Korea in Global History
“KOREA IN THE LONG NINETEENTH CENTURY – Korea and the Foreign Powers, 1850-1910”
The long nineteenth century has received renewed scholarly attention as a key transformative period in global history for its accelerated engagement between Europe, America, Asia and Africa. Well-known concepts such as “modernity” and “globalization” have been enriched by debates over the existence, causes, and consequences of a “great divergence” facilitated by the industrial revolution and expansive imperialism. History writing is no longer limited to telling the tale of the emerging nation-states but has turned into an exciting collaborative enterprise of understanding broader connections and conducting more comparative analysis. These joint efforts have led to academic crossing of geographic and thematic borders that once appeared insurmountable and have in such way enriched the academic field of history at large.
Within this grander (Western) world narrative of the nineteenth century the role of Korea still appears to be marginal, if it is considered at all. The aim of this proposed Heidelberg conference project is to bridge the gap between scholars of global or East Asian history and Korea specialists. One of the main academic problems is how to conceptualize the history of Korea within current historical frameworks and interpretations to introduce the specificities of the Korean case to a larger world audience. The planned conference will go back to revisit one of the central problems of modern Korean history with an emphasis on the global context, namely why Korea lost its national independence in the age of imperialism. This question has been asked before by several generations of Korea historians but we would like to pose it again considering the insights of global history and as a transnational collaborative effort of Korea specialists and historians whose primary research expertise may be on other world regions. By doing so, we want to reexamine Korea’s longer term development in the nineteenth century and its interaction with foreign powers and cultures especially during the second half of the nineteenth century. The aim is to include classical fields such as diplomatic, political, military and economic history but also to consider broader perspectives on society and culture in the redefinition of Korea’s place in the transformation of the emerging modern world.
To be sure, other academic workshops have already dealt with Korea in a broader and more global historical context. “The European Forum for Korean-Japanese History” has become one of the important initiatives in this regard. We are also aware of similar American activities that are reconsidering Korea’s historical relations with Japan, China or the United states. While there is also no doubt that our knowledge of Korea in the West has expanded through the proliferation of English-language scholarship in recent years, it is surprising how little we still know in Europe or the West about Korea in contrast even to the history of nineteenth-century of China or Japan. This conference is a major intellectual and institutional experiment. It aims to discuss the entangled history of Korea before 1910 through an extensive collaborative international effort.