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SOAS seminar: The Re-Organization of the Rural Economy in Modern Korea

The first, and possibly only, seminar of the new term:

Empire by Association: The Re-Organization of the Rural Economy in Modern Korea, 1870-1945

Dr Holly Stephens (University of Edinburgh)
Friday 26 April 2019, 5:15 – 7:00pm
SOAS Brunei Gallery Room B104 | Registration required via SOAS website


Empire by Association illustrationThe late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries were a period of massive upheaval in Korea, as unequal treaties, imperialism, and the opening of ports to new international trade combined to reshape Korean society. Yet, while the broad outline of colonial rule is well known, many questions remain over how the extension of colonial policies and economic change combined to alter the mundane transactions that lay at the heart of the rural economy. This presentation uses previously unexamined farmers’ diaries to reveal the experience of colonial rule in everyday life. In particular, I focus on the introduction of government-backed financial associations (kŭmyung chohap) in 1907 which competed with existing village-level organizations over the provision of credit. Access to credit was a crucial component of the rural economy where farmers faced fluctuating incomes, seasonal patterns of production, and, in the worst case scenario, famine or unforeseen large expenses. I argue that the new strategies adopted by the government-backed financial associations to manage information and risk created a tiered market for credit. In turn, the differential access to commercial markets and credit networks provided by the associations would accentuate the tensions between colonial initiatives and local interests within the changing economy.

Speaker Biography

Holly Stephens is Lecturer in Japanese and Korean Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Previously, she was a Postdoctoral Associate at the Council on East Asian Studies at Yale University. She received her Ph.D. in History from the University of Pennsylvania in 2017. Her current monograph project, Empire by Association: The Re-Organization of the Rural Economy in Modern Korea, 1870-1945, traces the formation and operation of a series of agricultural organizations that linked Korean farmers to regional and global markets as new ideas about the state’s role in the economy and the adoption of scientific farming methods combined to transform agricultural production.

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