Teaching the Old China Trade: A 'Glocal' Approach in Early American Travelogues
What historian, enraptured with a new perspective or captivated by a fresh source, has not imagined inspiring his students with the excitement of intellectual discovery? Who among us has not at one time or another assumed that we could form a harmonious melding of our research and our teaching? And, who has not experienced the disappointment when this hope is dashed against the practical constraints of student consciousness that does not share our enthusiasm for studying the past, whether focused on getting the "A" or just getting by. It is so often a challenge to make the recent findings of knowledge and insight that are continually developed in the rich, diverse subfields of World History accessible across the breadth of student awareness. And, the more remote the geographical region, the broader the range of societies and peoples, the more different are the peoples whom we study from the everyday lives of our students, the greater is the challenge that a student will find relevance in our courses. The intellectual excitement that we feel in conceptualizing "big history" or "the great divergence" may be shared among the most exceptional of students, but the assumption that such thinking should find a ready audience across the breadth of a classroom is an often-unrealized dream.1
This dilemma is especially problematic in teaching World History. In these courses, students frequently complain that they feel assaulted with a plethora of facts that they perceive as irrelevant to their lives and career paths. That World History is often taught through the broad survey increases their sense of alienation.2 What is missing, students often lament, is an authentic sense of connection to the people who purportedly populate our studies. We teach history without the humanity, we are told. The world our students have lost, to paraphrase Peter Laslett's elegant phrase, is one which recounts the experiences of discovery, encounter, and engagement in ways with which they can identify.3
Unless one is fortunate enough to teach in a place such as Salem, Massachusetts. Here, in the site of the Old China Trade (1784–1844), we walk wharves that once berthed the Indiamen that crossed the Pacific to Sumatra, India, and Canton, we traverse streets that bear the names of men and women who "opened" the East to Americans, and we explore the museums where they stashed the silks and porcelains they called exotic. Here, one learns the benefits of a "glocal" approach that emphasizes the connections between one community (the "local") and the wider word (the "global"). And, here, we find caches of journals, diaries and ship's logs that recount the experience of encounter from the pens of men and women who voyaged "round the world." In these travelogues, our students find people much like themselves and from these early global travelers learn the themes of world history that we hope to foster.
Salem is a particularly rich storehouse of these teaching materials, but Salem is not unique. As a repository of recollections and remembrances, it is, in fact, quite representative of our ability to employ local sources to make the global connections that our students long to experience. In this essay, I would like to: 1) describe how I use the local to inscribe the global in courses on "The Old China Trade" and "Passages to India: America Encounters in the Subcontinent," and 2) demonstrate the ways in which virtually any community furnishes the materials through which we can make World History a course that feels especially relevant to the life of an undergraduate or secondary school student. The emphasis on personal experience that we find in travelogues points toward a first step in the process of recovering a global past. We can begin by raising questions about our students' consciousness. We can go beyond our assumptions about what students ought to be doing, and probe how they experience the teaching of World History and what they perceive in the materials we bring them.
Young Men and the Sea
What do our students see when we display the portraits of the travelers of whom they read? Who, exactly, are they seeing? Even World History instructors—sensitive to the challenges of cultural nuance—may assume that the images we introduce in a classroom infer obvious and universally understood meaning, and that our students are seeing in them the same things that we see. This assumption, however, rests on a fallacy. The portraiture of American travellers that fill our textbooks and PowerPoint lectures in a course on the China Trade or Indies Trade often reveals men at the end of their lives, at the height of their accomplishments, when they had achieved the station and finances to afford the services of a John Singleton Copley or Gilbert Stuart. Images such as that of Edward Carrington (1775–1843) or Elias Hasket Derby (1739–1799), resembling at best a grandfather or superannuated uncle, offer the student little with which to identify. Rarely do they capture travellers at the moment when they encountered the East, when they were young, untested, often poor and even desperate, just beginning to find their way in the world. Yet, ironically, the men and women whose journals we read mirrored the lives of our own students even more than their own later portraits suggest.4
These young men (and women) of the sea were just as young and inexperienced, and their journals often reveal the concerns of youth and recover the narratives of people, who, like our students, were struggling to make their way in the world. Thomas Handasyd Perkins (1764–1854) was just 23 when he sailed aboard Derby's Astrea for Canton. In 1818, Perkins called his nephew, Robert Bennet Forbes (1804–1889), to his factory in China—at age 13. There, Forbes was reacquainted with his cousin John Perkins Cushing (1787–1862), who was in charge of the Perkins China office—at age 16. Another member of Canton's expatriate community, William C. Hunter (1812–1891), arrived at Macao in 1829—at age 13. Dudley Leavitt Pickman (1779–1846) was a teenager when he went to work at the Salem Custom House. When he turned 20, he sailed for Madras as supercargo in John Crowninshield's Belisarius. At age 22, he voyaged to Sumatra, and at age 24 he sailed for Calcutta in the Derby. One journal with which my students feel a particular affinity is that of Harriett Low (1809–1877), who left Salem aboard the Sumatra, bound for Macao, on 29 May 1829—her 20th birthday. The relative youth of early American voyagers offers us an opportunity to make the experience of global encounter more immediate. Revealing the ages of world travelers, especially where these figures mirror our students' ages, opens the classroom to vicarious experience and enables students identify with the people they study. Recalling the gender of travellers such as Harriett Low and Rebecca Kinsman bridges another impediment.
The Experience of Travel
How do our students understand the experience of travel in the pre-modern world? Modern mobility in automobiles, jets, cruise ships, and Eurorail may seem onerous to today's comparatively pampered student traveler, but bears little relation to a six-month voyage in a caravel or Indiaman, much less a three-year circumnavigation through the Roaring Forties and Straits of Sunda. Here, an eighteenth-century ship's log can foster an appreciation for world history through the vicarious experience of a voyage to the East. For many students, William Rogers's log from the Tartar or Harriett Low's Macao journal contextualizes a student's own memories of travel within the real discomforts, and often terrors, of early overseas journeys. By invoking the wealth of sailors' journals, ships' logs, and travelers' diaries that are available, now more than ever in digital format, World History instructors have at hand the tools to bring alive the excitement and adventure of global encounters and that appeal to a broad swath of our student population.
The duration of an overseas voyage, so much a part of an earlier age of extended journeys and constrained communications, strikes many students as unfathomable. "That's longer than the semester," more than one student has observed. Similarly, many students find a certain bitter irony in the laments of loss and separation that fill early American travelogues, as Salem's mariners rarely loved the oceans on which they spent so much of their lives. Journal entries that frequently lament the "tedium and monotony of a voyage," as Joseph White described his voyage to Cochin China (Vietnam), and the "plaguy, nasty, heavy, crooked, ugly, good-for-nothing, sea," as Nathaniel Appleton did during a long voyage to Canton in 1799, resonate with students who are living away from home from the first time. When reading Captain Sandwith Drinker's complaint on a voyage to Arabia—"How I do detest the Ocean, a ship and every [thing] connected with them"—many students begin to appreciate the study of History as an effort to recover the voices of the past. They begin to appreciate world history in terms of quite personal narratives of discovery, encounter, struggle, loss, and, sometimes, redemption. Many, too, recognize the feelings of homesickness and alienation that could wear down a traveler's psychological defenses. They empathize with Harriett Low, who had approached her 1829 voyage to Macao with apprehension, and who soon was impatient even with the "tolerably pleasant" weather that brought "not wind enough" to speed the Sumatra to her destination. And, they lament, with Isaac Hinckley, on a course for India in the brig Reaper in 1810: "Oh God, I pray for a speedy passage from this to my friends."5
Mapping Stories: Salem's Citizens of the World
Maps are, of course, an essential device in teaching world history. Yet, here again, instructors may be prone to seeing cartography as scholars and not through the eyes of students, and may be oblivious, as well, to the chasm that separates these perceptions. It helps to recognize the ways in which pre-modern cartography is often inscrutable to people who grew up with GPS loaded onto their cell phones. Some students have travelled across the world to reach campus, while others rarely leave their own counties. Regardless, we need to ask: What do our students see in the places that we ask them to imagine in the classroom? "Where" exactly are they seeing?
is helpful to challenge our assumptions here, also, and to recognize the need to
vicariously transport a class to a distant place and time. One way is to
begin with a modern map of the campus environs (Google Earth is useful here),
exploding the conventional practice of beginning with a historical cartography
that accentuates the unfamiliar and, consequently, alienates that segment of
students for whom world history seems irrelevant. In teaching the Old
China Trade in a Salem classroom, for instance, the instructor can then overlay
period cartography, drawing on the maps and charts found in early gazetteers,
encyclopedias, and map collections (all accessible on the web). My
students find one map particularly useful in describing a maritime community
and in tracing expansive networks of familial and economic
interrelationship. This is Henry Noyes Otis's depiction of Salem in 1780.
When arrayed against portraits, ship's prints and logs, sailors'
journals, newspapers, and other forms of evidence that made up the traveler's
kit, the map allows an instructor to invoke narrative chains that render the
world history more relevant and personal.6
In describing the beginnings of America's engagement with the world, a 1784–1785 ship's log maintained by Captain Jonathan Ingersoll offers a useful connective device. Ingersoll commanded the first Salem ship to try the East, Elias Hasket Derby's Grand Turk. In discussing Ingersoll's log, I use the nexus of chronology and geography to challenge my class to appreciate this very early example of American global engagement. Derby's choice of Ingersoll as captain becomes clear from Otis's map: The maritime Ingersoll family knew the neighboring Derby's well, living just four streets away, growing up and working alongside them, and many in the class will appreciate this connection from their own first-hand experiences of working, going to school, or dining in the area. The juxtaposition of local geography and the vessel's nomenclature signified the emerging glocal connection to the East. The Turk departed Salem on 27 November 1784, nearly a year to the day that the United States secured its nationhood in the provisional Treaty of Paris and just months following the outbound voyages of the Empress of China to Canton and the United States to India. The instructor can inject a tone of immediacy in the narrative by drawing upon the Turk's extant journal, thereby incorporating the presence of Ingersoll's voice, and by employing a map of Table Bay, sketched by a sailor aboard another Derby vessel, the Light Horse, c. 1788.7
From Ingersoll's journey, students may glean insights into the experience of a voyage—the Turk's log very nicely reveals themes of distance, tedium, and uncertainty. In addition, the quotidian details of global commerce during the West's early modern period come through clearly, as the Turk's cargo of West Indies rum and sugar, Virginia tobacco, barrels of pork, beef, flour, and cheese, and $10,000 Spanish dollars were exchanged for 200 chests of teas and assortments of nankeen and sateen cloth.
Again, employing a glocal approach that traces the routes between local sites and distant destinations, juxtaposing travel accounts against early cartography, can explain what these distances meant to early American travelers. It took three months for the Grand Turk to reach Table Bay, anchoring off Cape Town in February 1785, and Ingersoll's log captures the challenges of finding wind, current, and provisions that each voyage entailed. In the log of the Belisarius, documenting the voyage from Salem to Madras and back, Captain Dudley Pickman emphasized the duration of the passage, noting, "September 11  arrived at Salem having run per log this passage, 13,950 miles." His voyage to Calcutta three years later in the Derby likewise culminated in the tally, "Distance this passage by log 14,583 miles."8
The mythology of a unitary China Trade dominates the history of early American encounters with the world, and travelogues can be used effectively to demythologize the dominant narrative. As Susan Bean and James Fichter observe, during the period, 1795–1805, US trade with India exceeded that of all the European nations together, as more American ships visited India than China, carrying principally cotton and silk textiles, as well as sugar, ginger, indigo, and drugs. The dimensions of this larger and more complex Indies trade comes though a travelogue such as the Journal containing Remarks and Observations during a Voyage to India maintained by 25 year-old supercargo William Augustus Rogers aboard the brigantine Tartar during its 1817–1818 voyage to Bombay.9
The merchant's voice not only reveals much about early global commerce, but also provides the instructor with a vehicle for making this knowledge accessible to our non-history majors such as students specializing in business or tourism. Travelogues such as Rogers's Journal of a Voyage to India have much to tell them about the minutiae of trade in the early modern period, from finding lodgings, to setting up shop, to locating a "banyan," or local intermediary. Because the Calcutta textile market was much more complex than the Canton system, with its intermediary pycars, gomastahs, peons, hiscarars, and sircars, they learn that hiring a capable banian or dubash was essential.
Like so many travelogues from this period, journals like Rogers offer us a glimpse into the nation when it was young, and many students find this view novel and the nationalism that weaves through it intriguing. As the Tartar made way for Calcutta in 1817, republican thoughts filled Rogers's head, and he reflected
Inflecting this nationalist reflection are Rogers's encounters with the indigenous peoples of India. Observing "many canoes of a singular construction filled with natives nearly naked [as they] came off to trade away their fruit," the Tartar's supercargo found the native people "honest, intelligent and good natured."
Rogers's world was a dangerous place, and the remains of hundreds of Salem men molder unmarked in graves around the globe. Even in the familiar waters of the Atlantic and Caribbean, death was a part of the ebbs and flows of maritime life, shaping the consciousness of communities such as Salem, but the South China Sea, Endeavor Straits, and Malacca Straits posed greater threats still. Rogers's final voyage ended not in Salem, but at Bangkok, on 1820 voyage to Batavia in the Trexel, when Rogers was washed from a houseboat during a gale. He was just 29.11
Harriet Low's travels to Manila, Macao, and Cape Town from 1829 through 1834 enable us to trace the development of the American response to its early encounters with the world. As a classroom tool, her nine-volume "private" journal is a rich source for both the scholar and instructor. We use it to trace the passing of an age, as Americans' initial flirtation with Enlightenment-style tolerance in their first contacts with the wider world surrendered to the concretization of racism during the antebellum period.
Low's journal makes this transition accessible because it opens a window for our students into the gaze of one whose age was contemporaneous to their own, and whose concerns quite closely reflect their own. Locating Low's childhood home on Crombie Street—today an alley that commuting students drive past daily—they express their astonishment that here lived someone who seems so much like themselves.
Low's account of her sojourns among the peoples of Asia, both indigenous and expatriate, highlights a common feature of travelogues that makes them especially effective sources for classroom inquiry. Her gaze upon the East provides opportunities for students to reflect deeply on moments of encounter, exploring the underlying assumptions she brought into her observations, inquiring into broad themes of the encounter experience and uncovering their own unexamined beliefs. Significantly, her journal entries create a particularly powerful vicarious experience. My students find it easy to imagine themselves with the Low family in their Brooklyn parlor in 1830, where the family had relocated after she sailed, reading, "I suppose you will like to know what I thought of a Malay and how my modesty could withstand such a shock, as to see a man unclad, but I agree with Bishop Heber in thinking their color serves as a covering." Beyond her nineteenth-century naiveté, Low's descriptions introduce a set of ideas that most students can easily critique as ethnocentric—and which they can describe as an emergent form of racism. So, when she writes, "They seem like a different race of beings," we explore the underlying attitudes that she formed toward the peoples of Africa, Asian, and elsewhere. When she writes from Macao, "One idea of the Chinese amuses me, that is that a vessel cannot go without eyes. They therefore have a large eye on each side of the bow which looks very singularly," they discern a humor, bordering on ridicule, that reflects the imposition of Western values on other cultures.
Travelogues such as Low's journals are useful for demythologizing early America's encounters with the world; yet, they enable us also to complicate conventional narratives of U.S. imperialism. My students are fascinated with constructions raised by post-colonial scholars such as Malini Johar Schueller and Estuko Taketani. Although Schueller does not address the China or Indies trade directly in U.S. Orientalisms, she astutely traces the origins of Orientalist discourse to the post-revolutionary period. In U.S. Women Writers and their Discourses, Taketani devotes an entire chapter to Low, framing her journal "as a culturally representative 'Orientalist' document" and indicting her as an example of "U.S. complicity in the Chinese opium trade." It is a charge that prompts many students, empathizing with someone whom they imagine to have been so like themselves, into inquiry. Not a few take exception to Tatekani's claim that Low describes her encounters in China landscape "with guilty secrecy." In fact, they point out, there is little secrecy in Low's candid, crude observations of Asian peoples.
