우물 안 개구리


Henny Savenije’s Korea Website

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 2:45 am Print

I’ll continue posting on Western perceptions of Korea here at Frog in a Well throughout the week. I have at least seven parts planned for it. In the meantime, those interested in even earlier visitors to Korea should definitely visit Henny Savenije’s webpage.

Henny Savenije has written extensively about and translated materials related to Hendrick Hamel who wrote about Korea as early as 1666. Equally interesting is a collection of scanned pictures on the site from old books on Korea.

Finally, also relevant to the series of postings here at Frog in a Well this week is a full unabridged article by Savenije in Korean Culture in 2000 called “Korea through Western Cartographic Eyes.” Read the whole article online, and view the large number of scanned maps here and here.

Finding Korea Related Images Online

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 2:05 am Print

Traffic Postcard - Boston Museum of Fine Arts There are lots of great places online to find images related to Korea. While I’m still looking for a good website which compiles links to some of the many fine online image databases out there, I’ll just mention two places I have enjoyed so far. The image shown here (original) is a rather bizarre 1926 postcard showing Japanese colonial traffic statistics in Korea found on the Boston Museum of Fine Arts web page. You can run a search there for a keyword like Korea.

I found a second source, which has many photos of various Korean cultural objects thanks to Professor Sunjoo Kim here at Harvard. In a posting to the Koreanstudies mailing list she notes that Roger Marshutz had donated lots of photographs to the Peabody museum of Archaelogy and Ethnology.

Visit the Peabody website and run a search for “Korea” in the “keyword” field, which will return over 1500 photos that can be viewed or refined with further searches.


Self-Introduction: Owen Miller

Filed under: — Owen @ 4:48 am Print

Greetings. I’m a PhD student at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University. I am approaching the end of my PhD, or at least the beginning of the end. The topic of my thesis is merchants and government the late Chosŏn period. More specifically, the political economy of a silk merchants’ guild in the late nineteenth century Seoul.

From nineteenth century economic history, my interests broaden out in a number of different directions. In terms of modern history I’m particularly interested in the social and economic history of North Korea as well as the formation of nationalist narratives in North and South Korea and the development of social movements and the left on the Korean peninsula from the 1920s through to the present day.

I’m also very interested in historical theory and its application to East Asian history as part of the general project for the universalisation and de-[euro]centralisation of human history. In this context, I’ve written in the past about Korean Marxist historiography and its limitations. I hope to introduce here some semi-formed thoughts on historical theory and Korean history on which people will hopefully want to comment.

Of course, I’m also fascinated by Korean nationalism and nationalist historiography – who wouldn’t be when it comes to Korean history?

You can find my personal blog on the sidebar of this site where I will continue posting somewhat more polemical, political, non-historical, non-Korea-related and occasionally personal entries. I will try not to double-post to the two blogs, but on occasion I may recycle material from one to the other so similar posts might appear.

Early Western Perceptions of Koreans: Part III – Of Labor and Laziness

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 3:02 am Print

In Gale- Korean Sketches p9 Western visitors to late 19th century and colonial Korea often write about the Korean worker’s laziness, or at least a profound indifference to their labor. As we shall see in a future posting, the same theme runs throughout Japanese writings on Korea. In both cases, this quality is often attributed to some inherently inferior quality of the Korean character, but as we shall note below, there are exceptions.

When reading such accounts, it is especially useful to think about what such descriptions might have in common with other traveller accounts, both contemporary to these and in our own times, about the laboring classes in other places. For example, how are laborers described by visitors to places like Egypt, India, or even outside of the “Orient” in places like Southern and Eastern Europe. We might also compare the writings to descriptions of immigrant workers, where we might find both the trope of the “hard-working immigrant” as well as that of the “lazy immigrant welfare leech.”


Early Western Perceptions of Koreans: Part II – Education and the Yangban Class

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 4:14 pm Print

Underwoodp p193 "Writing with a native teacher"
Western visitors to Korea are struck by the idleness and corruption of the Yangban class. While many of them live in considerable poverty at this point, and their ranks have expanded well beyond the restrictive membership of earlier periods, they are generally described in the most critical manner.

