SOAS University of London

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

North Korea since 1945: the rise and decline of an East Asian developmental state

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2018/2019
Taught in:
Term 2

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, a student should be able to demonstrate:

  1. a detailed knowledge of North Korea's political, economic and social development since 1945;
  2. a critical understanding of the dynamics of North Korea’s external policies, including the Korean War (1950-53) and relations with South Korea and other major powers;
  3. the ability to engage critically with both primary and secondary sources on North Korean history and to develop a grasp of the diversity of existing approaches to understanding North Korea.


Total of 10 weeks teaching with a 2 hour lecture and a 1 hour seminar each week.    

Scope and syllabus

North Korea continues to blast its way into the news on a regular basis and to attract scholarly attention from historians, political scientists and international relations specialists. It is routinely described as 'difficult to understand', uniquely opaque and an exception to just about every norm accepted by the international community. This course provides an opportunity to learn in detail about North Korea's social, political and economic development since the division of the Korean peninsula in 1945. It will deal with all the major themes in North Korean history: the formation of the state after liberation; the Korean War; North Korea's economic success story and subsequent decline; the rivalry with South Korea and attempts at detente; and North Korea's post-Cold War survival strategy and the nuclear issue.

This course will enable students to critically engage with primary and secondary sources on North Korea since 1945. There are a number of competing ways to understand the North Korean system and the most significant moments in its history and there are also striking divisions between different approaches to North Korea. Students will come away from this course with a good understanding of this diversity of approaches and the ability to evaluate them in a critical way. The course will introduce students to a selection of primary sources that will give them the opportunity to make direct assessments of key moments and figures in North Korea's modern history.

The course is taught on a shared basis with the undergraduate course 'The Other Korea: North Korea since 1945' (155901356). Every week students will have a two hour lecture with undergraduate students and a one hour seminar centring on one or two focused readings. 

For MA Korean Studies students this course can be taken with the half-unit directed readings course in Korean Studies to allow them to explore the literature on North Korea in greater depth. The course is also available to students on the MA History and MA Development Studies programmes.

Method of assessment

An essay of 1,500 words to be submitted on day 1 after reading week in the term in which the course is taught (20%); an essay of 5,000 words to be submitted on day 1 of the term following that in which the course is taught (80%).

Suggested reading


  • Armstrong, Charles K (2003), The North Korean Revolution, 1945-1950 (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press).

  • Beal. Tim (2005), North Korea: the struggle against American power, (London: Pluto Press).
    Choi, E. Kwan, E. Han Kim and Yesook Merrill (2003), North Korea in the world economy, (London: RoutledgeCurzon).
  • Chung, Joseph Sang-hoon (1974), The North Korean Economy: Structure and Development (California: Hoover Institution Press).
  • Eberstadt, Nicholas (2007), The North Korean Economy: Between Crisis and Catastrophe (London: Transaction Publishers).
  • Haggard, Stephan and Marcus Noland (2011), Witness to transformation: refugee insights into North Korea (Washington DC: Peterson Institute For International Economics).
  • Halliday, John and Bruce Cumings (1988), Korea: The Unknown War, London: Viking).
  • Hart-Landsberg, Martin (1998), Korea: division, reunification, and U.S. foreign policy (New York: Monthly Review Press).
  • Hoare, J. E. and Susan Pares (2005), North Korea in the 21st Century: An Interpretative Guide, (Folkestone, Kent: Global Oriental).
  • Jeffries, Ian (2006), North Korea: A guide to economic and political developments (London and New York: Routledge).
  • Kim Il Sung (1971), Selected Writings of Kim Il Sung: Revolution and Socialist Construction in Korea (New York: International Publishers).
  • Koo Bon-hak (1992), Political Economy of Self-Reliance: Juche and Economic Development in North Korea, 1961-1990 (Republic of Korea: Research Center for Peace and Unification of Korea).
  • Kwon, Heonik and Byung-Ho Chung (2012), North Korea: beyond charismatic politics, (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers).
  • Lankov, Andrei (2001), From Stalin to Kim Il Song: the formation of North Korea, 1945-1960 (London: C. Hurst).
  • National Foreign Assessment Center (1978), Korea: The Economic Race Between the North and the South (Washington: The Agency).
  • Ostermann, Christian F. & James F. Person, eds (2011), The rise and fall of détente on the Korean peninsula, 1970-1974 (Washington DC: Woodrow Wilson International Center Scholars).
  • Robinson, Joan (1965), “Korean Miracle”, Monthly Review, Vol. 17, January.
  • Weathersby, Kathryn (1993), Soviet aims in Korea and the origins of the Korean War, 1945-1950: new evidence from Russian archives, (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules