Colonial city, global entanglements intra- and trans-imperial networks in George Town, 1786–193...

Bernard Z. Keo

The city of George Town, Penang has always been enmeshed in complex circulations of trade, people, and ideas. By the end of the nineteenth century, George Town developed a multicultural and polyglot society that included a kaleidoscopic mix of ethnic groups. This article investigates the role played by George Town’s cosmopolitan population in developing the port-city into a global hub for commercial, intellectual, and physical interchange. In particular, this article argues that the city’s success depended on intricate webs of personal and professional connections developed by George Town’s residents across Southeast Asia and beyond. It hones in on how one community, the Peranakan Chinese, built and leveraged networks across the British, Dutch, and Japanese Empires. By exploring these intra- and trans-imperial networks, this article makes the case for studying colonial cities like George Town not as passive nodes of empire but as active sites within overlapping imperial networks.