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History books

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Literature and Cultural Identity during the Korean War: Comparing North and South Korean Writing
Jerôme de Wit
Bloomsbury, 2021

Through an in-depth analysis of wartime essays and literary works, Literature and Cultural Identity during the Korean War considers the similarities and differences in the way that writers from both North and South Korea perceived and experienced the conflict. In this book, Jerôme de Wit examines the social impact of major themes in the output […] (Link to online store)

Song of Arirang: The Story of a Korean Rebel Revolutionary in China
Kim San, Nym Wales tr Dongyoun Hwang
Kaya, 2021

From the publisher’s website: Song of Arirang tells the true story of Korean revolutionary Kim San (Jang Jirak), who left colonized Korea as a teenager to fight against Japanese imperialism and fought alongside Mao’s Red Army during the Chinese Revolution. First published in 1941, this remarkably intimate memoir (as told to the American journalist Nym […] (Link to online store)

Neo-Confucianism and Science in Korea: Humanity and Nature, 1706-1814
Ro Sang-ho
Routledge, 2021

From the publisher’s website: Historians of late premodern Korea have tended to regard it as a hermit kingdom, isolated from its neighbours and the wider world. In fact, as Ro argues in this book, Korean intellectuals were heavily influenced by both Chinese Neo-Confucianism and the European Enlightenment in the late 18th and 19th centuries. In […] (Link to online store)

Redemption and Regret: Modernizing Korea in the Writings of James Scarth Gale
James Scarth Gale
University of Toronto Press, 2021

From the publisher’s website: Edited by Daniel Pieper Redemption and Regret presents two previously unpublished typescripts of James Scarth Gale, a Canadian missionary to Korea for four decades (1888–1927). During his time in Korea, Gale developed into the foremost Western scholar of Korean history, language, and literature, completing the first translation of Korean literature into […] (Link to online store)

Empire and Righteous Nation: 600 Years of China-Korea Relations
Odd Arne Westad
Harvard, 2021

From the publisher’s website: From an award-winning historian, a concise overview of the deep and longstanding ties between China and the Koreas, providing an essential foundation for understanding East Asian geopolitics today. In a concise, trenchant overview, Odd Arne Westad explores the cultural and political relationship between China and the Koreas over the past 600 […] (Link to online store)

The Power of the Brush: Epistolary Practices in Chosŏn Korea
Hwisang Cho
University of Washington Press, 2020

The invention of an easily learned Korean alphabet in the mid-fifteenth century sparked an “epistolary revolution” in the following century as letter writing became an indispensable daily practice for elite men and women alike. The amount of correspondence increased exponentially as new epistolary networks were built among scholars and within families, and written culture created […] (Link to online store)

The Korean Vernacular Story: Telling Tales of Contemporary Choson in Sinographic Writing
Park Sinae
Columbia University Press, 2020

As the political, economic, and cultural center of Choson Korea, eighteenth-century Seoul epitomized a society in flux: It was a bustling, worldly metropolis into which things and people from all over the country flowed. In this book, Si Nae Park examines how the culture of Choson Seoul gave rise to a new vernacular narrative form […] (Link to online store)

The Diary of 1636: The Second Manchu Invasion of Korea
Na Man-gap tr George Kallander
Columbia University Press, 2020

Publisher description: Early in the seventeenth century, Northeast Asian politics hung in a delicate balance among the Chosŏn dynasty in Korea, the Ming in China, and the Manchu. When a Chosŏn faction realigned Korea with the Ming, the Manchu attacked in 1627 and again a decade later, shattering the Chosŏn-Ming alliance and forcing Korea to […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

Seeds of Control: Japan’s Empire of Forestry in Colonial Korea
David Fedman
University of Washington Press, 2020

Japanese colonial rule in Korea (1905-1945) ushered in natural resource management programs that profoundly altered access to and ownership of the peninsula’s extensive mountains and forests. Under the banner of “forest love,” the colonial government set out to restructure the rhythms and routines of agrarian life, targeting everything from home heating to food preparation. Timber […] (Link to online store)

After the Korean War: An Intimate History
Heonik Kwon
Cambridge University Press, 2020

Following his prizewinning studies of the Vietnam War, renowned anthropologist Heonik Kwon presents this ground-breaking study of the Korean War’s enduring legacies seen through the realm of intimate human experience. Kwon boldly reclaims kinship as a vital category in historical and political enquiry and probes the grey zone between the modern and the traditional (and […] (Link to online store)

