Program

Henry Luce Foundation/ACLS Program in China Studies Predissertation-Summer Travel Grants , Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships

Project

Living on Empire’s Edge: Europe, America, and the South China Coast, 1780 to 1844

Project

Barbarians on the Shore: Global Trade, Conflict Resolution, and Everyday Life on the South China Coast, 1780-1860

Department

History

Living on Empire’s Edge: Europe, America, and the South China Coast, 1780 to 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.

Barbarians on the Shore: Global Trade, Conflict Resolution, and Everyday Life on the South China Coast, 1780-1860

Most scholars have painted a bleak portrait of the nineteenth-century encounter between “China” and “the West,” with stories of cross-cultural misunderstanding, legal disputes, and opium smuggling punctuating a conflict-centered narrative of the years before the first Opium War. This project, however, argues that everyday conflict and misunderstanding were far from representative. Through a bottom-up reexamination of daily life in the globally entangled societies of the South China Coast, this research shows that active problem solving and cooperation, not conflict, were in fact the norm: driven by shared economic incentives, most local merchants, sailors, prostitutes, interpreters, coolies, cooks, pirates, and other liminal actors worked flexibly with their foreign counterparts to resolve problems on the ground level, long before they wended their way up to the political sphere.