우물 안 개구리


The North Flank Guard

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 1:40 pm Print

In politics, a direct attack is not always the most effective. One way to proceed is to target someone or something that is seen to represent a more extreme, a more pure representation of your opponent’s ideas and concentrate at least some of your efforts here. Let us call this the “politics of envelopment.” One of the most misguided responses to such a threat of a politics of envelopment, however, is what I will call a “flank guard” form of active defense. Alas, on the political left, and especially among those who, including myself, might be described as democratic socialists, this approach is all too common. The “left flank guard” often takes the form of a spirited defense of even the most indefensible extremes on our flank. The most common ways this is actually carried out is by means of evasion (of accusations), dramatic reversals (“On the contrary, you are the terrorist!”), distraction (“Look at those literacy rates!”), and good old fashioned omission of inconvenient truths.

With the end of the cold war, the “left flank guard” has mostly been deployed in the defense of authoritarian leaders who emit that nostalgic socialist scent (e.g. Venezuela), historical figures who are seen as worthy leaders of revolution but who lost in their struggle for power (e.g. Trotsky), or any resistance or liberation movement that is seen as the best current option for opposing some hated regime (e.g. Hamas). The important point to make here is that few of those in the left flank guard really believe that freedom of expression should be curtailed as it is in Venezuela, that enemies of the revolution should be mercilessly slaughtered, as did Trotsky, or that theocracy is a good supplement to generous social policies. Yet, for some reason, their defenders believe that the survival of our political cause requires us to take a stand and vigorously defend those whose oppressive policies and brutal violence often far outmatch those of our current opponents. I, on the other hand, find this tendency nothing short of repulsive, but more importantly, of no benefit to the cause of social justice.

In the academic world of Korean studies, we might call this phenomenon the “North flank guard,” because the form it takes is:

1) A mobilization of scholarly efforts against opposition to the North Korean regime or those who highlight its human rights issues.

2) A refusal to clearly acknowledge North Korean responsibility for the escalation of tensions at numerous points in the last few years. This treats North Korea as a passive force, reacting only to provocation, rather than as an active composite subject which carefully calculates the potential domestic and international gains to be made from any new crisis.

3) The minimization or sometimes omission of any mention or substantive detail of the oppressive characteristics of the North Korean regime.

4) The fallacious pursuit of a historical argument which seeks to trace all contemporary woes back to the sins of Japanese colonialism, or to US and Soviet military occupations. Let’s call this, “The argument of original imperial sin.”

In the next two postings, I want to introduce a few of the most recent examples of the “North flank guard” in action and why I find it deeply troubling.

The second and third postings:

The North Flank Guard: A Military Exercise Escalated into Artillery Exchange
The North Flank Guard: Everyday Life in North Korea


Now in Firefox: Korean Newspapers at the National Library

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:46 pm Print

I just heard from one of our fellow contributors here at Frog in a Well that the National Library of Korea now offers limited support for a variety of browsers! Up until now anyone trying to use any browser except Internet Explorer in the Windows operating system would not get far beyond the search component of the national library – a source of endless frustration for many of us who do not use Windows.

However, one can now view at least some (I have not confirmed this for all digital resources) of the scanned texts at the library using the “new viewer” (신규뷰어).

Visit, for example, the fantastic collection of rare pre- and postwar (despite what the header says) newspapers found here. I am able to view these without problem on both Firefox and Safari browsers.

Using the old search interface from the home page, default links to the original images or 원문 of old books that have been scanned by the library will also open in these browsers with the multi-browser new viewer if there is an brown icon of a book with no “won” image in it.

Many resources, including many pre-1945 Japanese language materials, however, seem to be blocked outside of the National library and certain partner libraries1 depending on the way one searches for that information.

I am very pleased to see this support and only hope they will also include support for printing (still IE only) and make sure that all their online resources will function. I also hope they will expand access to may items which clearly cannot be said to be protected by copyright from the colonial period, especially from the 1920s and earlier.

  1. I get the message blaming copyright restrictions: 접속하신 PC(IP:140. … )에서는 본 자료를 이용하실 수 없습니다. 본 자료는 저작권 관계로 국립중앙도서관 및 협약을 체결한 도서관 내의 지정된 PC에서만 이용하실 수 있습니다. Anyone else get access outside of Korea or in Korea but not at the National Library? I don’t know what libraries are included among the 협약을 체결한 도서관 outside of Korea, but here is a list of libraries within Korea where one can apparently get access. []


Once more, dear friends, into the breach….

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:26 am Print

Korea Center PavilionIn my first post here I said that I was going to be teaching a Korean history course for the first time: I lied. Or rather, I was scheduled to teach it, but the course didn’t make its minimum enrollment. However, the time has come to try again.

The last time I did this, I was going to focus it on upper-level undergrads and make it as much about primary sources as possible. The only four books I’d ordered were Korea Old and New: A History (Eckert, Lee, Lew, Robinson, Wagner), The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Korean Poetry, and the two volumes of the new Sources of Korean Tradition from Columbia.1 Ambitious and, apparently, off-putting in the extreme.

I’m torn, really, on the question of whether to teach a “Rice Paddies” style course — all of Korean history in a single semester — or break it up (as I have my China and Japan courses) into pre/post 1700 (and start with the later one, which should draw more students at first). If I teach the whole history, I might well keep the poetry — I do poetry in my China and Japan courses, and the Korean stuff is lively and diverse — but I can’t see using the Sources sets as-is. This time I want to pitch the course much more broadly, and draw in some of the business and language students — Koreans actually make up one of our largest groups of foreign students, and our business department has a long-standing interest in Korea — so that the course really does reach critical mass. So I’m thinking that the heavy dose of Columbia primary materials is probably not a great idea. That said, I prefer to have students read primary materials as much as possible, or ethnographic-style observations, or historical scholarship which evokes a clear and detailed recreation of a moment or era.

I’d love to hear thoughts from our readers about what works and what doesn’t, what’s come out recently that’s good for students, and especially if there are better textbooks at this point.

Update: I just ran across Kenneth Robinson’s Korean History Bibliography, which looks like a great starting place.

  1. Vol. 1: From Early Times Through the Sixteenth Century ; Vol. 2: From the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Centuries []


History Carnival #75: Semisesquicentennial! Terquasquigenary! Septuagesiquintennial!

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 11:16 pm Print

History Carnival Logo
Note: The History Carnival is still looking for a May 1st host, as well as hosts for the summer and beyond. Contact Sharon Howard (sharon$@$earlymodernweb$.$org$.$uk) to volunteer.

This is not a timed test, but you will be required to account for your periodization afterwards. This is not a graded exercise, as the answers are usually blatantly obvious or impossibly indeterminate. Whether this is a professional or recreational exercise is entirely between you, your cooler students, and your tenure committee.



December History Carnival Posted

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 9:20 am Print

The December History Carnival is up, and it includes a few Korea bits. Also lots of other neat stuff.


Online Registration For the Korean National Archives

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 10:05 am Print

I reported in my recent posting on the Korean National Archives that online registration for the site is broken for all non-Koreans.

This is unfortunate since the National Archives advertises that it is for “everyone” to use. Registration online is required for many of the services provided, including the printing of online documents (which in any case, seems to be broken), and the online requesting of materials and reservations for visits (not necessary, you can go directly there, but this feature was also broken when I tried it with Windows and Internet Explorer).

After reporting this problem to archivists at both the Daejeon and Seoul offices of the National Archives, they appear to have made it possible for foreigners to register. The original English language page (broken) that I reported on seems to have disappeared. Here’s how to register if you are not Korean:

1. Go to the new membership registration page here. You can also reach the page by going to the homepage for the Korean National Archives and pressing 회원가입 in the navigation bar.

2. Press 동의 for the licensing agreement

3. Next you will be presented with a screen that asks you to enter the citizen registration number that Koreans have but foreigners don’t. While there is nothing on this page that suggests this is possible, you do not have to enter anything into the fields for the name or registration number. Simply press the 다음에하기 button and fill out the form on the next page with you personal information and press 확인 when you are done.