King Chŏngjo, an Enlightened Despot in Early Modern Korea
Christopher Lovins
SUNY, 2019

Publisher description: The first detailed analysis in English of monarchy and governance in Korea during King Chŏngjo’s reign. Were the countries of Europe the only ones that were “early modern”? Was Asia’s early modernity cut short by colonialism? Scholars examining early modern Eurasia have not yet fully explored the relationships between absolute rule and political […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

A New Middle Kingdom: Painting and Cultural Politics in Late Chosŏn Korea (1700–1850)
J.P. Park
University of Washington Press, 2018

Publisher description: Historians have claimed that when social stability returned to Korea after devastating invasions by the Japanese and Manchus around the turn of the seventeenth century, the late Chosŏn dynasty was a period of unprecedented economic and cultural renaissance, in which prosperity manifested itself in new programs and styles of visual art. A New Middle […] (Link to online store)

Buddhas and Ancestors: Religion and Wealth in Fourteenth-Century Korea
Juhn Y Ahn
University of Washington Press, 2018

Publisher description: Two issues central to the transition from the Koryo to the Choson dynasty in fourteenth-century Korea were social differences in ruling elites and the decline of Buddhism, which had been the state religion. In this revisionist history, Juhn Ahn challenges the long-accepted Confucian critique that Buddhism had become so powerful and corrupt that […] (Link to online store)

Catholics and Anti-Catholicism in Chosŏn Korea
Don Baker, Franklin Rausch
University of Hawai'i Press, 2017

From the publisher’s website: Korea’s first significant encounter with the West occurred in the last quarter of the eighteenth century when a Korean Catholic community emerged on the peninsula. Decades of persecution followed, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Korean Catholics. Don Baker provides an invaluable analysis of late-Chosŏn (1392–1897) thought, politics, and society […] (Link to online store)

A History of Korea (Macmillan Essential Histories)
Hwang Kyung-moon
Palgrave, 2016

Publisher description: This accessible and engaging new edition continues to be one of the leading introductory textbooks on Korean history. Fully revised throughout, the author takes a thematic and chronological approach to guide readers from early state formation and the dynastic eras to the modern experience. Episodic accounts in each chapter are discussed in context […] (Link to online store)

The 1728 Musin Rebellion: Politics and Plotting in Eighteenth-Century Korea
Andrew David Jackson
University of Hawai'i Press, 2016

From the publisher’s website: The 1728 Musin Rebellion: Politics and Plotting in Eighteenth-Century Korea provides the first comprehensive account in English of the Musin Rebellion, an attempt to overthrow King Yŏngjo (1694–1776; r. 1724–1776), and the largest rebellion of eighteenth-century Korea. The rebellion proved unsuccessful, but during three weeks of fighting the government lost control […] (Link to online store)

Routledge Handbook of Modern Korean History
Ed Michael J Seth
Routledge, 2016

From the publisher’s website: Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century when Korea became entangled in the world of modern imperialism and the old social, economic and political order began to change; this handbook brings together cutting edge scholarship on major themes in Korean History. Contributions by experts in the field cover the Late Choson and Colonial […] (Link to online store)

Pathways to Korean Culture: Paintings of the Joseon Dynasty, 1392–1910
Burglind Jungmann
Reaktion Books, 2014

Publisher description: Introducing the major works and currents of Joseon painting, Pathways to Korean Culture explores the various social, cultural and political perspectives of this dynamic, dynastic era (1392–1910), uncovering the fascinating history of more than 500 years of Korean art and visual culture. In this book Burglind Jungmann examines an array of themes and aspects […] (Link to online store)

The Imjin War: Japan’s Sixteenth-Century Invasion of Korea and Attempt to Conquer China
Samuel Hawley
Conquistador Press, RASKB, 2014

Publisher information: In May of 1592 Japanese dictator Toyotomi Hideyoshi dispatched a gargantuan invasion army from Kyushu to Pusan on Korea’s southern tip. Its objective: to conquer Korea, then China and then the whole of Asia. The resulting seven years of fighting, known in Korea as imjin waeran, the “Imjin invasion,” after the year of […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

Death, Mourning, and the Afterlife in Korea: Ancient to Contemporary Times
Ed Charlotte Horlyck and Michael J. Pettid
University of Hawai'i Press, 2014

From the publisher’s website: Death and the activities and beliefs surrounding it can teach us much about the ideals and cultures of the living. While biologically death is an end to physical life, this break is not quite so apparent in its mental and spiritual aspects. Indeed, the influence of the dead over the living […] (Link to online store)

Salvation through Dissent: Tonghak Heterodoxy and Early Modern Korea
George Kallander
University of Hawai'i Press, 2013

From the publisher’s website: A popular teaching that combined elements of Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, folk beliefs, and Catholicism, Tonghak (Eastern Learning) is best known for its involvement in a rebellion that touched off the Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) and accelerated Japanese involvement in Korea. Through a careful reading of sources—including religious works and biographies many of […] (Link to online store)

A Slow Walk through Jeong-dong
Michael Gibb
Hollym, 2011

Publisher description: When most people travel, they try to cover too much and rush around cities and countries, ticking off boxes: Seen that, done that.  Instead, you can have a rewarding time in a single place, not rushing around.  Slow Walk through Jeong-dong shows you how to take things slow and focus your mind on the details. In this essay, […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

The Memoirs of Hun Pong: The Pendulous Life of a Korean Man Who Served Both Sides of a Divided Nation During the Korean War
Park Yongjae tr Park Hanjun
Homa + Sekey, 2010

From the publisher’s website: This is a true story of a Japanese-born Korean man who struggled for survival during the Korean War. It is also an inspiring book about human yearning for survival in the most miserable circumstances. Born in Japan, Hun Pong returned to his fatherland Korea after it became independent from Japan and […] (Link to online store)

Jehol Diary
Pak Chiwon tr Yang Hi Choe-Wall
Global Oriental, 2010

Publisher description: This is the first translation into English of the eighteenth-century Korean masterpiece entitled Yŏrha ilgi (‘The Jehol Diary’) by Pak Chiwŏn (1737-1805). The original text was written in classical Chinese and is a notoriously difficult work to translate. Pak Chiwŏn diarises the experiences of his remarkable overland journey on horseback from the northern border […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

Life on the Edge of the DMZ
Lee Si-woo tr Kim Myung-hee
Global Oriental, 2008

Publisher’s description: The author’s celebrated quest to capture today’s built and natural environment and way of life along the DMZ, separating the two Koreas, is both a stunning literary and photographic achievement. Supported by 150 colour photographs, the book by one of Korea’s renowned photographers takes the reader from Chulwon in the east to Kosung […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

The Dawn of Modern Korea: the transformation in life and cityscape
Andrei Lankov
Eunhaeng Namu, 2007

Publisher description: The 20th century was a time of great changes for any country, but in Korea these changes were especially dramatic. In 1960, it was one of the world’s poorest countries. By 2000 it transformed itself into one of the world’s largest economies. This astonishing transformation completely changed Koreans’ daily life as well. This […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

The Korean Presidents: Leadership for Nation Building
Choong Nam Kim
Eastbridge, 2007

From the publisher’s website: Dr. Choong Nam Kim has written an important and penetrating study of the Korean presidents from Syngman Rhee to Roh Moo Hyun in the context of their eras. His analysis of their influence and leadership styles is required reading in the continuing reassessment of their respective roles in the remarkable changes […] (Link to online store)

Everlasting Flower: A History of Korea
Keith Pratt
Reaktion Books, 2007

Publisher description: South Korea – a democratic high-tech Asian Tiger and flamboyant host of the 2002 World Cup; North Korea – a secretive dictatorship on Bush’s notorious ‘axis of evil’, with a controversial nuclear program and a poverty-stricken population. These two Koreas seem worlds apart, separated along the 38th parallel by the last active ‘cold […] (Link to online store)

Korea Witness: 135 Years of War, Crisis and News in the Land of the Morning Calm
Ed Donald Kirk, Choe Sang-hun
Eunhaeng Namu, 2006

Publisher description: This book follows the long journey of correspondents who have passed through Korea. Since the first of them, photographer Felice Beato, arrived in 1871 with American troops invading Kangwha Island, foreign journalists have puzzled over this land, as complicated and fascinating now as 135 years ago. Famed author Jack London grappled with a […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

The Land of Scholars: Two Thousand Years of Korean Confucianism
Kang Jae-eun tr Ha Woo-bong, Suzanne Lee
Homa + Sekey, 2005

This book discusses the historical development of Korean Confucianism in terms of its social functions. It also examines the types of transfiguration Confucianism underwent and the role it played in each period of Korean history. The Land of Scholars spans from the Three Kingdoms period in 18 BC to the Joseon dynasty in 1910. The […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

