Friday, March 21, 2014

Teaching Modern Korean History

I love history. Even Mr. Jacobs couldn't cure me of my love of history. That high school teacher of mine may have taught me the lesson that blonds with big tits and few questions are preferred over super eager students like me, but I didn't blame history for my lazy, sexist, and relatively under-educated teacher.

During my MA I had a history teacher, Lew Young Ick, whom I previously wrote about on this blog (here). He actually lectured us like we were high school students and gave us quizzes and the sort of tests where you memorize a (*#%&) load of facts. But I never felt like he was anything but the best professor ever because his knowledge was so encyclopedic it was almost unreal. Due to his teaching style I sometimes felt slightly disregarded (he never treated us like emerging scholars), but I learned a TON and earned his respect, especially by the end of the second class I took with him.

It was his lectures that I was able to rely on in the years between then and now --- I still have typed notes from every class. The understanding I got from Professor Lew has structured my entire understanding of Korean history. And as I now teach Modern Korean History to my own students, I again turn to his lecture notes to form the outline for my own lecture. Then I fill in and flesh out what I am going to say based on reading from authors who are often more middle of the road or towards the left than uber-conservative Dr. Lew. However, in Korean history (ironically) I am something of a conservative. In Korean history being conservative means being able to go beyond a place of "Japan is evil" and "Korea would have become everything it was meant to be, including a liberal democracy independently and just as fast if Japan hadn't occupied Korea" -- this being the position of the liberal historians (also called nationalist historians and that gets confusing being nationalists in other areas of the world are the conservatives, not the liberals). So to be a conservative historian of Korean means that you can blame the US and Japan for the various phenomenally bad things they did (like occupying the country), but you can also more impartially admit that Japan did help modernize Korea, even if it motivated by a Japanese desire to make Korea into a more profitable colony.

The first full class we discussed Korea's new relationships with Japan and the US, and changing relations with China. The second full class was on the enlightenment movement, the failed Gapsin Coup, plus Russia and England. Next week we'll be discussing the Donghak Movement and basically bringing Korea from late 1880s to almost colonization.

It's an exciting time...
The Bobingsa Mission to the USA (note my bad-boy historical boyfriend 서광범 front second from the right)
Here's Seo Gwangbeom again. 


The last two kings, ahem, emperors of Korea


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