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Korean Culture Courses

Here are some of the Buddhist Studies courses that are regularly offered. Be sure to check our course gallery and the LSA Course Guide to find out everything being taught in a given semester.

ASIAN 271: Spectacular History of Korea: Visualizing Events

What is a spectacular history? Why do some events capture our imagination and end up on the front page of newspapers? Why are some events more important in narrating history than others? This course introduces students to the history of modern and contemporary Korea through events. Together, we will investigate the processes through which events that took place in twentieth-century Korea were rendered spectacular and consumed in the form of images and texts. Among other things, we will examine the tumultuous processes of Korea’s modernization, colonialism, wars, nation building, dissident movements, and cold war divisions. For each topic, we will choose an event, and take a close look at how it took place (history) and how it was represented in texts and visual media (spectacular history). By looking at the processes through which experiences were transformed into spectacular images, we will not only try to gain a better perspective on the climate of the times but also on how representation and memory write history. No prior knowledge of Korea or Korean language is necessary.

ASIAN 273: North Korea Real and Imagined

This course is designed to explore the visual cultures of North Korea. Why do we concern ourselves with the visual aspects of North Korean Culture? While North Korea has notoriously gained a reputation as the most isolated country in the world, there are many images inundating the media and popular culture. Images are the most prominent ways through which we gain knowledge about North Korea, but they are not transparent mediums and are in need of interpretation.

Throughout the semester, we will explore various ways through which North Korea uses visual mediums to showcase its state power and ideology, write history, and represent memory to the people of North Korea and to the world. We will also examine the perspectives of the defectors as well as the Western spectators and tourists. We will examine different mediums such as art, architecture, murals, posters, stamps, illustrations, animation, photography, film, opera, mass games, museum, cemetery, and processions/parades. Students are expected to develop a critical perspective on the current affairs of North Korea and the politics of representation, and to think critically and creatively about how to engage with North Korea.

ASIAN 274: Introduction to Korean Civilization

​​This course will serve as a general introduction to Korean history and culture from earliest times to the present. A broad historical overview of the various social, economic, political, and religious traditions in premodern Korea will be accompanied by an in-depth discussion of Korea's turbulent path towards modernization. Topics to be covered in this course include foundation myths, ancient literature, colonialism, civil war, authoritarianism, rapid industrialization, and democratization in Korea. In this course, we will also examine the relation between state, family, gender, and class. Students will be asked to explore these and other topics by applying a context-sensitive reading and critical analysis of the material that will be covered in this course. There are no prerequisites, but some background in the study of history and culture is recommended. Readings will include both primary material in translation and secondary scholarship.

ASIAN 277: From Truman to Trump: Introduction to US-Korea Relations

This course reflects on America's place in the rapidly changing world through the lens of its engagements with the two Koreas. We will focus on the seventy-year period stretching from Harry Truman’s presidency to Donald Trump’s, during which the US played a decisive role in dividing the Korean peninsula in half, fought a catastrophic war on the Korean soil, and emerged as both South Korea’s most important ally and North Korea’s enemy number one. In thus “shaping” Korea, the US was shaped irrevocably in turn, even if the full impact on America of these engagements were not always acknowledged or even realized.

The most conventional approaches to understanding this history have been political and/or economic, but our course will provide a more nuanced and multilayered overview by pairing history readings with thematically focused works of fiction and film. We will also examine primary sources including government documents, and learn to critically compare contrasting interpretations of historical events. A particular emphasis will be placed on examining under-questioned American assumptions about its place in the world. We will also pay close attention to how Koreans have perceived the underlying patterns structuring the relations between the US and the two Koreas from the end of WWII to the present, and how such perceptions continue to shape Korean society today.

ASIAN 374: Korean War in Fiction and Film

The Korean War (1950-53) shaped East Asia as we know it today. The war also altered the direction of American foreign policy in Asia and established an enduring tone of anti-communism in American popular culture. Despite its importance, the Korean War is commonly known as the "Forgotten War." As an exercise in unforgetting the forgotten war, the course will examine the war's nature and impact through representations in fiction and film, and ask why it still remains the subject of much mystification more than sixty-five years after the ceasefire.

ASIAN 376: Controversies in Contemporary Korea

This course examines a number of key controversies in contemporary Korea (South and North). Through this examination, this course will seek to provide a more critical understanding of the issues that drive the political economy and culture of Korea. Among other things, this course will examine the issue of comfort women, colonization and collaborators, Syngman Rhee and US-Korea relations, the Korean War, Park Chung-hee and authoritarianism, K-pop, Kwangju 5.18 and democratization, Dokdo, nuclear power, urbanization and class struggle, environmental policy in Korea, peace talks with North Korea, Korean diaspora and adoptees, labor and multiculturalism, and the politics and cultures of division.

