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.

April 17, 2017

Train to Busan – Review by Mia Leyland

Being in Seoul during the Summer of 2016, it was difficult to escape talk of director Yeon Sang-ho’s (연상호) 2016 summer thriller, Train to Busan (부산행). However, as someone who is not an avid consumer of zombie movies, I deferred watching the movie until recently (when I could see it for free). However, after spending the 118 minutes engrossed in the plot and characters, I can say that Train to Busan deserves all of the credit it’s been given since its release. Starring Gong Yoo (공유), Jung Yu-mi (정유미), and Ma Dong-seok (마동석), the movie takes place on a train traveling the 453km from Seoul to Busan (as the title suggests) as the country is faced with a zombie apocalypse. The nation is swept into a state of emergency as passengers on the train begin receiving news of the virus-spreading zombies outdoors, only to discover the horror of the virus quickly spreading on board. Despite the movie exhibiting its fair share of blood and gore, it is coupled with natural character development that makes it difficult not to become attached to the main characters, causing me to shed a tear or two throughout the film.

In South Korea, the film made $34.3 million from 4.75 million admissions during opening week and was the first of 2016 to break 10 million movie theater goers. The film also boasts one of the highest single day earnings in Korean history at $9.9 million from 1.28 million admissions. Train to Busan became the sixth highest-grossing domestic film of all time in South Korea, and all of the hype surrounding the movie has not disappointed in ratings. The film has a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes with a critic consensus that “Train to Busan delivers a thrillingly unique – and purely entertaining – take on the zombie genre, with fully realized characters and plenty of social commentary to underscore the bursts of skillfully staged action.” Internationally, Train to Busan became the highest-grossing Korean film in Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

Bottom line, if you’re in the market for a well-made action thriller and don’t mind some zombie blood, check out Train to Busan. And the best part? It’s currently available on Netflix!

April 5, 2017

Trip to the DMZ: The 3rd Infiltration Tunnel – Blog Post by Mia Leyland

I had the pleasure of traveling to South Korea for spring break a few weeks ago and when my friend and I saw that our guesthouse offered a tour to the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), we knew we had to make the trip. The DMZ, about 30 miles from Seoul, is a strip of land dividing North and South Korea and functions as a buffer between the warring nations. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect from our visit when we first set out – maybe simply to learn a few things about how the DMZ functions on a daily basis and just be able to say that I saw North Korea – but I was eager to see some of the long-lasting results of what I had only discussed in classes in some tangible form. Our tour included visits to Imjingak Park, Dorasan Station (which once provided travel between North and South Korea by railway), Dora Observatory, and the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel.

The place that struck me the most was the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel (sorry, photos were not allowed here!). Although I cannot say it was the most exciting tourist destination, it was very impactful. The tunnel is one of four known tunnels extending beneath the border between North and South Korea. Discovered in October 1978, the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel sits just a mere 27 miles from Seoul. Our visit to the tunnel began with a rather dramatized 10-minute film spewing facts about the tunnel, after which we were given the opportunity to walk through a portion of the actual tunnel. We were given hard hats and told to walk down a steep hill running 350m until we reached 73m below ground to an open stone tunnel, short in stature. My 5’3” was barely short enough to walk through the tunnel standing straight, and I often found myself hunching over to make sure my head was not hitting the ceiling. The tunnel was dark, damp, small, and frankly speaking, not too thrilling. You get to the end, which is blocked off by a wall with a small opening through which everyone was clamoring to get a peek. On the other side is a small room with another similar wall and opening. Walking back the way we came and 350m uphill, I found myself thinking “Is this it? I exhausted myself to see a small window and a wall?” But walking back up was also a time of reflection. I had belatedly learned that the walls actually mark the Military Demarcation Line, or the line that separates North Korea from South Korea, so I had really just walked up to the edge of North Korea. I found that fact both fascinating and alarming simply because I had not walked that far. In all of the time I have spent in South Korea, I have never once seriously considered a North Korean threat, but the reality showed the very real possibility of what could have happened had the tunnel not been discovered. As I walked back up, I recalled a rather chilling fact from the aforementioned video: there are believed to be up to dozens more tunnels like the four that have been discovered so far.

I do not mean to scare anyone who wants to visit South Korea, but for me, the visit to the DMZ served as a needed reminder that the war between the Koreas is far from over. It is easy to dismiss what is going on in the news because it seems somewhat removed from your daily life, but it is always good to be aware of the politics and history around you. While we did not have the time to visit the Joint Security Area on this trip, I look forward to such an opportunity in the future.

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.