An Atomic Age unleashed: Emancipation and erasure in early Korean accounts of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings

Key information

5:00 pm to 7:00 pm
Russell Square: College Buildings

About this event

This presentation explores the common culture of Cold War scientism and atomic developmentalism in early North and South Korea. 

While tens of thousands of Koreans were subject to the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, early peninsular analysis of the bombings rarely grappled with the existence of these individuals. The general exclusion of colonial subjects from the story of the atomic bombings has long been identified as part of a nationalisation of the wartime years, a move that situates the history of the attacks as a specifically Japanese experience.

Less understood is how postcolonial intellectuals in Korea encouraged this historiographical trend. Across the peninsula, a common commitment to the idea of science as emancipatory enabled postcolonial Korean writers to conflate political liberation with advancements in the field of atomic science. This fusion of postcolonial developmentalism and atomic scientism, common in both the North and the South between 1945 and 1950, drowned out the critical temporalities introduced by peninsular survivors of the atomic attacks. This project first highlight the forms of atomic liberation that appeared in North and South Korea after 1945.

Themes of historical emancipation are further investigated by way of descriptions of “Science War.” A final section outlines the historiographical obstacles Korean bomb victims posed to emancipatory accounts of the attacks. This is done through a reading of one of the few early narratives of the Hiroshima bombing by a repatriated Korean survivor. As this singular source illustrates, postcolonial bomb victims were interpolated into a postwar community that was physiologically unable to leave the fact of the bombings in a colonial past.

Speaker Biography

Derek Kramer is a Li Foundation Fellow at the University of Cambridge’s Needham Research Institute. He received his degree in East Asian Studies from the University of Toronto in 2021. Derek’s work focuses on the technoscientific cultures of the Cold War. 

His current project examines the history of the atomic age of North and South Korea.