SOAS University of London

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

The Making of Modern Korea, 1864-1953

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 1

This module examines Korea’s emergence as a modern nation, looking in detail at the crucial historical events and trends that have shaped 20th century Korean culture and society. Starting with the challenge presented by Korea’s encounter with the Western powers and rising Japan in the late 19th century, this course traces how Koreans attempted to reform and modernise their country and how nationalist thought emerged from this challenge. It continues with a detailed examination of the Japanese colonial period (1910-1945), looking at the social and economic aspects of this period alongside the nature of Japanese rule and the dynamics of Korean resistance. The latter third of the module will focus on the period between liberation in 1945 and the end of the Korean War in 1953, examining how two separate Korean states were forged in the fires of occupation, rebellion, Cold War rivalry and internecine violence. This module will investigate both the great transformations of modern Korean society before 1953 and the way they have been interpreted and debated by historians.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  1. Articulate an in-depth understanding of historical developments on the Korean peninsula between the late 19th century and the Korean War.
  2. Understand a variety of aspects of historical change on the Korean peninsula, including social change, demography, culture, politics and economy as well as the role of Korea in the larger East Asian region.
  3. Demonstrate a basic understanding of how modern Korean history has been interpreted by both Korean and overseas scholars.
  4. Assimilate and synthesise prior knowledge while also developing original critical views.
  5. Formulate appropriate research questions, propose and evaluate analyses and present evidence (for and/or against) these analyses.
  6. Assess evidence critically from primary and secondary sources and formulate historical arguments on the basis of this evidence.
  7. Use appropriate research techniques, such as finding relevant materials in the library and through web-based archives.


Total of 10 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week consisting of a 1 hour lecture and a 1 hour seminar.

Scope and syllabus

The following syllabus is for guidance only and is subject to alteration at the discretion of the module convenor.

  • Traditional society and nineteenth-century crises
  • Opening and modernisation
  • The end of the Chos┼Ćn dynasty and the emergence of nationalism
  • The nature of Japanese colonial rule
  • Social and economic change under Japanese colonialism
  • Anti-Japanese resistance
  • 1945-8: Liberation, division and rebellion
  • The North Korean revolution (?)
  • The Korean War as international war
  • The Korean War as civil(ian) war

Method of assessment

Critical source commentary of 1000 words to be submitted on day 1, after reading week, in the term of teaching (20%); essay of 3000 words due day 1, week 1 in the term following teaching (80%).

Suggested reading

Core Reading
  • Robinson, Michael. Korea’s Twentieth Century Odyssey.
  • Seth, Michael (ed). Routledge Handbook of Modern Korean History.
  • Shin, Michael (ed). Korean History in Maps.
  • Deuchler, Martina. Confucian Gentlemen and Barbarian Envoys.
  • Chandra, Vipan. Imperialism, Resistance, and Reform.
  • Schmid, Andre. Korea between Empires, 1895-1919.
  • Shin and Robinson (eds). Colonial Modernity in Korea.
  • Henry, Todd. Assimilating Seoul.
  • Armstrong, Charles. The North Korean Revolution.
  • Cumings and Halliday. Korea: The Unknown War.
Additional Reading
  • Palais, James. Politics and Policy in Traditional Korea.
  • Larsen, Kirk. Tradition, Treaties, and Trade.
  • Caprio, Mark. Japanese Assimilation Policies in Colonial Korea.
  • Park, Soon-won. Colonial Industrialisation in Korea.
  • Kim, Suzy. Everyday Life in the North Korean Revolution.
  • Kim, Dong-choon. The Unending Korean War.
  • Hwang, Su-kyoung. The Grievous Korean War.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules