My Research

The United States has never existed in a vacuum. From the republic’s earliest years, Americans rarely saw themselves engaged solely in a North American, an Atlantic, or a Pacific realm. Instead, their world was vast, round, and interconnected – like ours. My research engages this lived reality by exploring how the practice of global commerce shaped American political economy during the nineteenth century. Reconstructing how commercial knowledge was created, communicated, and used to wield power, my work demonstrates how the conflicts that defined American politics were structured by the theory and practice of international trade. My research offers a new perspective on how economic ideas and practices mingled “foreign” and “domestic” issues together, and shows how international traffics in goods and people affected Americans’ relations with other powers, as well as their dealings with each other. Finally, my work sheds light on our current moment, illustrating how transnational movements shaped the United States from its very beginnings.

(For a full listing of my publications and projects, please see my c.v.)


Cover for Dael A. Norwood, Trading Freedom: How Trade with China Defined Early America, University of Chicago Press, 2022.

Trading Freedom: How Trade with China Defined Early America (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2022)

In Trading Freedom I argue that the conflicts that defined nineteenth-century American politics and statecraft – over sovereignty and slavery, free labor and immigration, economic development and imperial expansion – were all profoundly affected by Americans’ commerce with China. Trading Freedom proceeds chronologically, ranging from opening of a free passage of goods and people between the American republic and the Qing empire in the 1780s, to the closing of this free-flowing traffic in the Gilded Age a century later. As this periodization suggests, Americans’ trade with China was about more much than filling up tea cups. The demands of China’s markets took Americans around the world in search of silver specie and rare commodities, and involved them in the international circulation of capital, goods, and human labor that flowed in complex circuits running from Boston to Batavia, London to Lima, Shanghai to San Francisco, and near everywhere in between. As a result, the profits of Americans’ Asian trade depended as much on the navigation of credit networks and diplomatic protocols as they did on the management of ships and sails. Americans’ commerce with China, I conclude, required – and produced – a global perspective on political economy, one that deeply shaped the political and economic development of the United States from the beginning.

“An excellent, and much needed, account of China’s pivotal role in the US economy since the very inception of the Republic.” ―Amitav Ghosh, author of the Ibis Trilogy (Sea of Poppies, River of Smoke, Flood of Fire) and The Nutmeg’s Curse.

“An impressively ambitious book, surveying US commercial involvement with China from the departure of the Empress of China, which sailed from New York in 1784, to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Books on China and the United States in this period typically cover either trade or immigration—Trading Freedom is the rare book to tackle both.” ― Eliga Gould, University of New Hampshire

“Norwood’s wide-ranging and lively history of the early China trade is rich with insights about both the trade itself and how it changed Americans’ understanding of their own economic position in the world. Trading Freedom makes a compelling case for taking a much longer view of the United States’ evolving commercial relationship with China.” ― Caitlin Rosenthal, University of California, Berkeley

“Tightly written and cogently argued, Trading Freedom boldly reinterprets the dynamic and multifaceted trans-Pacific connection of the nineteenth century. In Norwood’s masterful telling, the China trade conditioned America’s experience of ‘free commerce’ globalization, as well as molded US political economy, often in unexpected ways. At a time in which it has never been more important to revisit the long history of US-China relations, this book is the best place to start.” ― Jay Sexton, University of Missouri

Trading Freedom media

The Beginnings of the “Businessman” (in progress)

How did “the chief business of the American people” become “business”? This project builds on my earlier work on the political economy of global commerce to investigate the emergence of the modern American “businessman” as a potent political identity during the long nineteenth century (c. 1780s-1920s). Attentive to the ways exclusions produce social power, this project explores how the “businessman” was created through restriction: how did being a “businessman” become tied to categories of whiteness, masculinity, and native birth? Departing from scholarship that locates the origins of modern American business culture in domestic industrial conglomerates, this project tracks the “businessman’s” ascent within a rising tide of international commerce: why did the “businessman” come to dominate U.S. political culture at the height of the first era of globalization? By examining how the discourses, institutions, and legal concepts created by international trade enabled “the businessman” to emerge as a powerful political identity in modern America, this book will explain how the structures of maritime commerce persisted even after large integrated industrial corporations had fundamentally reshaped the global economy – and why the “businessman” persona continues to have such power today.

Scholarly Articles & Book Chapters

“The Constitutional Consequences of Commercial Crisis: The Role of Trade Reconsidered in the ‘Critical Period,’” in Douglas Bradburn and Christopher R. Pearl, eds., From Independence to the US Constitution: Reconsidering the Critical Period of American History (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, April 2022)

Chapter 15: “The United States and Global Capitalism,” in Kristin Hoganson and Jay Sexton, eds., Cambridge History of America and the World, Volume II: 1812-1900,The Cambridge History of America and the World (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, March 2022)

The Constitutional Consequences of Commercial Crisis: The Role of Trade Reconsidered in the ‘Critical Period,’ ” Early American Studies 18, no. 4 (Fall 2020): 490–524, doi:10.1353/eam.2020.0014. (Honorable mention, Murrin Prize, 2021).

“What Counts? Political Economy, or Ways to Make Early America Add Up,” Journal of the Early Republic, 36, no. 4 (Winter 2016): 753-781,    

Public Writing

 “Troubled Waters: How Americans’ Trade with China Mixed Opium with Money,” Financial History 145 (Spring 2023): 24-27,

“Pacific World, Atlantic Assumptions,” The Panorama: Expansive Views from the Journal of the Early Republic (blog), May 17, 2022,

Text & Images for “Asa Whitney and the Transcontinental Railroad” Panels, Main Exhibit, Northwest Railway Museum (Snoqualmie, WA), September 2020

Co-author with Ariel Ron, “America Cannot Bear to Bring Back Indentured Servitude,” The Atlantic, March 28, 2018,

“Global Trade and Revolution: The Politics of Americans’ Commerce with China,” Uncommon Sense (blog), December 19, 2017,

 “China Trade,” in Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia (Camden, NJ: Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities, Rutgers-Camden Digital Studies Center, 2016),

“Peace and Amity, Treaty of/Kanagawa, Treaty of (1854),” and “Wanghia (Wangxia), Treaty of (1844),” in Imperialism and Expansionism in American History: A Social, Political, and Cultural Encyclopedia and Document Collection, ed. Chris J. Magoc and David Bernstein, 4 vols. (Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2015), 299-300, 324-326.

Contributor, “Mapping the State of the Union,” by Benjamin M. Schmidt and Arthur Mitchell Fraas, The Atlantic, January 18, 2015,

“Mr. Jefferson’s Mandarin: Or, a Controversial Promotion,” The Readex Report, November 2013,

“Lake Erie by Way of Guangzhou: Or, The Other Canal Boom,” The Readex Report, September 2012,

Review of Kendall Johnson, ed., Narratives of Free Trade: The Commercial Cultures of Early US-China Relations, H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews, November 2012,