Yet, the interpretive conflict does not give rise to a nationalist defense of Low or other American travelers to the East. Rather, my students' interrogation draws on insights from Schueller and Taketani to produce a sophisticated appreciation of the complications of ethnocentrism. Most come to appreciate the post-colonial critique, and I commonly read that 'evil flourishes when good men say nothing.' But, most students point out that Low's critique of Europeans was equally caustic. A favorite passage in classroom discussion is Low's assertion, "I will not judge," as she proceeds to condemn English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese expatriates with almost as much venom as she does Asian peoples. Catholics come in for the worst, and, indeed, the parallels between her constructions of Spanish Catholics and the Chinese, whether Confucian or Buddhist, are striking. They were all "a wretched set of people," whose practices were a "mockery . . . beyond every thing" of authentic religion." Low lambasted the hypocrisy she observed in Catholic Manila, claiming, "their Sunday seems no more like Sunday than this day. It is true they all go to Mass in the morning and confess, but they spend the rest of the day in frolicking." And, like her condemnations of the Celestial government, her diatribes against the administration of the Church were acidic. Both she saw as repressive and exploitative. Writing from Macao in March 1833, Low complained, "They have great power over the minds of these poor ignorant creatures, and from all accounts many of them are very unworthy of their charge. . . . Is it not horrid? Many such instances of oppression occur and it seems dreadful that such creatures should have such power." And, as with her observations of the mandarins of Canton and Macao, economic motives drove their repression: "The priests as in all Catholic countries exact large sums from those who are able to pay for their prayers and extort grievously from the poor." Among a student population that is largely Catholic, Low's vituperative condemnation of the Church casts her facile descriptions of Asia peoples in a new light—one that challenges their own worldviews.12
As noted above, Salem is a particularly rich site for uncovering world history materials, but it is not unique. Virtually any community—even those far inland and seemingly insular and insulated—may house travelogues for bringing the world into our classrooms. Many students may tell us that "nothing happened" in their little towns. Yet, an enterprising instructor can find published travelogues and private memoirs and journals in local and state historical societies, in specialized archives, and in the town history niche of a local library. Even in early America, one could find world travelers in the Green Mountains of Vermont some two hundreds miles from the Atlantic Ocean, as Captain Edmund Fanning learned in 1787 when a young man asked to join his vessel bound "t'other side of the world."13 As important, the men and women who travelled the world and left their accounts did not remain abroad, but populated the interior of the United States and frequently deposited their travel journals where they ended up. Margaret Creighton has observed that much of the crew of a nineteenth-century whaleship hoped their earnings would buy land well inland.14 America's first missionaries sailed to India in 1812, and the materials they constructed—too numerous to detail here—are scattered likewise throughout the country. Or, they have found their way into a maritime archive such as that of the Blunt White Library at Mystic Seaport.
Americans have encountered the world in a host of guises, as business people, immigrants and slaves, as soldiers and sailors, diplomats, and, of course, as tourists. More than a few have left their mark in print; yet, not every memory of foreign encounter is contained in a document. For the historian of the modern world, local archives hold a diverse trove of materials that can reveal much about the nature of global encounters. We find them as town, oral, or business histories. Likewise, missionary materials and veterans' accounts can complement the narratives of merchants and mariners. Soldiers' stories, for instance, can local communities to the wider world, and continue to do so as veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan return home. Interviews with business men and women may offer some insight into the global nature of modern management. Blogs and tweets from missionaries abroad can infuse a sense of global engagement interaction in a classroom.
Among the useful tools for a World History classroom are travelogues that describe the earliest American encounters across the globe. While this essay has mainly explored the value of ships' logs and travellers' journals in teaching a course on the Old China Trade in Essex County, Massachusetts, the application of a glocal approach to World History pedagogy is broad and flexible. It is likely that every campus community reveals some traces of global connections, and an instructor can likely locate materials in local historical societies and library archives. The most seemingly quotidian devices—street and family names, town histories and early maps, travelers' (including immigrants') accounts, and the like can foster a sense of relevance and immediacy that demystifies a world that for many students seems strangely "exotic" and "Oriental." If we recognize the principle that "it is important for students of world history to have a deep and nuanced understanding of each of the various cultures, states, and other entities that have been part of the vast mosaic of human history," it is incumbent on World History instructors to identify strategies that reach out to students whose experiences may be disconnected from the larger world. An approach that begins from a student's physical and psychological center, and through vicarious experience carries him or her out across the globe, can foster the understandings that world historian scholars hope to achieve.15
Dane A. Morrison is Professor of Early American History at Salem State University and a past President of the New England Regional World History Association. He is the author of A Praying People: Massachusett Acculturation and the Failure of the Puritan Mission, 1600–1690 (New York: Peter Lang, 1995) and co-editor of Salem: Place, Myth and Memory (Boston: Northeastern, 2003) and the Encyclopedia of World History, Vol. 6: The First Global Age (San Francisco: ABC-CLIO, 2010). His current research project, "True Yankees: The American 'Discovery' of the Eastern World," examines the first generation of Americans to encounter the peoples of the Pacific and Indian oceans. He can be reached at email@example.com.
