Capitalism and Opium: The Transpacific Drug Economy, 1804-1881


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




“Capitalism and Opium” tells the story of the period between when Americans first sold opium in China to when the Chinese first sold opium in the United States. By exploring the drug’s dual function as an addictive commodity and a source of global capital, this project offers a new interpretation of the Opium War as a watershed event that had surprising connections to, and consequences for, Americans and the Pacific world. Drawing on records from 11 different archives, its central contention is that the traffic in opium did not flourish in the extralegal peripheries of the transpacific economy; rather, through embodying a form of capital itself, the production, consumption and exchange of opium contributed directly to the flourishing of the transpacific economy, and Americans were instrumental in promoting its expansion.