SOAS University of London

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

The Making of Modern Korea

Module Code:
Taught in:
Full Year

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the module the student should be able to understand in depth the historical developments on the Korean peninsula since the late nineteenth century in terms of social change, demography, 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 formulate and pursue Korea-related research questions with a good understanding of the historical, social and cultural context and gather and analyze information from secondary sources to build up a well-informed and original argument.


Total of 22 weeks teaching with a 2 hour lecture per week.

Scope and syllabus

Topic 1 

  • Traditional society, colonialism and Korean modernity
  • Traditional society and nineteenth-century problems
  • External challenges, reform, and modernisation efforts
  • Colonial rule
  • Anti-Japanese resistance

Topic 2

  • Colonial legacies, division, and war
  • Korean nationalism
  • Socio-economic, demographic, and ideological situation at the end of colonial rule
  • Liberation and division
  • The Korean War, 1950-53

Topic 3

  • Consolidation, repression, and economic development
  • Post-war state consolidation
  • Military rule and concentration of power
  • The state, the military, and economic development
  • Socio-economic changes, changing family patterns, and the position of women in Korean society

Topic 4

  • Resistance, democratisation, and reconciliation (?)
  • The Kwangju uprising and the democratisation movement
  • Democratisation and civilian rule
  • North Korea since the 80s
  • Reconciliation, co-operation, and unification?

Method of assessment

Critical source commentary of 1000 words to be submitted on day 1, after reading week, term 1 (15%); essay or book review of 3000 words due day 1 of term 2 (35%); essay of 3000 words to be submitted on day 1, week 1, term 3 (50%).

Suggested reading

  • James B. Palais, Politics and Policy in Traditional Korea
  • Vipan Chandra, Imperialism, Resistance, and Reform in late Nineteenth-Century Korea
  • Alexis Dudden, Japan's colonization of Korea: discourse and power
  • Ku Daeyol, Korean Resistance to Japanese Colonialism
  • Michael Robinson and Shin Gi-Wook, Colonial Modernity in Korea
  • Charles Armstrong, The North Korean Revolution
  • Jon Halliday and Bruce Cumings, Korea: The Unknown War
  • Kim Hyung-A, Korea's development under Park Chung Hee
  • George Ogle, Dissent within the Economic Miracle
  • Andrei Lankov, From Stalin to Kim Ilsung
  • Chang Yunshik and Steven Lee, Transformations in Twentieth-Century Korea
  • Linda Lewis, Laying Claim to the Memory of May
  • Carl Saxer, From Transition to Power Alternation
  • Moon Chung-in and David Steinberg, Kim Daejung Government and Sunshine Policy


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules