Current Projects

“Digital / Humanities: New Media and Old Ways in South Korea”

Abstract: This article explores the divide between “the digital” and “the humanities” in South Korea. Academics in South Korea’s mainstream humanities departments, such as history, literature, and philosophy, enjoy access to an unusually high quantity of heritage sources in digital form, owing largely to the government of South Korea’s concerted push to digitize information since the late 1990s. However, the aggressive building of online resources has not inspired a “digital turn” in the humanities, let alone an interest in the impact of ICT and “the digital” on contemporary Korean society and culture. This indifference to “the digital” or what might be called a “digital/humanities divide” has a history going back to the 1980s when the Korean government and business leaders prepared for a post-industrial transition without drawing the interest of humanists and without expecting the nation’s remarkable success in ICT.

Bridging Korea Old and New: Re-Periodizing the History of Korea, Early Times to 1945

  • based on a panel presented at AAS 2014
  • drafts completed
  • being revised for publication

Abstract: This collection of essays outlines a new interpretative framework for examining the history of the Korean peninsula from the time of early state formation to liberation from Japanese colonial rule in 1945. The framework re-periodizes Korean history through an analysis of the changing dynamics between political centers and localities, resulting in four definable eras: from one marked by regional disparity until 1000 CE (Byington); to a period of two centralizing aristocratic orders between 1000 and 1550 (Cha); a turn toward administrative localization from around 1550 (Lee); and a period dominated by the attempts of three successive governments to re-establish stronger central control, between 1800 and 1945 (Stephens).

Currently in the field of Korean history, the evolutionist assumptions of the modernization paradigm have been called into question and many scholars have jettisoned macro-level structural and institutional studies in favor of micro-level social history. The panelists draw from such recent scholarship to propose a way of framing Korean history outside the narrow bounds of narratives of economic development, rapid industrialization, or democratic transitions. This synthesis, if successful and persuasive, will serve as a viable replacement to Marxian and Weberian interpretive schemes while also inviting new historical questions within the field. Presently, in the early twenty-first century, the capital and the provinces in both Koreas are once again experiencing a new period of divergence and questions continue to be raised about the political futures of North and South. The new framework should contribute historical insights to such ongoing and emerging phenomena across the peninsula.

“Confucianism in Koryŏ”

  • a chapter in A Sourcebook in Korean Philosophy
  • scheduled to be published in early 2016 by University of Hawai’i Press
  • manuscript due in early 2015

“The Prime Mover and Human Creativity in Eighteenth-Century Korea”

  • based on MA thesis
  • conceptual stage

Upcoming Conferences

The Retreat of the Korean Peninsula from the Medieval World System

Abstract: This paper examines the retreat of the Korean peninsula from the medieval world system in the aftermath of Mongol rule. Between the fourth and twelfth centuries, coastal settlers in the Korean peninsula established official, private, and clandestine seaborne operations involving commodities such as books, intelligence documents, porcelain, religious paraphernalia, and slaves with cargo ships transporting goods in an extensive trade zone that encompassed east China, the Ryukyu Islands, Kyushu, and Cheju. As such, the course of history in early and medieval Korea was closely entwined with the enormous profit potential of Yellow Sea trade and the attendant necessity to invest in naval defense. In the ninth century, a provincial power broker built a transitory but powerful thalassocratic regime that capitalized on the dwindling hegemony of the Tang (618-907) and middle and late Silla (654-936). During the transition from Silla to Koryŏ (918-1392) in the following century, Wang Kŏn (877-943) whose base was located in the port city of Kaesŏng, ascended to power drawing on his mercantile and naval successes. He emerged victorious in the unification campaign that lasted between 892 and 936 owing to the opportune capture of islands and coastal cities of fiscal and naval importance.

The emergent post-Tang world of diplomatic parity in the eleventh and twelfth centuries substantially reordered the avenues of exchange in the Yellow Sea trade zone. In the early medieval era of Korean history, the Koryŏ court acquired considerable revenue from commerce and enthusiastically received the influx of foreign visitors in the Korean peninsula. Koryŏ’s involvement in trade in official capacity and the advent of xenophobic Neo-Classicist ideology in the Northern Song (960-1127) signaled the closing of extraterritorial enclaves that private Silla merchants had established in east China. Nonetheless, the trilateral configuration of northeast Asia between Northern Song, Koryŏ, and Liao (907-1125) allowed Koryŏ to reap tremendous gains as the middleman taking advantage of the two warring empires. However, the Mongol unification of the Eurasian continent in the thirteenth century would shatter this lucrative arrangement and the subsequent construction of the Grand Canal linking the political center in Beijing and the economic hubs in the Lower Yangzi would exclude the Korean peninsula, irreversibly until the turn of the twentieth century, from the continental world system throughout the late medieval and early modern eras. This paper will propose some working explanations, at multiple levels of social figuration, for the formation of this new economic order that sheds new light on our received understanding of historical developments in early modern Korea and in turn reveals insights into some of the particular but important workings of the early modern world system at its formative stage.


Korean History

Sino-Korean Interactions

The Digital Turn in the Humanities

History of ICT in South Korea
Data Visualization

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