Historians characterize the early nineteenth-century arrival of Chinese “coolies” to the Americas as “the transition from slavery to free labor,” in which the abolition of slavery and the introduction of indentured labor comprised the conditions for the emergence of liberal political reason, connecting the rise of bourgeois political economic institutions in Europe and North America to plantations in the Atlantic and the Pacific. In this lecture, Lisa Lowe, Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of California, San Diego, will explore the 1840s-50s as a period of the ascendancy of “free trade,” the rubric under which Britain and the U.S. sought to “open” Chinese ports, observing that the “coolie” not only figured a new division of labor, but became a sign of the shift from colonial mercantilism to a new international trade in manufactured goods.
Lisa Lowe teaches in the departments of Comparative Literature, Ethnic Studies, and Critical Gender Studies at the University of California, San Diego. She studied European intellectual history at Stanford, and French literature and critical theory at UC Santa Cruz. Her research and teaching interests are French, British, and U.S. literatures, and the topic of Asian migration within European and American modernities. She has published books on orientalism, immigration, and culture within globalization.