Korean Studies research at the US National Archives – by John G. Grisafi

This blog post is about my experience using my first academic research grant for a trip to the National Archives at College Park, MD. The motivations for this are a desire to record my experience to inform others and for reference, to provide clear explanation of my usage of the research grant, and the result of inspiration from Professor Jolyon Thomas, who wrote an article on his own experiences using the archives, which has helped guide me in my endeavor.

The purpose of my archival research was to examine documents from the United States military occupations of Korea (1945-48) and Japan (1945-52) revealing information relevant to religious affairs in Korea at the time. This research was supported by a graduate research grant from the James Joo-Jin Kim Program in Korean Studies. The abstract from my grant proposal is on the program’s website.

Some preparation was required before making the trip to the Archives. Having Professor Thomas’s article and additional advice made this much easier. He confirmed that he had seen some Korea-related material during his own research, giving me a starting point and confidence I would find something relevant to my topic. Using the National Archives’ website, as Professor Thomas showed me, I was able to find starting points as to which records I would examine. This is helpful to get an idea of what types of records exist and where, but further work needs to be done at the Archives to locate records. This is done with the help of archivists in the consultation room.

I purchased a lightweight, portable flatbed scanner to make scans of documents for later study. The Archives do not allow usage of the type of scanner in which the paper must be fed through it, as it may damage the document. The scanner I purchased, using part of my research grant, is an Epson Perfection V39. I chose this one because it is a flatbed, very lightweight, and not much bigger than my laptop and so easy to carry around. Another positive feature is that this scanner does not require an independent power source and gets it power through the USB connection to the computer. The desks in the Archives’ research room have multiple outlets, but it was nice to have fewer cords taking up space on the desk and to carry with me.

Getting to the archives and finding my way around was not difficult. Since I stayed a hotel in College Park and traveled to the area by train, I had to rely on public transportation to get to and from the archives. Using a car would simplify things a bit by allowing me to arrive and leave on my own schedule, but the buses run frequently enough and go right to the archives. The very lightweight scanner I purchased made it easier to use public transportation, as it the weight was barely noticeable. You may take bags, jackets, and other personal items with you to the archives but these must be secured in a locker in the basement of the building before you enter the research area.

On the first visit to the archives, a portion of the time is spent getting oriented officially and finding the desired documents for research. It takes about 20 minutes to go through official orientation and get your researchers ID card, as the National Archives website says. But it takes quite a bit more time to figure out what records you want to pull and request the record pull with an archivist. Between orientation, learning how to find and pull and records, and combing through binders to select the boxes I wanted to pull, I didn’t start actually looking at documents until after lunch on the first day. On the second day, I was able to spend the majority of the time looking through documents, having already established the first day where I would be looking. I did, however, revisit the consultation room upon arrival, both to find a few new locations of records to examine and to meet an archivist with interests similar to my own.

Scan of Headquarters, United States Army Forces in Korea, Office of the Military Governor, Bureau of Education, “Activities of the Section on Religions in the Bureau of Education since Military Government,” December 17, 1945, found in Record Group 331, Box 5773, Folder 9.

The actual act of going through records is a matter of patience, attention, and care, and willingness to work through a lot of material. Each box contains about a dozen or more folders (SCAP boxes are larger than most other boxes and contain closer to 20 folders) and each folder has numerous documents of varying number. You have to sit and look through the documents one folder at a time, sifting through less relevant and interesting material and sometimes duplicates to find documents you feel you need. I concentrated on merely identifying documents as of interest to me and my research, scanning them, and recording some basic information and moving on in order to maximize time and view more material. Using the scanner to save material for future examination seems the best strategy to me as it allows for most efficient use of time at the archives and permanent access to that material for research.

In the course of my archival research, I examined documents from portions of two record groups: Record Group 331: Records of Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters, World War II (hereafter RG 331); and Record Group 554: Records of General Headquarters, Far East Command, Supreme Commander, Allied Powers and United Nations Command (hereafter RG 554). Records examined from RG 331 were all from Civil Information & Education Section, Religion & Cultural Resources Division, Special Projects Branch, specifically Religious Research Data from 1945 to 1951. Records examined from RG 554 were all from United States Army Forces in Korea (USAFIK) from 1945 to 1949. I made 145 scans and took two photographs, producing a total of 147 pages of 69 documents reproduced in digital image form. I recorded 53 pages of 22 documents from Record Group 331 and 94 pages of 47 documents from Record Group 554. Many documents have numerous pages and requiring multiple scans. It is a good idea to bring a camera for this reason. Some documents, especially maps, are too large for most scanner beds and the National Archives prohibits scanning of documents if they must hang over the edge of the scanner, to avoid creasing or otherwise damaging them.

The findings from my archival research will support further research and writing on the topic of religious affairs in Korea in the colonial (1910-1945) and post-colonial occupation (1945-1948) periods. Particularly, the records I have examined and recorded reveal information regarding relations between the United States Army Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK) and missionaries, statistical information on religion in Korea in the colonial period, SCAP interpretation of and policy toward Shinto, and the state of religious research conducted by SCAP. Additionally, my experience of archival research and record of findings from this trip will enable me to conduct further lucrative research in the future. In fact, my only regret about my trip is that I did not stay longer and spend more time in the Archives.

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