I am a historian of late imperial China and environmental history. My first book, A World Trimmed with Fur, studies the nexus of empire, environment, and market that defined Qing China in 1750-1850, when unprecedented commercial expansion and a rush for natural resources transformed the ecology of China and its borderlands. That boom, no less than today’s, had profound institutional, ideological, and environmental causes and consequences. Indeed, the boom years witnessed a reinvention of nature itself. Early modern wilderness was not a state of nature; it reflected the nature of the state.
My research builds from experience in the PRC, Taiwan, and Mongolia. I work with Chinese, Manchu, and Mongolian language archives, love the study of material objects, and am drawn to the global dimensions of China’s environmental history. In pursuit of such global connections, my current research examines the history of five castaways – including two Africans – that mutinied and escaped to the Korean coast in 1800, thus prompting a series of investigations by the Qing, Chosŏn, and Portuguese states. The project explores the castaways' entanglements with these powers, details their ties to the ivory and rhinoceros horn trades, and reveals the problems of identity they posed for all governments and scholars who encountered them.