The Making of Modern Korea

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Term 1
Module code
FHEQ Level

Module overview

This module examines Korea’s emergence as a modern nation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and subsequent development as two separate states after division in 1945. We will look in detail at the key historical themes and events that have shaped 20th century Korean culture and society. These include the emergence of nationalism, the influence of colonial modernity on Korean society and identity, the vicissitudes of wars and occupations and the rival postcolonial visions of Korean development. 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 the peninsula’s entanglement in great power rivalries have continuously shaped the lives of millions of Koreans. This module will investigate both the great transformations of modern and contemporary Korean society 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

  1. Korea’s late nineteenth-century crises
  2. Emergence of Korean nationalism
  3. Japanese colonialism and Korean modernity
  4. Anticolonial resistance and Korean communism
  5. 1945-8: Liberation, division and rebellion
  6. The Korean War
  7. Visions of development in the two Koreas
  8. Militarism, industrialisation and gender
  9. Authoritarianism, resistance and democracy
  10. The two Koreas in the post-Cold War world

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