SOAS University of London

Japan & Korea Section, Department of East Asian Languages & Culture

History and Culture of Korea to the late 19th Century

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2019/2020
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 of 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Full Year



Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the module the student should be able to understand the larger historical developments on the Korean peninsula and adjacent areas to the north up to the late nineteenth century in terms of social change, culture, politics, and economy, as well as the role of Korea in the history of the larger East Asian region. S/he should be able to address Korea-related questions with a good understanding of the historical, social and cultural context and gather and analyze information from secondary sources and translated primary sources to build up a well-informed and original argument.


Total of 22 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week.

Scope and syllabus

  • Introduction: The Study of Korean History
  • Korea's Prehistory/The Founding of the Early States
  • The Three Kingdoms and Kaya/Silla and Parhae;
  • Buddhism and Sinified Culture
  • Koryô: Politics, Society and Culture
  • The Koryô-Chosôn Transition and Early Chos┼Ćn
  • The Confucian Model Society
  • World view, Universe, Mind and Body
  • Kings and Aristocrats; Institutional Structure and Change
  • Agriculture and the Economy in Late Chosôn
  • Intellectual Developments in Late Chosôn
  • Famine, Rural Conditions and Social Change
  • Politics and Society in Nineteenth-Century Korea
  • Social unrest
  • Reform Efforts
  • Foreign Intrusion

Method of assessment

One three-hour written examination taken in May/June (70%); one essay of 2,500 words to be submitted on day 1, term 2 (15%); one essay of 2,500 words to be submitted on day 1, term 3 (15%).

Suggested reading

  • Lee Ki-baik. A New History of Korea. Trsl. by Edward W. Wagner with Edward J. Shultz. Seoul: Ilchogak, 1984.
  • Lee, Peter, ed., Sourcebook of Korean Civilization. Vols. 1&2. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.
  • Palais, James. “A Search for Korean Uniqueness”. Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies vol. 55, no. 2 (1995): 409-425.
  • Ch’oe Yong-ho. “Reinterpreting Traditional History in North Korea”. Journal of Asian Studies vol. 40, nr. 3 (1981): 503-523.
  • Hyung II Pai, “Culture Contact and Culture Change: The Korean Peninsula and Its Relations with the Han Dynasty Commandery of Lelang”, World Archaeology, Vol. 23, No. 3 (1992).
  • Gari Ledyard, “Galloping along with the Horseriders: Looking for the Founders of Japan”, Journal of Japanese Studies, Vol. 1, No. 2 (1975).
  • James Grayson, “Religious Syncretism in the Shilla Period: The Relationship between Esoteric Buddhism and Korean Primeval Religion”, Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 43, No. 2 (1984).
  • Duncan, The Origins of the Chosôn Dynasty, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000.
  • Deuchler, The Confucian Transformation of Korea. Harvard-Yenching Institute Monograph No. 36, Harvard University, 1992.
  • Kenneth R. Robinson, “Centering the King of Choson: Aspects of Korean Maritime Diplomacy, 1392-1592”, The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 59, No. 1 (Feb., 2000).
  • James B. Palais, “Confucianism and The Aristocratic/Bureaucratic Balance in Korea”, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 44, No. 2 (1984).
  • Yeom Jeong-Sup, “Characteristics of Agricultural Techniques in 18th and 19th Century Joseon Dynasty”, Korea Journal 43:1 (2003).
  • Mark Setton, “Tasan's ‘Practical Learning’”, Philosophy East and West, Vol. 39, No. 4 (Oct., 1989).
  • Lee Hyungdae, “Hong Dae-yong’s Beijing Travels and His Changing Perception of the West: Focusing on Eulbyeong yeonhaengnok and Uisan mundap”, The Review of Korean Studies 9:4 (2006).
  • Palais, Politics and Policy in Traditional Korea, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975.
  • Kim Kuentae, “Distinctive Characteristics of the Joseon Dynasty’s Fiscal Policy in the Nineteenth Century”, Korea Journal 47:2 (2007).
  • Vipan Chandra. Imperialism, Resistance, and Reform in Late Nineteenth-Century Korea: Enlightenment and the Independence Club. Berkeley, CA : Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley, Center for Korean Studies, 1988.
  • Martina Deuchler. Confucian Gentlemen and Barbarian Envoys. The Opening of Korea, 1875-1885. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1977.


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