services, as well as more focused studies. A few of the essays are in English; most are in French or German.

T. G. Paterson’s “American Businessmen”

Thomas G. Paterson’s 1966 article “American Businessmen and Consular Service Reform, 1890’s-1906” appeared in the January 1966 issue of Business History Review (vol. 40, no. 1, pages 77-97).

Reform-minded officials at the State Department in Washington generally welcomed the assistance of American businessmen in lobbying Congress for consular service reform. The 1906 reform introduced an inspection system and provided salaries for consuls and consuls general. Consular agents continued to work for fees, but after the reform, agents began to be phased out.

R. Kark’s American Consuls in the Holy Land

Ruth Kark’s 1994 book from Magnes Press of Hebrew University and Wayne State University Press, American Consuls in the Holy Land is one of the few book-length treatments of US consuls in a particular part of the world. In the Ottoman Empire, the capitulation system operated, giving consuls extraterritoriality, which meant that, in addition to regular consular duties, they also operated courts and jails for US citizens. Similar systems operated in China and Japan as well.