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Response to Review of Mr. Smith Goes to China: Three Scots in the Making of Britain’s Global Empire

I thank Junqing Wu for taking the time to produce such a thoughtful review of my book and am grateful to the IHR for giving me the opportunity to write a short response. I especially appreciate the reviewer’s attention to my methodology, which is shaped by a new approach to world and imperial history, known by its practitioners as ‘global-microhistory’ or ‘global history on a small scale.’ This methodology combines the forensic research techniques and writing style pioneered by Italian and French historians in the 1980s with the historiographical debates and questions raised by global and imperial historians in the last two decades. Practitioners of global micro-history intend to use the subjects of their research to challenge facile macro-narratives and assumptions while suggesting new insights and proposing new ways of understanding imperialism and globalization. This is what I set out to do when I wrote about the three George Smiths. I was very fortunate to be trained in an academic environment where a number of practitioners of microhistory and global microhistory, including Jonathan Spence, Keith Wrightson, Francesca Trivellato, Robert Harms, and John Demos, demonstrated the potential of weaving narrative and analysis together while transcending the artificial boundaries between the social and political, the cultural and economic.

With respect to including more Chinese voices in the telling of this history, I wish that had been possible. Sadly, the Hong merchants of 18th-century Canton (Guangzhou), with whom the George Smiths and other traders like them had intimate economic and social dealings, left few records behind. Although they certainly kept records, most did not survive. I relied on Chinese state papers because these are what exist, but perhaps one day some careful sleuthing will uncover hitherto unknown materials.