ASIAN 377: K-pop and Beyond: Popular Culture and Korean Society

From K-pop to K-drama to digital comics known as “webtoons,” popular culture has emerged in the last two decades as South Korea’s newest and fastest-growing export. What national and global formations, technological developments, and changes in media environments have enabled this emergence? How has the global consumption of popular culture changed South Korean society and what can the South Korean experience tell us about what we might expect in other parts of the world in the future? The course approaches popular culture both as a prism through which to understand social values, historical perspectives, and politico-economic structures that have shaped contemporary Korea, and as the site of active negotiations in translation and transnationalization of social experience. The course incorporates a range of classical and recent theorizations about popular culture with the aim of enabling students to critically analyze their own practices of consumption. Emphasis will be placed on film, popular music, television, and new media.

ASIAN 378: Seoul: History and Places

Seoul – a 600-year-old capital and megacity – lends itself as the heart of Korea’s history, modernity, and future. For this reason, this course is designed to offer a critical and interdisciplinary survey of the city of Seoul from the Choson dynasty to the contemporary era. As we trace the change and development of Seoul, we take the city as the prism into the larger political, economic, social and cultural conditions that enabled its metamorphosis. We will ask how human activities and aspirations are inscribed onto the fabric of the city, and how the city is in turn utilized for social change and cultural expressions. We will examine the material space of the city, architectural, visual, and textual imagination of the city, and creation of complex, temporary, soft, loose and open-ended spaces via play, art, and civic actions. Our goal is to explore the multidimensional views of Seoul that are from above and below, inside out, monumental and mundane, singular and multiple, and local and global.

ASIAN 388: Utopia and Dystopia in Korea

In this course, we examine utopian and dystopian ideas in Korean history.  Rather than approaching utopia as a society of perfection existing outside of historical time and space, we think of utopia/dystopia as a way of understanding the complex milieu of political, social, and cultural issues of the time.  We ask how utopian/dystopian visions have been used to generate social changes, to cope with traumatic experiences of history, or to simply explore ambiguities of the human conditions throughout Korea’s modern and contemporary history.  We will start from the Robin Hood-esque tale of Honggildong in late Chosŏn to examine the social changes before the onset of modernity, and move onto the discussion of tumultuous history of colonialism, war, division, and political movements in South Korea and North Korea. Finally, we will conclude by taking a closer look at utopian/dystopian imaginations in contemporary popular culture. In this class, we will deal with different genres of literature, art, film, and performance, and students are encouraged to consider the medium of expression in their critical analysis of the texts. 

ASIAN 457: Translating Korean Poetry: Theory and Practice

This course combines a seminar on the theory of literary translation with a workshop on students’ own translations of Korean poetry. The course will proceed in three parts. The first part of the course will focus on discussions of key texts in translation studies around such topics as translatability, fidelity, cultural equivalency, and politics of translation. In the second part of the course, we will examine published English translations of major Korean poets, paying close attention to how each translation grapples with the issues discussed in our theoretical readings. In the last part of course, we will workshop our own translations. At the end of the term, students will each submit a portfolio of translations accompanied by a critical translator’s introduction. The aims of the course are to: 1) acquaint ourselves with major works of modern Korean poetry and intricacies of the Korean language; 2) develop familiarity with critical issues in translation theory; 3) examine how these issues impact our practice of translation; and 4) hone our skills and awareness as translators.

ASIAN 458: Film Culture in Korea

This class offers a survey of films produced during the last hundred years in South Korea. In order to better understand the resurgence of Korean films in recent years and the critical acclaim that they have received domestically and globally, the course will examine representative films, directors, and genres from the inception of the industry in the colonial era through the recent years. Through the screening and in-depth discussions of the films, students will gain insights into the larger historical, social, and cultural contexts that informed and shaped the production and consumption of the films. This course, therefore, will explore the history of Korean cinema through the framework of national/transnational cinema discourse, auteur/genre theory, globalization, the division system, and the problem of nation/state. While working through different genres of historical drama, melodrama, literary adaptation, horror, mystery, and monster films, we will discuss topics pertaining to family, sexuality, gender, cultural tradition, national identity, social movement, and urbanization. We will also pay close attention to the production of films and the role of censorship, and how artistic assertion and negotiation are reflected in their final cut.