Carl Ernest Kubler G'17
Henry Luce Foundation/ACLS Program in China Studies Pre-dissertation Grants for Research in China 2017
University of Chicago
Living on Empire's Edge: Europe, America, and the South China Coast, 1780-1844
Most histories have painted a bleak portrait of the 19th-century Sino-Western encounter, with legal disputes, bureaucratic restrictions, and opium taking the fore in a conflict-centered account of the pre-Opium War period. My dissertation, however, argues that everyday conflict and misunderstanding were far less typical than scholars believe. Via a bottom-up reexamination of the daily lives and incentives of people living on the global margins of the South China Coast, my dissertation shows how problem solving and cooperation, not conflict, were in fact the norm. I both reframe the story of pre-Opium War relations by telling it from the ground up, and also open up broader historiographic questions about how we understand and narrate causality in an entangled, multinational context.