The unenlightened state and aversion to any form of physical labor among the Yangban is seen by most as one of the central obstacles to civilization in Korea. Whereas the theme of laziness and indifference to productive labor is a common one in travel literature and it frequently refers to Korean coolies and the Korean people (See Part III in this series of postings), the Yangban class, and especially the education system are seen in the most unforgiving light.

Self-Introduction: Remco Breuker

Filed under: — Remco Breuker @ 10:59 am Print

My name is Remco Breuker. I am very excited to be part of this new weblog on Korean history. I am finishing up a Ph.D. on medieval Korean history, more specifically, the emergence of a nation during the early Koryŏ period (918-1170). My research interest primarily lie in pre-modern Korean history, nation and identity formation, historiography and, more contemporarily, Korean cinema. I am further interested in such things as (the translation of) modern Korean literature, contemporary Korean history and the history of Manchuria.

My background is in Japanese Studies, but already during my MA I leaned more and more towards Korean Studies until I decided to do my Ph.D. on Korean history. I have spent altogether five years in Korea, doing research and pursuing graduate studies in Korean history. I welcome the creation of a blog such as this; to be able to exchange information, research, views and comments on Korean history in an East Asian context will be very stimulating. I strongly believe in approaching Korean history both from within the peninsula and from without. Contemporary political issues, such as Japan’s war past or the Chinese-Korean dispute about the status of the historical legacy of Koguryŏ, make it very clear that none of the East Asian countries can or should be studied in isolation. This is as much true for pre-modern East Asia. Despite the influence of national historical narratives that understandably focus on the own nation, historians should try to avoid an altogether exclusive focus on the nation. This is one of the reasons why I am very interested in frontiers on the Korean peninsula, in particular the northern frontier that for centuries both symbolically and physically separated the states on the Korean peninsula from those in Manchuria.

I am looking forward to becoming a regular contributor to this blog and share and learn as much as possible. The fact that this blog welcomes postings in Korean is, I think, very important. It provides a chance to bring together two academic worlds which regrettably tend to follow rather separate trajectories into closer and more frequent contact. I am very happy to be part of this.


Early Western Perceptions of Koreans: Part I – Introduction

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 4:11 am Print

What did visitors to late Chosŏn and colonial Korea have to say about the people and society they found there? When seen through the lens of imperialism and all of the racist or essentializing habits of that period, what might we recognize in the language and generalizations of our own time?

There is a vast and growing academic literature looking at these cross-cultural encounters, and at the many recorded descriptions and analyses of distant peoples to be found in the form of travel writings, diaries, and the anthropologist’s ethnography. From this scholars are finding new and exciting ways to understand the way that empire is justified and maintained but also explore better confront the perils of describing that which is foreign to us.

In the case of primary works related to Korea we can find the Western visitor judging their host culture by the concepts of race, religion, and enlightenment civilization that they bring with them, but anyone reading their writing cannot help but note the heavy presence of Japan and indeed a kind of “Japanese filter” in much of writing from this period. Long before annexation in 1910 or the establishment of the protectorate in 1905, Japan was effective in convincing many Western visitors to Korea of its noble and civilizing intentions, if they occasionally failed to impress them with their attempts to force reforms on King Kojong’s court.

In a series of postings here at Frog in a Well, I’m going to share some passages from contemporary travel accounts which capture some of views about Koreans held by visitors in Korea which appear frequently in the writings I have looked over for this little project.


Searching Google Print for Old Books on Korea

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 4:24 pm Print

Google print, which is scanning thousands of books in major research libraries, is useful when you want to scan across many English language books for terms. It only offers you a few pages, but will show you all the hits for words in given books, the pages they are on, and what pages surround them. Many books are not yet available, and you will find that some important books on East Asian history, both old and new are frustratingly missing will less common works are there. However, instead of going to the index of books you own, if it is on Google Print we have an increasingly quick alternative to consulting indexes.

