Dr. Catherine Ladds won the Inaugural HKAH First Book Prize

Dr. Catherine Ladds, Assistant Professor of the History Department, is the winner of the inaugural Hong Kong Academy of the Humanities (HKAH) First Book Prize. Dr. Ladds was invited to give an address outlining the significance of the winning book, Empire Careers: Working for the Chinese Customs Service, 1854-1949 (Manchester: Manchester University Press in 2014), at an award ceremony hosted by the HKAH on 18 May 2015.


The prize is awarded annually by the HKAH for the best first book published by a humanities scholar in the early stages of his or her career in order to give recognition and encouragement to early career achievement among scholars of the humanities working in Hong Kong.


At the award ceremony, Prof. Clara Wing-chung Ho, Head of the History Department and Fellow of the HKAH, delivered an address introducing Dr. Ladds. In her speech, Prof. Ho described Dr. Ladds’ versatility and enthusiasm for scholarly research in her particular field of expertise. Moreover, she explained that Dr. Ladds’ winning book is based on groundbreaking analysis and meticulous archival research that recovers an important chapter in the history of the Customs Service. Prof. Ho also mentioned Dr. Ladds’ dedicated service and contributions to the Department, Faculty of Social Sciences and HKBU community. She stated that this award is a much-deserved recognition for Dr. Ladds and has brought true honor to the History Department.


Following the introduction by Prof. Ho, Dr. Ladds also gave an address outlining the significance of her winning book. In her book, she attempted to recover the history of the Chinese Customs Service by challenging a number of basic assumptions guiding previous studies. Using extensive archival research, she emphasised that the cosmopolitan personnel of the Customs reveals the complex interplay between local, national and imperial identities in the empire world. She also discussed how the experiences of the foreign staff were shaped by the changing political context in China, and imperial ideologies, networks and structures. Moreover, Dr. Ladds examined the professional triumphs and tribulations, social activities, private and family lives of 11,000 foreign nationals who worked for the Chinese Customs Service between 1854 and 1949 in order to show that China was not simply an 'outpost' of empire, but a place where multiple imperial trajectories converged, overlapped and competed.