'Truly I am Changed'
: A global-microhistory of American traders in nineteenth-century Hong Kong

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis uses the case study of the American firm Augustine Heard & Co. to explore how Americans made, and were made by British colonial society in nineteenth-century Hong Kong. It follows the Heard brothers throughout their firm’s rise and decline in China to determine how they and their countrymen balanced often-conflicting colonial and metropolitan interests as they integrated with colonial and treaty port society. I use this American case study to argue that British colonial society provided a space where non-British communities were forced to reconcile their national identity with local colonial society and culture; that doing so helped reinforce colonial social and racial hierarchies and afforded these non-British communities opportunities to exploit colonial systems for their own profit, while also instilling within them a growing interest in the British imperial world, its political affairs, and its commercial networks. This thesis refines the developing global-microhistorical methodology to better address local or individual histories’ relationships with broader historical contexts. I trace the Heard brothers’ history onto progressively broader historical scales, considering the microhistorical, domestic, social, intraregional, and transnational contexts within which they interacted with British colonial society, defined their goals, and formed their identities. Each chapter adopts one of these scales, building thematically and chronologically on the preceding ones to describe how Americans interacted with colonial space in every aspect of their lives. Similar, in many ways, to the British, but also prepossessed of their own national interests and identity, the American case provides a necessary example of the criteria through which the non-British gained acceptance into colonial society. Centred on Hong Kong, this thesis examines the transnational lives of American traders to measure the strength of competing social, cultural, political, and commercial interests, clarifying the complex ways non-British communities interacted with nineteenth-century British colonialism and shaped Sino-foreign contact.
Date of Award11 May 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorRobert Bickers (Supervisor), Grace Huxford (Supervisor) & Rob Skinner (Supervisor)


  • China
  • America
  • Empire
  • colonialism
  • Race
  • Culture
  • transnational
  • Hong Kong
  • Nineteenth century

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