A History of Korea
Korea Historical Research Association tr Joshua Van Lieu
Saffron, 2005

Publisher description: “A History of Korea” is a product of a particular moment in South Korean social and political history, published in the aftermath of the popular resistance movements of the late 1980s that brought an end to military dictatorship and ushered in direct elections for the presidency of South Korea. The historians of the […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

Living Dangerously in Korea: The Western Experience, 1900–1950
Donald N Clark
Eastbridge, 2003

From the publisher’s website: Korea was “discovered” by the West after World War II when it became a flashpoint in the Cold War. Before the war, however, it was home to many hundreds of Westerners who experienced life there under Japanese colonial rule. These included missionaries who opened Korea as a field for evangelism, education, […] (Link to online store)

The Book of Corrections: Reflections on the National Crisis During the Japanese Invasion of Korea, 1592-1598
Yu Songnyong tr Choi Byonghyon
Univ of California Berkeley Institute of East Asian Studies, 2002

From the publisher’s website: The Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592, known as the Imjin War, was one of the most tragic and traumatic experiences in Korean history. The magnitude of this tragedy was unprecedented. Hundreds of thousands died, and the country was devastated. It took many years for Korea to recover. Looking back upon […] (Link to online store)

The Confucian Kingship in Korea: Yongjo and the Politics of Sagacity
Jahyun Kim Haboush
Columbia University Press, 2001

A fascinating example of Neo-Confucian sage kingship is the figure of Yôngjo, the eighteenth-century Korean monarch who was one of that nation’s most illustrious yet most tragic rulers. In this book, JaHyun Kim Haboush provides an outstanding, dramatically realized introduction to traditional Korean culture through the story of Yôngjo, offering profound insights into the complex […] (Link to online store)

Remembering the Forgotten War: The Korean War Through Literature and Art
Ed Philip West and Suh Ji-moon
M.E. Sharpe, 2000

From the publisher’s website: In contrast to the many books that use military, diplomatic, and historic language in analyzing the Korean War, this book takes a cultural approach that emphasizes the human dimension of the war, an approach that especially features Korean voices. There are chapters on Korean art on the war, translations into English […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong
Hong Hyegyong, Jahyun Kim Haboush tr Jahyun Kim Haboush
University of California Press, 1996

Lady Hyegyong’s memoirs, which recount the chilling murder of her husband by his father, form one of the best known and most popular classics of Korean literature. From 1795 until 1805 Lady Hyegyong composed this masterpiece, depicting a court life Shakespearean in its pathos, drama, and grandeur. Presented in its social, cultural, and historical contexts, […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

Hamel’s Journal And A Description Of The Kingdom Of Korea 1653-1666
Hendrik Hamel tr Br Jean-Paul Buys
RASKB, 1994

Publisher’s description: The first Western account of Korea is the story of a group of sailors shipwrecked on Cheju-do. Some thirteen years later, after escaping to Japan, Hamel gave the outside world a firsthand description of Korea, an almost unknown country until then. Dr. Jean-Paul, who is Dutch, has made the first translation based on […] (Link to online store)

Nanjung Ilgi: war diary of admiral Yi Sun-sin
Yi Sun-sin tr Ha Tae-Hung
Yonsei University Press, 1977

The text of Korea’s 76th national treasure, listed in UNESCO’s Memory of the World registry. Second-hand copies are occasionally available, for a price (eg, at the time of writing Amazon has a copy available at over £1,000); and you can find it in specialist libraries. LTI Korea advertise the title as being available to purchase […] (Link to online store)

James Scarth Gale and His History of the Korean People
James Scarth Gale, Richard Rutt
RASKB, 1972

A new edition of the classic English-language history of Korea first published in 1927. It has been extensively annotated by Bishop Rutt with reference to sources and including commentary and bibiography. It is introduced by an extensive and, to date, the only biography of Dr. Gale, a towering scholar in the early days of Western […] (Link to online store)

Samguk Yusa: Legends and History of the Three Kingdoms of Ancient Korea
Ilyon tr Grafton Mintz, Ha Tae-Hung
Yonsei University Press, 1972

A fascinating work, dating from the late 1200s. This book (Yusa), is not just a story but a collection of histories, anecdotes and memorabilia, covering the origins of Korea’s three monarchies: Silla, Paekche and Koguryo, offering an account of the latter nation that differs quite a bit from what you’ll read in Chinese history books. […] (Link to online store)