1 Cliff Stratton, "Introduction: Teaching and Learning the Personal and the Present in World History," World History Bulletin, XXVIII No. 1, (Spring 2012): 6; David Dry, "Making the Local History Connection: Community Colleges, World History, and Distance Education," World History Bulletin, XXVIII No. 1, (Spring 2012): 8–9.
2 Thomas Bender, A Nation Among Nations: America's Place in World History (New York: Hill and Wang, 2006); Lawrence Peskin and Edmund F. Wehrle, America and the World: Culture, Commerce, Conflict (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 2011); and Rosemarie Zagarri, "The Significance of the 'Global Turn' for the Early American Republic: Globalization in the Age of Nation-Building," Journal of the Early Republic, 31 (Spring 2011): 1–37.
3 Peter Laslett, The World We Have Lost (Scribner's, 1965).
4 The phrase 'young men of the seas' is taken from Danny Vickers's excellent study, Young Men and the Sea: Yankee Seafarers in the Age of Sail (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005).
5 Nathaniel Appleton, journal of the ship Minerva (Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum); John White's History of a Voyage to the China Sea (Boston: Wells and Lilly, 1823), 2; Sandwith Drinker, A Private Journal of Events and Scenes at Sea and in India (Boston, 1990), 3–4; Harriet Low, Journal, 17 July 1829 (James Duncan Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum); Isaac Hinckley, quoted in Jacques M. Downs, The Golden Ghetto: The American Commercial Community at Canton and the Shaping of American China Policy, 1784–1844 (Bethlehem, PA: Lehigh University Press, 1997), 159.
6 Henry Noyse Otis, "Map of Salem About 1780," in James Duncan Phillips, Salem in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1969). Noyse drew his map in 1937.
7 Samuel Shaw, The Journals of Major Samuel Shaw, the First American Consul at Canton, ed. Josiah Quincy (Taipei: Ch'eng-Wen, 1968), 204.
8 Quoted in Susan S. Bean, Yankee India: American Commercial and Cultural Encounters with India in the Age of Sail, 1784–1860 (Salem, MA: Peabody Essex Museum, 2001), 107, 117.
9 Bean, Yankee India, 7, 17; James R. Fichter, So Great a Proffit: How the East Indies Trade Transformed Anglo-American Capitalism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010), passim.
10 William A. Rogers, quoted in Bean, Yankee India, 143–144.
11 Bean, Yankee India, 141.
12 Malani Johar Schueller, U.S. Orientalisms: Race, Nation, and Gender in Literature, 1790–1890 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998), viii–ix; Estuko Taketani, U.S. Women Writers and the Discourses of Colonialism, 1825–1861 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2003), 95; Low, Journal, 28 February 1830, 20 September 1829, and 17 March 1833.
13 Edmund Fanning, Voyages Round the World; with Selected Sketches of Voyages to the South Seas, North and South Pacific Oceans, China, etc., Performed under the Command and Agency of the Author. Also, Information Relating to Important Late Discoveries; between the Years 1792 and 1832, Together with the Report of the Commander of the First American Exploring Expedition, Patronised by the United States Government, in the Brigs Seraph and Annawan, to the Southern Hemisphere (New York: Collins & Hannay, 1833), 42–43.
14 Margaret S. Creighton, Rites & Passages: The Experience of American Whaling, 1830–1870 (Cambridge, ENG: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 41–46.
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