For example, didn’t Wayne Patterson’s first book on Korean immigration to Hawaii talk quite a bit about Yun Ch’i Ho’s visit to Hawaii and his inspection of life and labor conditions on the sugar plantations? Ah yes, after searching with “wayne patterson korean immigration” and then choosing his first book, I searched for “Yun Ch’i Ho” within the book and Google Print returns about 35 page references. I can then login to my google account and view some of these pages.

Now, most of us know that Google has also been scanning lots of books no longer protected under copyright. Thanks to this announcement, it is easier for me to get at them.

Go to Google Print and search for Japan related books, for example, with this search term:

korea date:1500-1923

You might also want to try “corea” and you can also use other search elements to limit by author for example (eg. author:smith) or title (eg. intitle:language).

This could develop into a very useful searching tool for us in the future, since every page of these public domain books can be searched and viewed through google.

Update: See more interesting examples of old google print text searching over at Cliopatria.


Self-Introduction: Jonathan Dresner

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:31 am Print

I’m very grateful to Konrad for including me in this project. I’ve really enjoyed blogging in the Japan and China Frogs and I’m looking forward to this one as well. These are really ambitious projects, extending academic blogging into East Asian History, and vice versa, in what I hope will be very productive ways. These blogs have the potential to not just supplement our communications within our disciplines, but to bring new audiences and to challenge our conventional historiographical boundaries. For an example, check out the Korean-Japanese topics from the Japan blog.

This is what really interests me about being part of the Korean and Chinese blogs. I’m a Japanese historian by trade and training, but I’ve become increasingly dissatisfied, intellectually and pedagogically, with the conventional “national history” tropes. I’m particularly interested in greater integration of Korean and Japanese histories. It’s not just the frequent points of intersection and conflict (premodern migration, Paekche/Yamato cultural influences, Mongol Invasions, Hideyoshi Wars, colonial era; trade throughout history) but also their very different cultural trajectories. They faced some very similar challenges (Chinese empires, Mongols, the modern West; local/central authority, warrior traditions) and ideas (Confucianism, Buddhism, Christianity, imperialism) and almost invariably their paths diverge. I think studying those “choice points” in comparison rather than in the relative isolation of national historiography would be extremely fruitful.

My dream (i.e. a project to be taken up after tenure) is to produce a balanced and integrated Korean-Japanese history. One that’s not too China-heavy but rather takes China as a given that both societies interact with in different ways at different times. I’ve got a long way to go on this project. I already have started teaching the two countries together in my World History surveys. I’m taking a big step next semester: I’m teaching an undergraduate seminar on Korean History through Primary Sources which is the first step towards developing a stand-alone Korean history survey (if there’s sufficient student interest, which I doubt in the short term, I’d probably expand this to two semesters; I’ve expanded the China and Japan surveys to three semesters each). This will force me to work through the materials, gain facility with the history. I’ve taught Korean history before, as part of East Asian surveys, but never in this kind of depth. It’ll be a challenge, but I’m really looking forward to it.

I’m sure a great deal of my posting here will be in the form of questions and confusions. I hope that putting my ignorance on display (and, as Konrad notes below, the very name of the site evokes the limits of our knowledge) will not only draw in those who know more than I, but also embolden others to extend their teaching and learning into new directions.

Self-Introduction: K. M. Lawson

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 12:23 am Print

My name is Konrad Mitchell Lawson. I am in my second year of a PhD in history. My research interests relate to treason, traitors, and the aftermath of war in modern East Asia. I’m also very interested in issues of historiography, colonialism, and nationalism.

Before returning to history as a PhD student, I completed a masters degree in International Affairs and continued what was then primarily an interest in the history of Sino-Japanese relations as a research student in Tokyo for a year and a half. I have also spent a few years studying languages in China, Japan, and Korea. I have recently become much more interested in Korea and expect its history to become an increasingly central part of my graduate studies and future career.

I will be posting in English but feel free to comment in Korean or English. Though my Korean is still very poor, I welcome the challenge to my reading skills! For those who want to read more, you can visit my personal weblog here where I have had occasion to write about Korean history from time to time, mixed in with postings on Japan, China, and Norway. Finally, I am the host and administrator of Frog In a Well and welcome your comments on how to improve our project in the future.

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