Thomas Larkin, "The China Firm: American Elites and the Making of British Colonial Society" (Columbia UP, 2024)


What roles did Americans play in the expanding global empires of the nineteenth century? In The China Firm: American Elites and the Making of British Colonial Society (Columbia University Press, 2024), Thomas M. Larkin examines the Hong Kong–based Augustine Heard & Company, the most prominent American trading firm in treaty-port China, to explore the ways American elites at once made and were made by British colonial society. Following the Heard brothers throughout their firm’s rise and decline, The China Firm reveals how nineteenth-century China’s American elite adapted to colonial culture, helped entrench social and racial hierarchies, and exploited the British imperial project for their own profit as they became increasingly invested in its political affairs and commercial networks.

Through the central narrative of Augustine Heard & Co., Larkin disentangles the ties that bound the United States to China and the British Empire in the nineteenth century. Drawing on a vast range of archival material from Hong Kong, China, Boston, and London, he weaves the local and the global together to trace how Americans gained acceptance into and contributed to the making of colonial societies and world-spanning empires. Uncovering the transimperial lives of these American traders and the complex ways extraimperial communities interacted with British colonialism, The China Firm makes a vital contribution to global histories of nineteenth-century Asia and provides an alternative narrative of British empire.

Thomas Larkin in Assistant Professor of History at the University of Prince Edward Island. Twitter. Website.

Brian Hamilton is chair of the Department of History and Social Science at Deerfield Academy. Twitter. Website.

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Brian Hamilton

Brian Hamilton is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Wisconsin–Madison where he is researching African American environmental history. A Maine native, he lives in Western Massachusetts and chairs the History and Social Science Department at Deerfield Academy.

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