July 13, 2017

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.

March 31, 2017

Dr. Andre Schmid – Reflections by John G. Grisafi

Professor Andre Schmid, University of Toronto, spoke at Penn on Tuesday, March 28, hosted by the Kim Program in Korean Studies. Prof. Schmid’s talk was titled “Is There A North Korean History Without Kim Il Sung?” Schmid said the title is an essential question which captures a very real doubt that he has harbored for many years as a historian of North Korea.

Telling the history of North Korea is certainly no easy task. Schmid said he once though it too difficult to do a history of North Korea. There was likely too much propaganda, too much Kim Il Sung, and not enough sources. But now Schmid is writing a book on the history of North Korea, focusing on socio-economics and issues of domesticity. Schmid said that with this project, he is trying to prove wrong his own previous assumptions.

There is an analytical conundrum in the study of North Korea, said Schmid. Our histories have a paradoxical tendency to reproduce in North Korea’s own framework. Observers of North Korea are often stuck in a mode of analysis which owes much to North Korean propaganda and the categorical modes of Cold War thinking. People are often obsessed with Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, and Kim Jong Un. We critique North Korea and its leadership cult, yet at the same time there is a pleasure taken in reveling at the bizarreness of North Korea. Schmid said it is bot much of an exaggeration to say that our histories of North Korea have pretty much become biographies of the three Kims. Even our periodization of North Korean history is based on their reigns. The nature and center of power in North Korea has become an a priori assumption.

Schmid discussed two examples of how to interpret North Korean history differently. His first example was the notion that North Korean subjects in the early years of North Korean history were unable to move freely or to “vote with their vote.” Officially, North Korean subjects could not choose where they lived in the 1950s and 1960s. This was presented by the state in terms of superior rationality of economic planning. But this was easier said than done. Planners found that the population was actually quite elusive. In reality, people made their own determinations about where they wanted to live, factory managers chose who they wanted to hire, despite the regulations that were on the books, revealing the limits of state power. 30 percent of workers in the industrial and transport sectors of the economy in 1959 had moved outside the restrictions of official plans. Schmid cautioned of the basic historian’s fallacy of taking intentions to be actual outcomes. Just because Kim Il Sung proclaimed something does not mean it was actually carried out.

The second example Schmid gave was consumption and material culture. Early discussion in North Korean literature of material culture is focused away from consumption and rationalized through linkage to practical purposes and goals, such as the various functions curtains fulfill in the home. The focus was away from any suggestion of consumption for consumption’s sake. But a few publications go through a change and begin to discuss ways of decorating homes and discuss objects and household items for their own sake. Photos were published which featured homes and objects without showing people in the rooms or even Kim Il Sung photos on the walls. Photos, even those with people, showed more objects and more aspects of consumption and concern for material culture than was previously the case. Some publications even featured articles and photos about fashion.

Too often we think of North Korean ideology as being completely homogenous and uniform and only coming from the top down. Publications, though, reveal that there were other sources that informed North Korean ideology aside from the top-level sources. North Korea has a socio-cultural world beyond that proliferated by the top-level sources. Even before the end of the Cold War and the opening of Soviet archives, historians in the West began to poke holes in previous interpretations of the Stalinist period through the totalitarian model. The way we understood Stalin and the Stalinist period in the 1950s is completely different than the way we understand them today. Schmid argues that we can ask questions and begin to poke holes in the way we have understood North Korea. We can move away from being locked in Cold War categories and rethink the way we historicize North Korea.

February 20, 2017

Engaging in Korean Studies through non-Korea courses – blog by John G. Grisafi

Students interested in studying Korea may think that Penn has a relatively small number of courses on Korea – aside from language courses – when compared to China or Japan. There are certain semesters in which more courses are offered than in others and there appears to be rise in the number of variety of courses on Korea offered at Penn (which will hopefully continue) but it is still likely that many students feel there the opportunities to be limited. Fortunately, in my time at Penn I have found opportunities to engage in Korean Studies in courses that are not specifically focused on Korea.

There are, in my experience, a few different ways to categorize courses in terms of how their content relates to Korean Studies as well as how you as a student can choose to engage with them. I can organize the courses I have taken (and which are applicable to this topic) into three categories based on relevance of content to Korean Studies. In addition to that, many courses offer a variety of opportunities to more specifically engage with Korean Studies through choices made by the students regarding assignments.

The first of my three categories is courses which provide knowledge relevant to and sometimes concerning Korea through the study of cultures or topics which intersect with Korea. Examples include the introductory survey courses on China (EALC 001) and Japan (EALC 002). In addition to the fact that Korea or events that historically involved Korea may be discussed in the course, these introductory courses in China and Japan are, in my opinion, necessary for scholars of Korea in acquiring basic knowledge of the nations and cultures neighboring Korea and which have had significant influence and impact upon Korea.

The second category is that of more advanced courses such as China and the World: Modern Times (HIST 394), The Politics of Shinto (EALC 253). Each of these courses teaches much about a topic relevant to Korea but not specifically about Korea and only occasionally or briefly makes reference to Korea. HIST 394, taught by Dr. Arthur Waldron, provides much content on China and its relations with the world in the twentieth century. This information provides historical and cultural context relevant to Korea as well concepts and theories applicable to Korean Studies. Additionally, the course content occasionally directly discusses interactions with Korea. EALC 253, taught by Dr. Jolyon Thomas, teaches much about topics which do affect Korea from time to time historically, particularly in the period of Japanese colonization of Korea. I will say more about both of these courses below.

The third category is courses which have some portion focusing on to Korea as part of a larger curriculum about multiple countries or regions or repeatedly discuss Korea as part of region or theme. Examples include Global History of Communism (HIST 202), Sects in Violence in East Asia (EALC 207/607), and Cross-Cultural Relations in Ancient East Asia (EALC 140/540). HIST 202, taught by Dr. Alex Hazanov, discusses Communism in East Asia, including Korea for a portion of the course. This course also has elements of the second category in that an understanding of Communism and its history is quite useful for understanding Communism in context of Korea. EALC 140/540, taught by Dr. Yoko Nishimura, focuses on the study of ancient East Asian cultures, including linguistics, genetics, written records, and material culture such as pottery and other artifacts. Interaction of people and states is a major theme of this course and it provides much knowledge on early Korean history and also familiarizes students with the different types of evidence and methods through which this period can by studied. I cannot yet explain much about the Korea-related content of EALC 207/607, taught by Dr. Thomas, as I am still taking that course but I do know one of the assigned books (Laurel Kendall, Shamans, Nostalgias, and the IMF) is about contemporary South Korea.

I have additionally been able to further engage in the study of Korea beyond the material directly taught by the instructors of the courses by, when relevant and within reason, choosing a research topic pertaining to Korea. I have done this so far in four courses which were not specifically Korea content courses: HIST 394 (China and the World), HIST 202 (Global History of Communism), EALC 140/540 (Cross-Cultural Relations of Ancient East Asia), and EALC 253 (Politics of Shinto). In HIST 394, my final paper discussed China’s role in the Korean War with an emphasis on China’s objectives and strategy. This allowed to me examine the war and China’s participation through a China-centered approach rather than the Korea or Western-centered approaches with which I was previously more familiar. In HIST 202, my research paper was on the “Soviet-based Korean Communist Movement beyond Kim Il Sung.” This paper allowed me to explore the history of Korean Communist groups before and beyond Kim Il Sung’s Partisan faction and the impacts of Soviet and Comintern policies on these groups. In EALC 140/540, I wrote my final paper on the Proto-Three Kingdoms Period of Korea, examining the historiography and adding a geographic analysis. A project that has personally been especially intellectual and academically rewarding for me, though, is the one that began in EALC 253. For that course, I wrote a research paper on Shinto in Colonial Korea. That paper led to my participation in Dr. Thomas’s Shinto Symposium here at Penn in September 2016, where I presented my work alongside classmates as well as professors from various institutions.

That final example, I think, demonstrates a particular benefit of engaging in Korean Studies in courses covering a range of topics. By studying Korea through varying approaches and in context of different topics, we as scholars of Korea can learn more and discover novel ways to study and discuss Korea. Additionally, I have found that my professors typically appreciate having scholars of different specialization in their courses and incorporating their own interests into the class discussions and assignments. This is not to say that a scholar of Korea should always be thinking only about Korea, but rather that we should be mindful of connections between fields and subjects of study as well as opportunities for new research and discourse related to our respective interests.

February 15, 2017

Dr. Hyun Jae Yoo – reflections by John Grisafi

Dr. Hyun Jae Yoo, Research Fellow of Kyujanggak Institute for Korean Studies at Seoul National University and visiting scholar in the James Joo-Jin Kim Program in Korean Studies, gave a lecture on Tuesday, January 31, 2017 as part of the Korean Studies Colloquium. He spoke about “Circulation of Coins in East Asia: 1650-1800.”

The first Kim Program lecture of the Spring 2017 semester, “Circulation of Coins in East Asia: 1650-1800,” was given by Hyun Jae Yoo, a research fellow of the Kyujanggak Institute for Korean Studies at Seoul National University and a visiting scholar in Penn’s Kim Program in Korean Studies. Introducing Yoo, Dr. Eugene Park, director of the Kim Program, explained that this talk was somewhat out of the ordinary for two reasons. The first was that it is relatively uncommon to hear a talk on the economic history of early modern Korea. Second was that it is also relatively rare to have a talk by a speaker from a non-Anglophone country comfortable enough speaking English to give such a lecture.

Yoo began his lecture by reviewing some of the history of currency. He explained that traditionally, barter systems were acceptable for conducting trade when there was a “double coincidence of wants.” But when this is lacking, it is necessary to have some sort of medium of exchange. This, according to Yoo, is the commonly-held theory for explaining the origin of coins. He then noted how some forms of currency have intrinsic value (for example, the material value of the metal in a coin) while other forms have designated value, which is usually indicated on the currency and must be backed up by a government or other entity for that value to have meaning. Early forms of metallic money in East Asia were not necessarily coins and came in various shapes, including what is known as “knife money” in Korea, roughly dagger-shaped pieces of bronze.
The design and composition of coins was also a topic of Yoo’s lecture. Coins in East Asia in this period were composed primarily of copper (60-70%) in an alloy with zinc (20-30%) and contained a negligible amount of lead. The process began with refinement of copper ore and then the melting of the copper before molding it into shape. The government of Chosŏn (1392-1910) Korea produced two types of coins this way. Round coins were intended for domestic use while ingots were used for foreign trade. Korean coins at this time were stamped with characters which read “ever-normal circulating treasure,” signifying the status of the coins as legal tender for circulation regardless of date (unlike contemporary Chinese coins, which were stamped with the name of the imperial era in which they were minted).
But the primary objective of Yoo’s talk was answering the following question: “Why did East Asian countries mint coins despite such high costs of production?” (Yoo’s emphasis). According to Yoo, the value of a coin was not very high when factoring in the refining procedure, which was difficult and time-consuming for the government. The most expensive part of making coins, though, was the metal itself. Yoo said that the cost of raw materials made up 69% of the production cost of coins. Despite, or perhaps because of, the cost, coins were relatively uncommon in Chosŏn Korea. In the late 17th and early 19th centuries, there was, according to Yoo, a scarcity of metal coinage in Korea. Coins were thus not used in the majority of private transactions in when barter would suffice.
Why then, did Chosŏn Korea produce the coins? Yoo argues the most important usage of coinage in East Asia, particularly in Korea, was fiscal policy, to regulate prices in the economy or to issue currency to commoners and relieve economic hardship. Specifically, he explained that the exchange rate for silver to coins (that is, the amount of silver the government would pay out for coins) was significantly lower than that of either China or Japan. This allowed the government to make a profit off coinage, a practice known as seignorage. Thus, the state’s motivation for minting coins was not to so much to provide a medium of exchange for everyday economics, but so the that the government could influence trade and the economy.