The Korean National Archives

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:06 am Print

I just came back from a day at the Korean National Archives headquarters in Taejŏn (Daejeon) and thought I would share some details of the experience in case someone comes across this posting who will be making the trip down there at some point in the future. I also plan to get around to making a detailed entry on the East Asian Libraries and Archives wiki. Read on for the meat.


Colonial Period School Architectural Archive

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 5:46 am Print

Thanks to a posting at The Marmot’s Hole I learned about a project being undertaken by the National Archives to display a variety of information, archival documents, and media about school architecture during the colonial period. The project home page can be found here:

일제시기 학교건축도면 컬렉션

You can also read more about the 3D materials being put up related to Keijo Imperial University (경성제국대학). Whether in movies like “Radio Days,” commercials with people in colonial-period attire, or projects like this, I think there is a healthy trend of starting to reclaim the colonial period as part of Korean history rather than simply a black hole from which it emerged reborn.

On the technical side it was remarkable to discover that the whole site seems to work fine on non-IE browsers and on a Mac. I can only hope this is also a new trend since full operability with non-IE browsers is almost non-existant in Korea. In fact, one can see the Macintosh imprint on the website itself. Someone who has more time on their hands than I might want to send the project an email and let them know their web designers engaged in a little bit of artistic theft as they nabbed three Macintosh OS icons for their buttons:


Here you can see the icons for three Apple applications that come with every new computer: iMovie, iChat, and iPhoto. As Mac users may recognize, the designers decided to make a few changes to the iPhoto icon, perhaps because the palm tree in the background didn’t fit the website’s theme. Compare to the original here:



Korea Journal Blog

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:15 pm Print

The Korea Journal, which has for some time provided online access to its articles in PDF format has now added a weblog. The Korea Journal Blog has just started and Michael Hurt, of Scribblings of the Metropolitician fame, appears to be involved in the project. I hope that other journals do something similar, taking advantage of a medium which can help reach a much wider audience and encourage greater dialogue between the academic world and others interested in the study of Korea.


Announcement: East Asian Libraries and Archives Wiki

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 4:02 am Print

The Frog in a Well project is expanding. While we hope our three bilingual collaborative weblogs dedicated to the study of East Asian history will continue to develop and add more contributors, I would like to announce a new project that we are hosting here, the East Asian Libraries and Archives wiki, or EALA:

The East Asian Libraries and Archives Wiki

This wiki will serve as a central collection site for information about archives, libraries, museums, etc. in East Asia that are of potential interest for anyone doing research on or in East Asia. It will also include sections dedicated to other kinds of resources but its primary focus it to provide researchers with a good starting place and reference for information on sites they may be visiting. While many archives have websites, my experience has been that they vary significantly in quality, convenience, organization, and speed of access. Also, visitors to archives can often provide extremely useful information to future visitors that may not be of the kind you are likely to read on the archive’s official homepage. The two most important aspects of each archive entry will be: 1) Basic reference information that will help a researcher plan ahead for their visit and easily find links to more details 2) Provide a place where researchers may record their personal experiences in the archive. As a wiki, anyone will be able to edit the individual entries, update information that might be out of date, and record their own experiences.

The East Asian Libraries and Archives wiki was originally founded in 2003 and originally hosted in a similar form at Chinajapan.org. It was inspired by the Chinese archives website at UCSD which hosts a range of useful, if somewhat outdated information for students and scholars wanting to do research in the archives of China.

I hope that other students and scholars of East Asia will share some of their experiences and, as they conduct their own research will consider updating information available. You may read more about the site here, and there are numerous help files on how to edit and create pages on the site here. The wiki has links to a blank archive form (PDF, Word, and wiki formatted text) for convenient note taking on your visit. I have posted a few entries from my time in Japan, which I added to the original site in 2003-4. To get an idea of what kind of information entries can include, see for example the entries for International Library of Children’s Literature, the Ōya Sōichi Library, and the Yokohama Archives of History.

While it is off to a slow start, I would also like to take this opportunity to introduce the Frog in a Well Library, or the 문고, where we will host various primary documents related to the history of East Asia: The Frog in a Well Library

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