Why is it that the Two Koreas (North and South Korea), sharing the same small peninsula, have followed such radically divergent paths in the modern world?
How and why did there come to be two competing and adversarial states on the Korean peninsula in our contemporary world, one a prosperous capitalist democracy of global reach, and the other an impoverished dictatorship, bordering on theocracy and almost totally estranged from the international community—both claiming exclusive rights to speak for the Korean people and the Korean “nation” as a whole? In this course, we will explore not only the two contemporary Korean societies, North and South, but also to Korea’s pre-modern and colonial periods, and to explore together the roles played by China, Japan, the United States, and Russia (Soviet Union) in shaping modern Korean history. We will look beyond the headlines to come to a more complex and nuanced understanding of the conflict on the Korean peninsula as one grounded in the history and legacies of the past hundred years. By showing the tumultuous changes, some good, some ill, on the Korean peninsula since the late 19th century, the course challenges us to confront the constantly shifting nature of historical forces, and to examine the ethical dimensions of particular historical choices. Readings will include primary source materials from each period, and assignments will culminate in a research paper or other capstone project that engages with the individual actors, historical forces, and global politics that have shaped the two Koreas.