By Ellie Choi

The Visual Experience of Modern Seoul

A hyper-focused developmentalism from the Park Chunghee era (1961-1979) onward in South Korea gave rise to the now famous “Miracle on the Han.” It also forged the cosmopolitan expanse of contemporary Seoul, a megapolis of glittering lights, kaleidoscopic signboards, and towering apartment complexes (ap’at’u tanji).

President Park Chunghee cutting the ribbon at Seoul’s Sewoon Sangga, with Mayor Kim Hyun Ok looking on.



Future-minded agents of urban transformation, like Seoul’s “Bulldozer Mayor” Kim Hyun Ok (above, with President Park) and Korea’s “national architect” Kim Sugŭn, initiated urban developmental policies which transformed the post-Korean War capital to a paean to the economic miracle. These “master plans” (above) were fueled by drastic economic initiatives, which in turn brought extreme population growth to Seoul following industrial development (Pai, H. M.; Lett; Gelezeau 2008).[1]


To accommodate workers migrating to the city from the countryside and the growing middle class, Kim Chungŏp, an architect who worked for the Seoul government, suggested Western modernist forms, such as Le Corbusier’s “Unité D’Habitation” (above), as ideal models to house the inhabitants of the growing city (Gelezeau 2007: 173).[1] These mass-produced ap’at’u tanji (apartment complexes) became synonymous with Western, modern living in Korea from the 1970s on, and became familiarized through contemporary film and media with the visual experience of Seoul.


The concrete box-like residential forms idealized by Western modernists were at their inception supposed to transcend cultural boundaries and create inclusive urban spaces where different types of people could live together, vertically. These residential units consisted of urban neighborhood blocks with easy public transportation access, playgrounds, and schools. Every tanji was comprised of residences, services, and shopping facilities (kŭnsaeng 근생), and designed to make life in the complex autonomous. In their mass-produced forms overseen by a draconian military regime, however, these modern box-like structures took shape as monotonous rows of identical cereal-box like structures, which flattened and erased the historical urban tissue of the ancient city of Seoul (founded 1394), not only physically but also politically and culturally.

Gangnam today 

As a top down, “Second Space” (Soja 1996)[3] vision of how urban planners and New Village (Saemaul) politicians thought people should live (and not how they actually live), these structures were totalizing in their imposition of spatial practice, and reflected the larger draconian political climate of the 1970s and 1980s.

It is not a coincidence that a Seoul in the throes of transformation is the silent protagonist in Chilsu wa Mansu (Chilsu and Mansu, dir. Park Kwang-su,1988), a representative film regarded in Korean film history as a major step towards freedom of expression during the democratization era.


Chilsu and Mansu painting billboards high atop the new apartment tanji in Banpo, Kangnam district. 






The film’s cold, expansive long shots of concrete buildings and uniform apartment complexes are employed to depict the imposition of 1967-1980s militarized developmentalism and urban policy on the everyday lives of two Seoul residents, Chilsu and Mansu (above). The newly-constructed cookie cutter apartment complexes of the above Banpo area become the backdrop to portray the lives of two displaced, out of work artists who eke a living painting commercial billboards on top of these structures in Kangnam, the new residential development area south of the Han River (Gelezeau 2007) [4]

The following scene at the Burger King, the first Western fast food restaurant in Seoul (Chongno area), where Chilsu’s love interest Jina works, figures prominently in this film as a site of consumption of not only food (hamburger, soda and fries), but also of fetishized, Western futurities. This mise-en-scène has Chilsu in a trendy jean jacket pretending to speak English (“Sorry!”), a yuppy father and son devouring hamburgers in bright white “Members Only” jackets, and a token blond American customer.


Staring at the blond American customer (above);  A yuppy father and son in Members Only jackets (below)




The modern spectacle of consumption at the Burger King sets up Western cultural imperialism and modern capitalism as oppressive regimes of looking and being seen in this new consumeristic public space of a transitioning Seoul (Bennett 1988: 73-100).

Chilsu and Jina at the Burger King (top);  Exhausted Chilsu in transit on the bus (below).


Even in this early film, we can detect the emergence of hidden, counter sites of refuge from the highly-charged pace of modernization overtaking the Korean city, with its weary urbanites scurrying along crowded streets or dozing off on public buses (above).

Refuge from the Frenetic City

Chilsu and Jina at the video game room (orak-sil), a new urban space in Seoul.

The video game room (orak-sil) above is the precursor to the later PC-bangs (internet rooms), noraebangs (singing rooms), jjimjil-bangs (public sauna rooms) and other room-focused spaces which emerge through the decades as Seoul grows into a megapolis, with a thriving, underground –bang (room) counterculture (Kim, K. S. 2005, 63‐73). While fleetingly treated in this 1980s film, such places of refuge figure much more prominently in later movies set in Seoul.

Two such recent films, Barking Dogs Never Bite (P’ŭrandŏsŭ ŭi kye, 2000) and Samaritan Girl (Samaria, 2004), also capture everyday life in the Seoul megapolis, featuring the representative apartment tanjis, which were prominently framed in Chilsu and Mansu. Bong Joon-ho’s comedy, Barking Dogs Never Bite, tells the story of an out-of-work PhD who is so irritated by the sound of a barking dog in his overcrowded apartment building that he eventually resorts to trying to be rid of it. He brings the dog to the basement, but upon hearing rustling from another room, shoves it in an abandoned closet intending to retrieve it later, and runs off. He never finds the dog again. We discover that the elderly security guard had cooked dog meat stew out of the former pet in the same basement. Meanwhile, a young woman (Korean star Bae Doo Na) from the apartment management office decides to investigate the matter, after she starts receiving notices from tenants about missing dogs. Below is a panoramic shot of the office worker chasing the suspect (the PhD graduate) in the apartment building through levels of identical floors.

The office worker chases the PhD through the outdoor halls of a typical apartment complex in Kangnam

Such spatially-organized cinematography by the director Bong Joon-ho is particularly effective in portraying claustrophobic everyday life in an ap’at’u tanji, and more importantly, the interplay between surveillance and invisibility in contemporary Seoul life. In this apartment complex, posters need to be approved and stamped by the central management office to be displayed, and even garbage disposal (below) is carefully monitored, as incorrect handling of trash can invite an earful from the neighborhood ajumma (middle-aged Korean woman).

 Garbage disposal is carefully scrutinized by the security guard

Surveillance and imposition of policy is never total, however, even in such a thoroughly structured residential schema as the ap’a’tu tanji, which cultural geographers like Valerie Gelezeau identify as a distinctly Korean form of urban modernism (Gelezeau 2007).

Interestingly, the hidden places of refuge captured in Bong’s cinematographic critique of the uniformity and humdrum pace of urban life all involve food consumption.

The office worker and the friend slouched over ramen.

Here, the bored and discontented office worker slurps ramen with her best friend inside a tiny hidden room behind a convenience store (kumong kagye), crouching over a portable gas burner. In the basement, another hidden space, the old security guard with his thick provincial accent cooks dog meat stew, away from the prying eyes of the apartment community.

The security guard preparing the dog meat stew

Slurping ramen at work in cheap aluminum pans over a makeshift stove, and eating dog meat stew are both disappearing food practices in today’s cosmopolitan Seoul: “In mega-size urban spaces, dense blocks of modern (if not altogether Western) life are juxtaposed with museum-like pockets of traditional/indigenous culture and politics” (Chang, K.S. 2010, 11). These are practices conducted out of sight, away from public surveillance, ironically, by the very two employees of the tanji who are both supposed to be upholding the law.

Another important film from this period, Samaritan Girl (2004), by the director Kim Ki-duk, also treats life in urban Seoul, but humorlessly, in a dark portrayal of high school girls who prostitute themselves to middle-aged men (wonjo kyojae) in transient love motels of a heartless Seoul.


The director exposes the commodification of innocence, framed by a grey and sterile Seoul. The girls are displaced in cold modern parks with stone statues, seen drifting from love motels, apartment complex playgrounds, public baths, to subway stations (below).

Cold, transient spaces of the concrete city 


There is no maternal warmth or mother at home in their tiny crowded apartment unit, as Yeo-jin lives alone with her widowed dad, a policeman. The father later learns of his daughter’s prostitution and beats her john to death in a public bathroom stall. The director Kim Ki-duk thus superimposes the sins of the daughter on the father, with the father symbolizing a communal patriarch atoning for the sins of a soul-less capitalist society.

Redemption occurs at the end of the film, set pointedly apart from Seoul in the beautiful countryside. After visiting the dead mother’s grave, the father and daughter eat kimbap (rice rolls wrapped in seaweed), which the father has lovingly prepared, gazing at the serene hills, which are framed as a deliberate refuge from the previous sterile scenes of a concrete Seoul. They sleep in a simple country cottage where an old man offers a spare room and freshly steamed sweet potatoes (koguma), both free of charge, in pointed contrast to the materialistic city where even young high school girls are for sale.

Yeo Jin and her father at their mother’s grave in the country.
A simple cottage.








Freshly-steamed sweet potato (koguma) offered freely (below).




This Korean countryside is the space of redemption and refuge from the city. Neighborliness is recovered in the freshly steamed, warm koguma dug from the fertile native soul. Such depictions of healing and refuge, evoked by an idyllic countryside outside Seoul where “traditional Korean values” persist, begin to recur again and again in Korean media. And despite globalization from the late 1990s, films and TV shows begin to reflect the viewers’ rediscovery of their own interior landscapes (Karatani) and identities.

Subverting Modern Seoul: the Transnational and Global Discovery of Landscape

As mentioned before, South Korean society witnessed a frenzied drive to move beyond colonial history and civil war after the 1960s, and a democratization history fraught with anti-government demonstrations and social unrest following decades of military dictatorship. During the 1970 New Village movement, a draconian Park Chunghee regime promised modern roads and electricity to every country home, and in turn, forced people’s lifestyles to change almost overnight. For the first time in modern history, a majority of Koreans thus came to be separated from traditional agrarian modes of living through this most thorough and far-reaching transformation of the landscape. Preservationists who lived through the New Village movement, like Director Yun Yeol-Soo of the Korean Folk Culture Association (Hanguk Minsok hakhoe) and the Gahoe Folk Museum, described it as the “worst disaster” to fall upon Korean folk culture with its violent erasure of the old ways of living in the name of modern urban infrastructure.[5] It is not a coincidence that a nostalgia industry started to emerge in the 1970’s during this New Village movement. In an environment where home, security, and quotidian life in a Korean preindustrial society were becoming distant memories, a “discourse of the vanishing” (Ivy 1995; Choi, C. M. 2002) emerged in Seoul cityscapes right alongside Westernized imaginaries like the Burger King scene from Chilsu and Mansu showing modern futurities. This nostalgia, first captured in film through the depictions of a forgotten Korea, would become powerful enough to inspire the restoration of the old neighborhoods of Seoul, after decades of thoughtless erasure in the name of the modern.

In Im Kwon Taek’s masterpiece, Sop’yŏnje (1993), which is recognized as the first prolonged treatment of the Korean landscape in cinematic history, the now famous long shots of the Korean countryside therefore were recovered spatio-temporal imaginaries of a national “home,” lost in a post-industrial Korea. We can even say that the nostalgized Korean landscape is the real protagonist in Sopyonje, a film about a makeshift family of itinerant p’ansori singers (below) in the Korean “heartland” of Chŏlla Province.

Training the next generation in the lost Korean art of p’ansori.
Invention of a lost Korean landscape in Chŏlla province, the “heartland” of Korea 







In a 1990s Korean market where Hollywood productions outsold domestic Korean films, the fact that a film about “searching for our culture” succeeded was unexpected – “Once an industrialized economy has advanced to a certain level, people begin to think about the ‘self’ that they have lived without. This movie was released at precisely such a point in South Korea’s history” (Cho, H. J. 2002: 138).

The now famous, self-Orientalist longshots of a “lost” Korean landscape in Sopyonje (above and lower right).







For decades Koreans had focused only on “catching up” to the West, not thinking of what was lost. Young Koreans viewers were surprised by their own emotional reactions to this movie about a forgotten Korean culture and interiority (Cho, H. J. 140-1). Im Kwon Taek himself did not anticipate that a movie produced to target foreign audiences would sell as many box office tickets domestically as the Hollywood blockbuster Jurassic Park (1993), released that same year (Shin and Stringer 2007), especially among the younger generation.

Sopyonje occupied a truly critical interstitial juncture in the history of Korean media by linking the Koreans’ desire for their own landscape with a transnational desire for an Orientalized Korea. This is because, as I have said, although Sopyonje was originally created to introduce Korean culture at foreign film festivals abroad (Cannes), the movie became a surprise domestic breakout hit in the peninsula. Im Kwon Taek’s nostalgic depictions of the then domestically-unappreciated art of p’ansori (a traditional Korean art form) and the disappearing rural Korean landscapes rendered the director’s aestheticism complicit with Western Orientalism, a move which Chung-moo Choi identifies as Im’s “metropolitan aestheticism” (Choi, C. M. 2002: 128-9). This “metropolitan aestheticism” is crucial because it explains how domestic Seoulites’ self-discovery cohered with the Orientalist desires of the transnational global audience.


It is only from the 1990s, after Seoulites became undeniable members of the global cosmopolitan elite, that Im Kwon Taek was able to assume a “metropolitan” position to project the Orientalist gaze (previously directed by “the West”) on the Korean self, evoking stunning, virtual landscapes. Thus Im’s post-1990s metropolitan Seoul aestheticism and transnational (Western) Orientalism merged through the now-shared desires subsumed under over-arching global cosmopolitanism. Im’s self-Orientalist trajectory thus helped fuel a thriving nostalgia industry built around inventing traditions (Vlastos 1998), which established synergy with foreign interest in the Korea “brand.”

If Sŏp’yŏnje marked the emergence of Korean landscape on the (trans-) national stage, then the internationally-celebrated historical drama, Jewel in the Palace (Taejanggŭm, 2003), invented Korean cuisine across borders as an essential element in the newly aestheticized national landscape. As is well known, Jewel in the Palace is a 2003 Korean television series directed by Lee Byung-hoon. It is based on the true story of Jang-geum, the first female royal physician of the Chosŏn Dynasty (1392-1910). Yi Young-ae plays the role of Jang-geum, who comes of age in the royal palace, learning the secrets of Korean cooking and traditional medicine. Jewel in the Palace (henceforth, Jewel) aired from September 15, 2003 to March 23, 2004 on MBC, and became the top program with an average viewership rating of 46.3%, peaking at 57.8% (making it the 10th highest rated Korean drama of all time). It was subtitled and exported to 91 countries and earned US$103.4 million worldwide, becoming one of the primary conduits of the Korean Wave. More importantly, Jewel continued the invention of Korean landscape in the tradition of Sopyonje, this time engaging domestic and foreign audiences in an idealized palace life in old Seoul, where delicious cooking connected the contemporary audience to the Chosŏn dynasty. Even though Jewel was also a problematic example of self-Orientalism or “metropolitan aestheticism” as discussed before with Sopyonje, its visual complicity with the gendered colonialist gaze was neutralized by the universal act of eating and by the fact that this time the protagonist was a strong and capable woman.


This is because eating is a process wherein space is compressed and transported through the food product’s association with a specific place (terroir, t’oji), not only across physical boundaries but also virtually through time. Jewel was a powerful ambassador in delivering the Korean brand to Thailand, the Philippines (above), Puerto Rico, Los Angeles, New York and anywhere else where the drama was broadcast. Droves of Jewel fans arrived in Seoul, in hopes of tasting the food they had virtually consumed in the Kdrama. Their search for “authentic,” traditional Korean food created a place, which had to be invented to satisfy the tourists’ desires.

We cannot overstate the importance of Jewel in inspiring a whole branch of national tourism built around eating “authentic” Korean food (as opposed to the previously desired Burger King hamburger, pasta, or French food) and appreciating traditional architecture in Seoul, a city which had ostensibly forgotten its history in its rigorous march to achieve “the Miracle on the Han.”


Jewel was thus seminal in the physical transformation of the old northern city of Seoul (Kangbuk, north of the river) itself, which had been overlooked during the 1970s-2000s period when the government had pushed to settle the new area south of the Han River (Kangnam) (Lett 2002; Nelson 2000). Due largely in part to the global interest in traditional food and architecture sparked by Jewel, Bukchon (the old North Village of Kangbuk, north of the Han river) was now being transformed to mimic the beautiful, self-Orientalizing mediascapes of the historical drama. In fact, the Bukchon Hanok Village, which had been left to fade until about ten years ago, has recently been rejuvenated and reinvented as one of the most popular tourist sites in Seoul.




Traditional hanok houses in old Seoul, Bukch’on, or North Village in old Seoul; courtesy of Simon and Sue’s Mid Life Gap Year






One can argue that the Bukchon neighborhood (above) and before that Insadong Street with its traditional-style hanok (traditional Korean house) restaurants serving multi-course “palace food” (chŏngsik) owe their recent popularity to the ethnoscapes of Jewel and the other media productions which followed. These depicted a stunningly beautiful Korean past with exquisitely-set traditional meals, colorful silk clothes, and elegant kisaeng (female entertainers) (Cwiertka 2014).[6] If Kangnam represented the hypermodern of a grossly-deterritorialized Seoul, this more recent phenomenon, which I call the “return to Kangbuk (the old city),” is an expression of Seoulites’ exhaustion with globalization and its numbing repetitiveness, and a rejection of Westernized, modern “Kangnam Style.”



Ellie Choi (PhD Harvard, ’09) is a cultural historian of modern Korea and a Fellow at the Harvard Korea Institute. Her main research interests are spatiality, Seoul, northern Korea, mobility, food media, and hometowns.  Her first book project, Space and National Identity: Yi Kwangsu’s Vision of Korea during the Japanese Empire, explores the relationships among space, cultural nationalism, and historical identity.  Her current topic, Laptop Nationalism and the Transnational Consumption of Korea, considers the explosion of food shows in the Korean media and its relationship to identity production in Seoul, the peninsula, and the diaspora.  Before her tenure at the Korea Institute, Dr. Choi was Assistant Professor of Korean Studies at Cornell University, and has also taught at Smith, Dartmouth, and Yale colleges.  Dr. Choi enjoys classical music and organic farming. 

[1] Seoul had only 2.5 million residents in 1960, but this number tripled to 8 million by 1980, reaching 12 million by 1990.   Gelezeau, “Changing Socio-Economic Environments, Housing Culture and New Urban Segregation in Seoul,” 299.

[2] According to Gelezeau (2007), Kim Chungŏp worked for Le Corbusier’s studio between 1952 to 1956. 2007, 173.

[3] Soja, “Thirdspace: Expanding the Scope of the Geographical Imagination.” According to Soja, first space is the actual physical terrain of a place, second space is the idealized vision of how that space should be used, and third space is how people actually used a space, which never coheres with second space policies.

[4] Background of Banpo as first major development in Kangnam (south of the river) in Seoul (1970s). Gelezeau 2007

[5] Interview at the Gahoe Museum in Bukchon, Seoul August 2, 2009.

[6] Untold Scandal (Sŭk’andŭl, 2003), Hwang Jin Yi (2007) are also movies which depict a beautiful Chosŏn society with delicious-looking palace food, gorgeous silk costumes and stunning architecture.

Member of the Week: Jim Wunsch

Jim-Wunsch-100x100Jim Wunsch

Professor, Historical and Educational Studies

Empire State College, State University of New York (SUNY)


Describe your current research.

I am interested in how social and technological changes over the course of the 20th century altered the lives of children. In “The Streetlife of Children in New York City” (Streetnotes, February 2015, 51- 91), I drew on memoir and literature to tell that story. Lately I have focused on how cars came to threaten and limit the child’s freedom of movement. The issue will be further considered when I join Joe Goddard of the University of Copenhagen and Veera Moll of Aalto University (Helsinki) in Cars v. Kids, a panel for the Children and Youth in a Global Age conference at the University of Hong Kong, 25-26 May.

What drew you toward research on children and cities?

 I have it on good authority that I once was a child, raised in the Midwood section of Brooklyn where I attended P.S. 193. When I was in fourth grade, my family moved to Westport, Connecticut, the very model of the prosperous rail commuter suburb. In Brooklyn, my two older brothers had enjoyed the freedom of subway travel, but when it came to getting around Westport, they were dependent on our mother. As I was content to ride my bike, I did not share my brothers’ objections to suburbia. Sixty-five years later, I am coming to grips with their discontent, an indication perhaps of a certain slowness in catching on or catching up.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship? 

In “Urban Change: The Story of New York City Neighborhoods” my students develop PowerPoint tours of their respective neighborhoods. Their presentations are built around photos of housing, shops, parks and prominent structures; through use of census and planning data students consider the racial and ethnic composition along with the health and wealth of their neighborhoods. The majority of students– mostly black and Hispanic working-class adults—are concerned with gentrification. The assigned readings and essays are intended to put their understanding of gentrification into historical perspective.

Many of the students in my other course serve as assistant teachers in the NYC public schools. In the “Childhoods of Great Americans,” the coming of age of Ben Franklin, his sister Jane, Sojourner Truth, Abe Lincoln, Huck Finn, W.E.B DuBois, and others is linked to a basic American historical narrative. Students can thus satisfy the SUNY American history requirement while also considering a fundamental pedagogical question: how is it that young people could become quite well educated with minimum of schooling? Daniel Wolff’s inviting How Lincoln Learned to Read inspired this course.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

Sonia A. Hirt’s Zoned in The USA: The Origins And Implications of American Land-Use Regulation (2014) is an astute and readable account of American land use planning, past and present. For urban historians the book serves nicely as model of comparative analysis. After comparing the US to other places Hirt asks: “How could Americans, whose reputations for being independent and freedom-loving and respecting private property… put up with such tedious laws governing the building of their everyday environments and way of life?”

Robert J. Gordon’s The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living Since The Civil War (2016) helps urban historians understand how the dynamo, the development of alternating current and the cheap internal combustion engine, pulled or pushed Americans from countryside to city and then spread them thinly across metro areas. By 1940 the technological revolution was complete. The American household was wired into the energy, communications, and plumbing grid. What has transpired since has been less consequential. Except for the microwave, your kitchen is little different from one set up seventy years ago. Compared to what the car, electricity, and indoor plumbing produced, the growth generated by the “digital revolution” has been pretty feeble.

As for my own work, I am relieved if not excited to be finishing “What I Learned About Cities and Suburbs By Working for The New Jersey Legislature,” a first-person account of serving as staff to the Assembly Municipal Government Committee during the late seventies, a period when this very wealthy state’s exceptionally poor and troubled cities appeared to be in free fall.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban history?

You might imagine that a tenured professor privileged to live and teach in New York City might have some useful advice to impart to others seeking to make their way in academia. But that would presume that I had some career strategy.

After earning a doctorate in history, I did not teach college for the next fifteen years. Instead, I served as staff to the New Jersey Legislature and then to The Regional Plan Association, a private, non-profit planning agency. I taught social studies full-time at Smith, Truman and Monroe, among the most troubled high schools in the Bronx. In retrospect it would appear that this extended “postdoc” was invaluable preparation for teaching college-level urban history. Maybe so, but at the time I didn’t know that. I was just looking for interesting jobs.

What has sustained me — those jobs were not always easy or interesting — was my feeling for urban history, the story of the rise and fall and often the rise again of cities and other places large and small. Urban history naturally draws you into civic engagement whether it is serving on a planning board, school board or joining a group trying to get the sidewalk extended so more kids can walk to school. Such engagement can be helpful in your own writing or research and even lead to gainful and interesting employment.

You’ve recently assumed the mantle of Book Review Editor for The Metropole. In a twist on the BBC classic radio program Desert Island Discs, what eight books, 1 CD, and single luxury good would you take if you were stranded on a tropical beach?

Listen, Metropole, I’m assuming no mantle, yoke or chastity belt until my retirement on August 3rd. And I must say your linking of editorial duties to being cast away is disconcerting. What are the survival chances of a pale, fearful chap, skilled mostly at annotating bibliographies?

But Book Review Editor sounds easier than teaching at Monroe High School, so I will do the best I can to assign books to competent reviewers.

As for that wretched island: I read that the palm fronds can serve as raiment (grass skirts) and shelter, and the milk and meat of the coconut will sustain life. So, I need a book titled Survival Under a Coconut Regime. [The Metropole editors note that this is not a real book, so far as Google is concerned, but believes the title must be applicable to some ongoing scholarly project]. I heard that Wiki is coming out with a print edition so have the UHA ship the 7,471 volumes to the island via Amazon Primeval. Other titles: Gulliver’s Travels, Ecclesiastes, Jonah and The Book of Revelation to remind me of how little I will miss the damned human race. Then a couple by P.G. Wodehouse to remind me of all that was good.

Ah, the luxury item. Doubtless, many would opt for a solar powered cell phone so that they could remain on Facebook and also order whatever they wanted. So equipped it would be irrelevant whether they were stranded on a tropical island or in Muncie. As for me I would want a pail and shovel, not the tacky 99-cent store stuff for kids, but serious sculpting and sand moving tools. I would then dig sluices, canals and moats, lay out a city mostly on the grid but with irregular streets and avenues respectful of the contours of the beach. A great improvement over NYC’s tedious 1811 Plan. ­­­­ Hovels, bungalows, castles and nunneries to follow. Then as Lord of all that I had surveyed, I would build a throne and thereon be anointed—remotely of course– Book Review Editor—with the Goldberg Variations in the background. How envious other urban historians will be.


Five Days of Seoul: A UHA Travelogue in the South Korean Capital

After the Korean War, Seoul, South Korea probably wouldn’t have been listed as an ideal destination for summer travelers. U.S. occupation, the burdens of a civil war that cost nearly 375,000 Korean civilian lives (to say nothing of the 138,000 Korean soldiers who perished), and persistent food shortages amidst the wreckage of conflict did not make for a prime vacation spot. “Most of Seoul lay in ruins,” Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Malcolm W. Browne remembered in his 1993 memoir, Muddy Boots and Red Socks. “The poverty was ubiquitous and obtrusive, and there was a constant danger of losing a wallet or camera to thieves.” Decades of military rule followed as did the eventual transformation to a more democratic government in the 1980s and 1990s (it’s obviously much more complicated than this but hey we’re traveling here; plus you can always check out our bibliography/overview and Russell Burge’s piece on student politics for more info!). Today, Seoul residents and South Koreans more generally wrestle with the existential threat of nuclear annihilation, so to describe the city’s inhabitants as resilient seems to be underselling their collective courage in the face of very real geopolitical struggle.

Notice the giant Kung Fu Panda in the middle. For a city under constant threat, there remains a certain playfulness at heart

Particularly, over the past decade and a half, South Korea has emerged as an economic and cultural power not only in Asia but the world. K-Pop produces chewy, delicious pop songs sung around the world. PSY’s “Gangnam Style” obliterated the pop charts in the most unpredictable of ways. (Who knew a Korean rapper dancing like a pony and mocking the city’s more fashionable citizens could capture the world’s imagination?) Stephen Colbert made frequent references to the Korean pop star Rain on his now defunct Comedy Central Show; Korean soap operas captivate Asia, and if one asks my younger sister, parts of America as well. (A thumbnail encapsulation of a typical plot usually consists of a young girl torn between loving a “bad boy” and a more wholesome rival, while at some point an older Korean lady screams at her for something – I’m simplifying here, maybe even making things up). Rising incomes and changing beauty standards – shaped by factors too complex to discuss here – have made Seoul an East Asian hot spot for plastic surgery.


Not long ago (though in today’s media environment it feels like decades), the New York Times focused on the South Korean capital in its “36 Hours” travel column, highlighting, among other aspects of the city, the Cheonggyecheon Stream: a “ribbon of water” that has flowed through the city for centuries, but had become polluted and covered by a highway. Approximately ten years ago, city officials decided to reclaim the park through urban renewal projects and it now stands as a testament to these efforts as Koreans and tourists take in its pleasures for miles. Los Angeles might take note considering its own efforts with the L.A. River. Sitting just below street level, it even escapes the sounds of the bustling city such that “you can hear birds chirping in the trees,” writes the Times. Note however, when it rains heavily the stream is closed for fear of flooding.












Like many East Asian and Southeast Asian cities, Seoul has existed for centuries. The layering of old and new is not as pronounced as in places like Bangkok, but it’s there. One can hike along the old fortressed walls of the city or visit the various gates that once controlled entrance into Seoul. They are all embedded in the modern landscape.  Still, the city feels ultra modern. At night , the buildings are sometimes lit up with cartoon characters. The subway goes pretty much everywhere and unlike in Washington D.C. or New York the trains arrive often and remain largely spotless.


You see fewer and fewer of these more traditional homes around the city, but if you know where to look, such as in Bukcon Hanok Village neighborhood, they are there. To read contributor Jieheerah Yun’s great piece about these homes, click here




The airport could not be more 21st century – it even includes a hotel for layovers and countless food options. Traveling in Asia, one wonders just what Asians might think of American airports like say, LaGuardia. The word “third world” comes to mind, but I digress.




Food in Seoul is, unsurprisingly, delicious. While Korean food is spicy, it’s not nearly as spicy as Thai cuisine, which might literally burn a hole in your stomach. Obviously, Korean BBQ can be had throughout the metropolis, though keep in mind it tends to be pricier than many other food options. Bibimbap, for example, is cheaper and ubiquitous. Seoul offers exactly what one would expect of it. You have food markets like Gwangjang market, where every iteration of street meat and beyond lay at your greedy little fingertips.

Then again, the American presence casts a cultural influence as well. Coffee shops abound, which according to one guide can be largely attributed to American G.I.’s who helped popularize the beverage. Italian food, pizza, numerous other western cuisines, and even beer and fried chicken (a tradition known as chi-maek) can be found all over the city. As in the U.S., craft beer now enjoys a burgeoning following; make no mistake, Koreans dig beer.


Gwangjang Market at midday




A Bit of the Old 

More than a few palaces populate Seoul. The peninsula’s long history and the various dynasties that ruled over it have resulted in a great deal of historic architecture. Arguably the grandest example of Seoul’s palaces is Gyeongbokgung Palace, the largest of the Josean Dynasty’s five “Grand Palaces.”  As with nearly every destination in Seoul, it is easily accessible via subway.  Admittedly, the palace has gone through various incarnations including abandonment, destruction (Imperial Japan did not view it kindly), and reconstruction (it’s been gradually rebuilt over the past two decades). The palace grounds include the National Museum of the Korean Palace and the National Folk Museum.


Looking out onto modern Seoul from its ancient past




Just one example of a palace interior









Numerous shrines also dot the city. The Jongmyo Royal Shrine, which consists of several buildings and houses the “spiritual tablets” of the Joseon Dynasty Kings and their “Queen Consorts,” serves as just one affordably priced and attractive example. The English-language tour only takes an hour.









The Quirky 

Like anywhere else, you discover the quirkier aspects of the city as you travel around its neighborhoods.


To paraphrase Mr. Hand of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High Fame“: “Aloha means hello and goodbye.”



Brush your teeth like a superhero?



Curb your pet … or don’t?!


What up dog?!


Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, located not far from the dog statues above in Hannam-dong Yongan-Gu, Seoul is worth a trip. The museum intertwines antiquities with modern art pretty effectively and is curated very well.


Like many ultra modern cities, Seoul features a great deal of unique architecture. French architect Dominique Perrault designed this campus center at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. By embedding it in the ground, the campus maintains a pastoral landscape despite being in the middle of the city. According to Perrault, it enables Ewha to grow both “outward and inward.”


This is what Perrault calls the “The Valley” which according to the architect, provides a space that is “many things at once.”




Beyond Seoul


Suwon as seen from its central train station


One need not be hemmed in by the city. About twenty miles south of Seoul, Suwon provides a pleasant day trip. You can take a train from main station in Seoul and be there in forty minutes. In addition to being the spiritual home of Samsung, Suwon offers a glimpse into its growth over time. Visitors can hike the walls of its Hwaseong fortresses to get views of the city and a sense of how much Suwon has grown.


Fortress view of Suwon


Walking the main fortress wall in Suwon


One can also check out the life of the nation’s yeoman farmers and artisans in its Korean Folk Village (technically located in Yongin about a thirty minute cab ride from the Suwon train station) which recreates village living and culture from earlier eras.


The Korean Folk Village in Yongin


While wandering around and checking out traditional Korean animal husbandry might be of great interest to some readers, the best part of the village is its daily performances. Some touch on more modern themes like Korean hip hop, but we caught a more traditional rendition that combined Korean village life, a 1970s vibe, and Dr. Seuss (check out the pretty amazing headdress donned by everyone in the video, but especially the leader; one wonders if Seuss didn’t crib from Korea in his work). In terms of swing, I’m amazed it hasn’t been co-opted by an entrepreneurial rap artist.



Suwon Train Station at Sunset


For the more daring, or really anyone willing to embark on a 10 hour round trip car ride to the South, you can explore earlier South Korean dynasties before the peninsula’s unification, such as that of the Silla Kingdom, at the Gyeongju National Museum and nearby Bulguksa Temple, Seokguram Grotto, and Cheonmachong (heavenly horse tomb, which can be accessed via Tumuli Park). We required a guide for this. The ten hour round trip from Seoul left plenty of time for shooting the breeze, which unfortunately for us involved being subjected to (admittedly reasonable) questions regarding the 2016 presidential election campaign that was just heating up. Our guide, a retired bank executive, asked simply: “What’s up with the whole Donald Trump thing?” and “Why does everyone in America have a gun?” Fair questions with hard answers; in light of recent events perhaps even more difficult to answer now.  I’ll leave broader discussions of such things to the readers.



Seokguram Grotto, which houses one of the world’s ancient Buddha’s; unfortunately photos are forbidden inside the grotto




Bulguksa Temple, built in the 6th century, is considered a highpoint of Buddhist doctrine







The not actually royal bathroom


Back to Square One

If you have more time to spare, I’d recommend an urban hike. We stayed in Namdaemun, at a hotel named Frasier Place (highly recommended, book early for a discount and make sure you reserve the larger rooms; you get a lot more space for a few more bucks, plus laundry machines). The hotel is only a 10 to 15 minute walk from the starting point of a ninety minute hike (give or take) up Namsan Mountain (north of Itaewon and the Han River). At it’s peak you’ll find the N.Seoul Tower, a city landmark, along with a small complex of restaurants and shops catering to hikers and tourist groups. Koreans take their hiking seriously, along the way you’ll see plenty of men and women decked out in spiffy hiking gear.


Walk toward the tower


Like in parts of SoCal, you’ll find outdoor exercise areas not only on hikes like this but at truck stops as well.




When you reach the summit you’ll find not only the N. Seoul Tower complex but also Christmas trees covered with locks declaring a couple’s love for one another. Romantic or, you know, just heavy?




Get Your Military History On


Outside the War Memorial of Korea


“At dawn a few days later we sailed into Inchoon Harbor in Central Korea, and my enchantment with Asia began,” wrote the aforementioned Malcolm Browne in 1993, reminiscing about his pre-journalism days as a G.I. during the Korean War. Browne had been drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War and like many others came to love Korea and the wider Asian world as a result. While the Korean War has faded in U.S. memory, as Vietnam sucks up much the air in terms of post- WWII military historical memory, for South Korea its legacy persists as a defining moment; the peninsula remains divided between North and South with the Demilitarized Zone as the symbol of this division.

Regrettably, due to my own stupidity, we failed to visit the DMZ, which according to all accounts is an absolutely fascinating trip for numerous reasons (it’s one of the few remaining symbols of the Cold War and, allegedly, the DMZ serves as home to an ecological system found nowhere else in the world). Granted, I have not made the trip but I would highly recommend any visitor to do so. Be sure to book a couple weeks in advance. I failed to do so and missed a prime opportunity, my one regret from the trip.




That being said, the monumental War Memorial of Korea in Seoul certainly offers a crash course in the history of the war. Its a fairly massive endeavor. Outside, one can take a tour of the various aircraft utilized in the conflict along with several monuments built to honor those who fought and died. Inside, there is no shortage of information on the war. The memorial employs a great deal of multimedia, including films and video game that are reenactments of famous battles




You’ve Got Seoul

After five days in the capital, we left for Southeast Asia; Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand to be more precise. Seoul shares more in common with cities like Tokyo and perhaps Hong Kong than say Ho Chi Minh City or Bangkok, evidence of the startling diversity in Asia that too often gets collapsed by American conceptions of the continent that focus squarely on China and Japan.




The day we left, the U.K. voted to leave the European Union (#Brexit). As we waited for a shuttle to the train station to catch the express to the airport our driver spoke excitedly with a hospitality worker at our hotel and it went something like this: “Korean, Korean, Korean, “Brexit” …” a disbelieving shake of the head and a bemused/confused look shared between them.

Korea might have once been dubbed the “hermit kingdom” trapped between two colossal neighbors, but today it’s a country on the rise exerting itself culturally and economically while many western powers, like the U.K. and, judging current events, U.S. look to retreat from the global stage. If South Korea has become the cultural soul of Asia, Seoul is its modern beating heart.


Tradition Revisited: Seoul’s Makeover of Old Housing Forms

By Jieheerah Yun

Fast growing metropolises of East Asia, especially those like Shanghai and Shenzhen, are often characterized by forests of skyscrapers and residential towers. For Rem Koolhaas, this development is the future direction of urbanization, and it should be accepted as the condition of “a generic city.”[i] For others, rapid urbanization and the lack of distinct urban characteristics, including the expression of a localized architectural style, led to the discourse of identity crisis – the process moved so quickly it erased aspects of the traditional city particularly vernacular architecture which left residents and elected officials searching for an urban identity. Seoul, it seems, is not exempt from such discussions especially amid the homogenizing tendency of architectural reproduction around the world. In the economic context of being sandwiched between Chinese manufacturing industries and the innovative technologies of the U.S. and Japan, Seoul has emphasized informational technology and other forms of “soft industry.” In the context of economic and demographic growth, previously undervalued cultural resources within the capital have become evermore important. Urban planners and policy makers are eager to promote a new image of Seoul, either by resurrecting traditional forms or by redesigning modern buildings.


Figure 1a. Remodeled hanok in Bukchon, Seoul [Photos by author]
Resurrecting traditional forms in Seoul is most apparent in the remodeling of hanoks, or Korean traditional houses in the historical villages such as Bukchon (Fig 1a and 1b). Although most hanoks have disappeared from the urban setting due to the rapid pace of urban redevelopment, some have remained within the capital. With the exception of a few well-known hanoks registered as cultural artifacts, many urban hanoks were deteriorating. Yet in the new millennium, things changed, as the local government and the neighborhood associations adopted a more collaborative approach and introduced policy measures to promote the use of hanoks while enabling repairs within the interior space. The successful village regeneration project has garnered much media attention, with the Bukchon Regeneration Project winning an award from UNESCO. Soon thereafter, more urban projects following the example of Bukchon were enacted by other cities. Additionally, national and local governments began promoting research on the renovation and reinvention of the traditional housing based on contemporary demand, meaning the inclusion of air conditioning, garages, and other modern amenities.

Figure 1b. Remodeled hanok in Bukchon, Seoul [Photos by author]
This is not to say that the urban landscape of Seoul has suddenly transformed into a traditional village. Like other metropolises in East Asia, Seoul is dominated by skyscrapers and other forms of “modern” architecture. Remodeled hanoks are a rarity in in the city and can only be seen in historic neighborhoods in small numbers. Yet the “return of hanoks” is considered a very important change in the context of near-extinction of traditional homes in major South Korean cities. In June 2015, the Seoul city government issued the “Hanok Heritage Proclamation,” which detailed seven different projects to protect existing heritage sites and aid new construction of hanoks. In addition, by providing financial support for those who build new hanoks,the city established several new programs for their construction as long as the homes adhered to stylistic conventions established by the Hanok Committee, a group of experts appointed by the city. More recent experiments include Eunpyeong Hanok Village in the northern section of Seoul (fig. 2), where newly constructed hanoks in this village have larger interior spaces meant to accommodate the changing needs of occupants. The trend of remodeling hanoks has been picked up by cities in the provinces, with the consultation of National Hanok Center, a new national research institute, and the Korea Land and Housing Corporation, a state-owned enterprise. According to the report by the Architecture and Urban Research Institute (AURI), twenty-nine new hanok villages have been newly formed as of May 2016.[ii] These are newly developed villages, and are unlike the traditional villages that have long existed.

Eunpyeong Hanok Village has many remodeled hanoks, some with second floor interior spaces to accommodate contemporary lifestyles. [Photo by author]
Regarding it as an anomaly in a housing market otherwise dominated by high-rises, some may view this phenomenon as a mere fad that is unlikely to sustain itself. This is due to higher construction costs associated with building hanoks, and the relative difficulty of finding a suitable labor force. Mass production of structural elements of the hanok is much more difficult compared to detached houses made of concrete and steel, even though many R&D projects are commissioned by the state (the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport) to find ways of lowering costs and improving the comfort. In some cases, more intensive human labor is required in order to produce a more “authentic” traditional ambience. Most craft-workers of hanok specialize in cultural heritage preservation, rather than building new hanoks suitable for contemporary living. Thus, it is challenging to produce a remodeled hanok that has both an “authentic” aesthetic and good, functional performance at a reasonable cost. Admittedly, finding affordable housing in Seoul itself is challenging, but it becomes even harder if one is looking to build a remodeled hanok. So what is the reason behind the so-called “Hanok Renaissance”?[iii]

The Seoul Hanok Portal promoting the remodeled hanoks of Seoul [Source:
To answer the question, one needs to more closely delve into the prospective residents. Who are the prospective residents in remodeled hanoks? And why would they want to move into one? It is one thing for the state and local government to promote the idea of resurrected traditional houses but quite another for residents to desire them. People living in remodeled hanok dislike living in apartment complexes, and desire to live in a house that better reflects personal preferences.[iv] Although the majority of South Korean urban residents live in multifamily homes such as apartment buildings, such choices do not necessarily confirm public desires for multifamily houses. Of course, satisfying personal preference does not require a hanok, as any detached house with careful design considerations would do. Yet having traditional ambience does not hurt, and incentives provided by the local government reduce the economic burden of maintenance. Some residents are retirees, and have found deteriorating and uninhabited hanoks in rural towns that they converted into their own homes. Older people, especially boomers, have childhood memories of living in hanoks, and having fewer involved household chores. They regard the lifestyle associated with hanok living as emotionally satisfying. In such cases, nostalgia functions as an important factor. Hanoks are not exclusive to older populations, and young people also live in them.

As the Hanok Renaissance has gained momentum, some experts have expressed concern over the quality of certain remodeled hanoks—criticizing them as too experimental and not in keeping with the traditional aesthetic. Others worry that burgeoning hanok villages around the country will reduce remodeled hanoks to another standardized residential prototype, much as International Style apartment towers have become. But there are positive signs that remodeled hanoks may thrive into the future as the share of detached houses in the overall housing market has increased significantly. With the diversification of housing demand, the market share of hanoks has steadily grown. Ongoing experimentation and research exploring innovations in construction methods is being carried out by industry and academic institutions. Vigorous discussions and debates regarding how to appropriately remodel hanoks and plan hanok villages are being published in journals such as Hanok Munhwa [Hanok Culture]. While some critics point out that contemporary hanok villages lack the traditional layout of the historic hanok villages, they represent an important break from the skyscraper-dominated urban residential landscape of Seoul. Perhaps, with historic hindsight and much caution, architects and planners of contemporary South Korea may not repeat the same mistakes made by earlier generations. Yun is an assistant professor of architecture at Hongik University in Seoul, South Korea. Her recent book, Globalizing Seoul: The City’s Cultural and Urban Change, was published in February 2017

[i] Koolhaas, Rem and Bruce Mau. S,M,L,XL The Monacelli Press; 3 edition, 1997.

[ii] AURI, Hanok Village Story, AURI: Sejong, 2016. pp.57

[iii] Lee, Gilho. “2010 Hanok Runesansu Wonnyon Uro” [“2010 Hanok Renaissance’s Beginning Year”] NewDaily.

[iv] Yun, Jieheerah. “Remodeling of the Vernacular in Bukchon Hanoks” Open House International, Vol 37, No. 1, 2012: 40-47



Member of the Week: Ellen Hartman

Hartman_profileEllen Hartman

Research Landscape Architect, US Army Corps of Engineers Construction Engineering Research Laboratory

Part-time PhD Student, Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Illinois

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest? 

My current research at work covers a few areas, but it’s mostly focused on military aspects of cultural resources management and socio-cultural goespatial research, with some natural resources management aspects thrown in. When I started working I didn’t know what to expect, except that I was interested broadly in military landscapes (although, at the time I didn’t really know what that meant!). Academically, my research is more historical and theory-based and addresses the militarization of tangible and intangible spaces through nuclear armament.

Describe your current work for the Army Corps of Engineers. How does what you are working on relate to your scholarship?

My research for the Corps is very applied, which means I conduct historical research that informs the management guidelines I write that help the Department of Defense facilities maintain compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act, among other federal policies. The overlap between my work research and academic research is that I can view military landscapes from two different perspectives–operational and theoretical. 

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

It’s not that recent of a publication, but I just came across a book in the NATO Science for Peace and Security Series called “Warfare Ecology: A New Synthesis for Peace and Security” (2011). It explores the “complex, reciprocal relationships between warfare and the environment.” I haven’t read it in depth yet, but so far all the contributions seem really interesting. 

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies?

I don’t have much advice, except that history is awesome and cities are awesome so they might as well be put together.

A few years you became interested in geomancy and began incorporating influences of geomancy into your design work. What is geomancy, and what’s your favorite example of how you’ve used it for design?

Oh boy, the geomancy question. Way back when I was working on my masters in landscape architecture I had an ongoing conversation with my advisor, David Hays, about the assumption that design is predicated on improving future conditions. One of the questions was, how do you design for something that is unpredictable? David suggested I look into geomancy because it’s an ancient “science” that uses Earth’s energies to predict the future as well as locate sacred, or important, sites. But really, I use it as a method to filter, or recognize, my bias and to question the modern notion of technological arrogance and that we are always progressing upward toward betterment.

Geomancy is a fun exercise that helps generate narratives and then design responses. As mentioned above, I used it for my masters thesis, which got published as the chapter “Savior City” in (Non-) Essential Knowledge for (New) Architecture: 306090, Volume 15. I also used geomancy to question how sacred sites get formed in a journal article “Sacred States of America” in Forty-Five ( This project is a favorite because I wanted it to be a prompt for action, to have people go to specific places to do specific things with the hope that over time the prompt would be forgotten, but the actions would continue, thereby creating new sacred sites. To my knowledge, no one has enacted any part of that plan.

Protest in the Streets: A Thumbnail History and Personal Account of Political Dissent in Seoul

By Russell Burge

Images of Seoul filter fitfully into American media, and when they do the city often serves as a backdrop for discussions of foreign policy or North-South Korean relations. More rarely do Americans glimpse another aspect of Seoul that South Koreans know all too well: its venerable history as a site of public protest.

This history was on vivid display in the autumn and winter of last year, as over a million people took to the streets of the city in a “candlelight vigil” to demand the resignation of President Park Geun-hye. To some, this period may already feel like a distant memory—especially following the missile crisis of 2017 and the political theater of the Pyeongchang Olympics—but in South Korea the Seoul-based demonstrations were part of a nationwide protest movement that helped accelerate the impeachment of the president and prompt a transfer of the presidency from the ruling Saenuri Party to the opposition Democratic Party of Korea.

By coincidence I was present for these protests in my first year of dissertation fieldwork, as marches overtook the city and protesters congregated in the central area of Gwanghwamun Plaza, a wide space that has come to increasingly function as a kind of town square for South Korea. In a gathering filled with music, political props, costumes, and families, protesters chanted haya, haya (“step down, step down”). Meanwhile, in a microcosm of civil society, rival protests nearby gathered under the South Korean flag and called to uphold the constitution and save the country from opposition leader Moon Jae-in, cast by some civic groups as a North Korean agent. In true South Korean fashion, both protests were lined by flanks of riot police and chabyeok, or rows of police vehicles that formed literal barriers across city streets.

Seoul Korea Kwanghwamun candle rally Dec 31 photos ops at the effigies – “Faces of Korea”, Photo by @moseka, Dec 31, 2017, courtesy of flickr

My one encounter with the riot police was both ironic and unexpected, coming as it did after I attended a student event held by Seoul National University. Having been released from the event after dark and on the wrong side of the barriers, we emerged into a neighborhood that consisted of a maze of alleyways, many of them restored to resemble a vision of Korea’s royal past. Under tiled roofs and with the guidance of police officers – many of them conscripted young men who were themselves university age – we were patiently led through the chabyeok cordon and emerged finally into the main theater of the protest, a coursing river of candlelight pulsing with music. The experience was filtered through multiple layers of protection and privilege – our affiliation with an elite South Korean university, my own identity as a white American – but still appeared quite different from the Orwellian spectacle police presented in the crackdown of the 2015 protests, when remotely manned CCTV units (part of the Seoul police force which operates under the umbrella of the National Police Agency, the KNPA) were equipped with water cannonsand pepper spray to disperse the protests in Gwanghwamun. One protester was killed; indeed, speculation over the perceived sympathy or acquiescence of the police was a major leitmotif of discourse around the candelight protests of late 2016 and early 2017.

Democratic Republican Party convention, 1967 February 2 at the Changch’ung gymnasium to select the presidential candidate : we have to select party Chairman Mr. Park Chung Hee. Photo by Minju Konghwadang, 1967, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

My own research focuses on the history of Seoul in the 1960s and 1970s, but the history of meaningful protest in the city dates back much further, and coincides with the history of Korean urbanization. Under the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) the major protest movements were agrarian. Indeed, it was a millenarian peasant-based movement that nearly toppled the monarchy and sparked the First Sino-Japanese War in 1894. Still, Seoul was at the center of many of the more raucous responses to modernity in the 1890s and played home to what writer Isabella Bird Bishop famously termed its “gusts of popular feeling.”[1]

As the extractive economies of Japanese colonialism (1910-1945) mandated the building up of ports and infrastructure, Seoul’s position at the center of an urban network only grew. It is partly for this reason that in 1919 the city became the starting point and nucleus of the most storied mass movement in Korean history: the March First Movement, a two-month-long series of protests against Japanese colonial rule that is still a major touchstone in both North and South Korean official history. The March First Movement did not end Japanese colonialism, but, after months of bloody crackdowns by colonial police, it did change its inflection and guiding policies. It even helped to inspire China’s May Fourth Movement. Thus was inaugurated a tradition of urban-based protest that continues to this day.

In 1960, urban protest toppled a sitting Korean government for the first time. The origins of these protests are complex, but the major spark came in the southeastern port city of Masan, following the death of a high school freshman at the hands of police during an anti-government protest. When the protests spread to Seoul they took on new life, as university students and faculty joined in the melee against the South Korean government. The April Revolution, as the 1960 protests came to be called, proved to have a mixed legacy. The following year military officers staged a coup by seizing the major branches of government in Seoul; the leaders also deemed their own movement a revolution, and claimed to represent the spirit of the students who had taken to the streets in 1960. Over the next two-and-a-half decades, as South Korea moved into a long period of industry-first authoritarianism, cities would become important staging grounds to express grievances and anti-government resistance. The darkest moment in this era of urban protest came in 1980, when protests in the southwestern city of Gwangju were put down with mass bloodshed at the hands of ROK armed forces.

The 1988 Olympic Games proved to be about more than just sport. Photo by Ryan Reft at the Korea Modern Design Museum in Seoul, one of the oddest museums you will ever visit, June 2016

As the Pyeongchang Olympics draw to a close, it seems timely to note that when South Korea last held the Olympics –the 1988 Seoul Summer Games – a very different kind of political theater unfolded. In the leadup to those Games millions of South Koreans took to the streets to protest the continuation of authoritarian rule by the clique led by then-president Chun Doo-hwan. With international media laser-focused on Seoul and South Korea, the Chun administration – which relied in no small part on American support for its continued existence – chose to capitulate to key demands of the democratization movement and held elections the following year. The fateful decision, still decried by hardliners on the left and the right, brought about the gradual end of authoritarian rule in South Korea and created the democratic mechanisms that govern the country today.

In 2018 the greater Seoul area is home to half of all South Koreans; by some measures, the city constitutes the second-largest metropolitan area in the world. Just as Americans have come to recognize the outsized role that rural districts and voters play in their own politics, South Koreans must contend with the outsized role of their capital city in their political discourse and protest culture. Far more than providing gusts of popular feeling, these urban spaces now help to set the national mood, and to shape the course of national and regional politics.

Featured image at top: Rally outside Seoul City Hall in commemoration of the life of Yi Hanyŏl, a Yonsei University student killed in anti-government protests. Photo from Tonga ilbo, July 9, 1987, page 10. Accessed through Seoul Photo Archive and reproduced according to the terms of the Korea Open Government License.


Kilauea PhotoRussell Burge is a PhD Candidate in the History Department at Stanford University, where he focuses on modern Korea. His dissertation examines the history of Seoul in the 1960s and 1970s.

[1] In the English-speaking expatriate community in South Korea, Bishop’s turn of phrase has been popularized by a blog of the same name by Canadian commentator Matt Van Volkenburg.

An Annotated Addendum to our Seoul Bibliography

While I’ve always hoped that I’m not the intellectual equivalent of the dullest spoon in your drawer of silverware, I’ve also always known I was not the sharpest blade in the kitchen. The former is aspirational and the latter factual, but the latter also demonstrates a valuable skill: knowing when you don’t know. Bibliographies for our Metropolis of the Month feature are always difficult; one always fears omitting some classic urban work, denying it’s author deserved public admiration and researchers a valuable source.  The reality we must all face as urbanists, however, is that no urban historian can know all cities, but collectively, with your help, we can know many of them better.

Sensing my desperation and performing the ultimate good deed, Stanford History Department PhD candidate and burgeoning Korean expert Russell Burge sent us a much appreciated addendum to our somewhat anemic bibliography. Burge provides a concise and valuable addition to our list and includes Korean language works that we regrettably ignored in our initial bibliography. Of course, Seoul being the entertainment capital of Asia, Burge included films in his list–adding to its interdisciplinary flavor.

Seoul Bibliography

Isabella Bird Bishop, Korea and Her Neighbors (1898)

14667Part of a vanished genre of English-language travelogue literature, Bishop’s book is a sprawling tour through Korea, one that moves almost seamlessly between late-Victorian chauvinism and real perceptiveness and affection for Korean geography and history. Korea and Her Neighbors is as valuable today for its colorful descriptions of Seoul as it is for capturing a way of seeing that defined early encounters between Westerners and Koreans.




Keith Pratt, Old Seoul (2002)

51DBFV6KSML._SX307_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgA loving reconstruction of Seoul as it existed on the eve of the twentieth century, this book also uses the city as a microcosm to explore the remnants and broader history of the Chosŏn Dynasty (1392-1910), the last ruling dynasty of Korea. A thoroughly engaging read for anyone who has been to Seoul and attempted to scry its past through the glass and steel palimpsests the city presents today.



Todd Henry, Assimilating Seoul (2014)

9780520293151.jpgThis book is the first of its kind: an English-language monograph of deep original research that takes up the history of Seoul as its object of study. Henry focuses on the colonial history of the city (1910-1945), and sites of encounter between Seoul’s Korean residents and the Japanese colonial state. Paradoxically, this world – with its Shinto shrines and colonial exhibition halls – appears in many ways even more distant to modern eyes than the precolonial past.

Kim Paekyŏng, Chibae wa Konggan (2009)

While English-language works on Seoul are few and far between, the opposite is true in Korean; in South Korea, Seoul has a dominating presence as both an object of study and the setting for art, media, and literature. Still, Kim Paekyŏng’s Chibae wa Konggan (Domination and Space) stands out as a work of scholarship, charting many of the key transformations the city underwent in the colonial period, and its sometimes paradoxical geographies of power.

Mark Gayn, Japan Diary (1948)

contentThis book is better known as an account of Japan following the empire’s defeat in 1945, but a significant portion of Gayn’s work is also dedicated to Korea and the goings-on in and around the political nucleus of Seoul. In many ways Gayn’s account is the inverse of Bishop’s, as the author – a Manchurian émigré and veteran newspaper correspondent – describes with candor and horror the United States’ impact on south Korea following its liberation from Japan.

Chang Yŏngch’ang, Sŏul-ŭn pul t’anda (1978)

The title of Chang’s book – “Seoul is Burning” – sets the tone for this wartime account of Seoul’s occupation by North Korean forces, as well as the protracted UN siege that ultimately broke the North’s grip on the city. By turns lyrical, liturgical, and deeply personal, this obscure and quixotic memoir offers one of the most powerful sketches of what it meant to live in wartime Seoul, a city simultaneously besieged from both within and without.

Cho Sehŭi, The Dwarf (1978)

Available in a 2006 translation from Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton, The Dwarf is a classic of modern South Korean fiction, and chronicles Seoul’s rise as a sprawling jungle of exploitation and inequality during the period of rapid development in the 1970s. Many of the issues raised by Cho still haunt South Korean politics and thinking today, and the book remains relevant not only as a work of literature, but also as an introduction to an episteme.

Ch’oe Inho, “Another Man’s Room” (1972)

Perhaps no better paean exists to urban alienation in South Korea. Writing at a time when apartments were still an alien fixture in Seoul’s landscape, Ch’oe follows his protagonist – a married man with a strained and distant relationship to his wife, his neighbors, and his apartment – through increasingly surreal states of hallucination and de-personification that call to mind later work by David Lynch. A translation of this short story by Kevin O’Rourke is available.

Valérie Gelézeau, Ap’at’ŭ Konghwaguk (2007)

Literally meaning “Republic of Apartments,” Ap’at’ŭ Konghwaguk is the Korean-language adaptation (trans. Kil Hyeyŏn) of geographer Gelézeau’s pioneering French-language work Séoul, ville géante, cités radieuses (2003). By turns sociological, ethnographic, and historical, Gelézeau tells the story of a single architectural form – the gray apartment tower – and how it came to stand as an urban vernacular and symbol of prosperity in South Korea.



Dir. Bong Joon-ho, The Host (2006)

Director Bong Joon-ho’s The Host is the story of one family’s struggle against a river monster hell-bent on abducting and devouring as many Seoul citizens as possible. Simultaneously absurdist and terrifying, the real star of this film is Seoul, or rather the Han River that cuts through it and the labyrinthine network of bridges and tunnels that form its literal underbelly.

David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas (2004)

220px-Cloud_atlas.jpgA work of historical and speculative fiction, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas covers an impossibly vast geography of places and times. Still, the setting of futuristic Seoul stands out for its attention to both historical and geographic detail, down to its neighborhood-by-neighborhood commentary on the city. If Tokyo once defined the mood at the heart of cyberpunk, Mitchell makes a similar bid for Seoul in this futuristic epic, though it remains to be seen if other authors will take up the call.




Dir. Kim Kyung-mook, Stateless Things (2011)

Stateless Things is a film about abjection, and the intimate relationships that obtain between the powerful and the powerless. With Seoul as its low-thrumming backdrop, Director Kim Kyung-mook explores rarely-touched topics in mainstream Korean cinema that are a constitutive part of life in the city, such as economic abjection, discrimination against ethnic Korean immigrants from China and North Korea, and queer sexuality.



Dirs. Park Chan-wook and Park Chan-kyong, Bitter, Sweet, Seoul (2014)

One of the more creative initiatives of Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon’s administration, Bitter, Sweet, Seoul is far from the typical tourist campaign fare. Edited from 141 selected video clips out of thousands of crowdsourced submissions, the film – directed by Park Chan-wook and Park Chan-kyong – brings together various experiences of life in Seoul in a vision that is altogether more diverse, more melancholy, and more vibrant than any other.

Kilauea PhotoRussell Burge is a PhD Candidate in the History Department at Stanford University, where he focuses on modern Korea. His dissertation examines the history of Seoul in the 1960s and 1970s.

An Ancient City and Modern Exemplar of East Asian Urbanity: A Bibliography of the South Korean Cultural, Political, and Economic Capital, Seoul

Considering the explosion of interest in Korean cuisine, the ubiquity of K-Pop, and media attention devoted to the recently concluded Winter Olympics, it seems outlandish to think of South Korea, and by extension the megacity of Seoul, as a nation isolated from the developed West. Yet as recently as the mid-1990s, Seoul remained a mystery for international observers. A 1994 article in the Financial Times featured the headline “Seoul tries to throw open the door,” noting that the nation sought to “overcome its legacy of isolationism and to push for economic liberalization.”[1] Other observers commented on Seoul’s persistent if undeserved relative obscurity. “Stereotypes about the Far East, dominated by images of China and Japan, leave Korea in a vague limbo, of acronyms or bestiaries: NICs or Little Tigers,” Perry Anderson wrote in the London Review of Books.[2] A great deal can happen over the course of two decades, and indeed today Seoul feels almost like the standard bearer for East Asian urbanity.



International Trade and Japanese Occupation

Seoul’s trajectory from isolated metropole to international megalopolis spans three centuries, including Japanese occupation, post-Korean War destruction and authoritarian rule, and democratic emergence in the 1990s. From Korea’s earliest days, Seoul served as “a symbolic place of national feeling and political power, and it was the distinctive premier city” on the peninsula historian Wonsik Jeong noted in 2001.[3]

Even before the Japanese occupation in 1910, external forces shaped the Korean city. Trade arrangements functioned to pry open the once isolated capital of the “Hermit Kingdom.” The Korea-China Land and Sea Commercial Activity Treaty of 1882 resulted in imperial competition in the city, particularly between the U.S., Great Britain, Germany, Japan and China. Therefore, when the Financial Times claimed that 1994 represented the first time that Korea had attempted to open itself to “full international competition,” one might note a caveat or two.

First arrival pack horses, Seoul, bound north, Robert Lee Dunn photographer, 1905, Prints and Photographs Division

International mercantile trade birthed modern Seoul; it not only brought increased contact with other Asian and Western nations but physically remade the city. “With the opening of Seoul, the city wall was torn down, and the boundaries expanded to include the old market towns and lower class areas outside the city,” Jeong points out. The construction of the Seoul Pusan Railroad in the early 1900s further consolidated the city’s position and inaugurated “modern urban growth in Korea.”[4] Improved transportation networks furthered the nation’s place in the growing capitalist international economy.

Though never colonized or occupied by a Western power, Korea did endure decades of Japanese rule over the peninsula beginning in 1910. For better or for worse—and it was a great deal of worse and a far smaller measure of better—Japan enacted numerous economic, political, and infrastructural reforms that reshaped the city. Japanese reforms resulted in demographic expansion of the city, largely the result of three trends: natural increase, rural decline (and migration to Seoul), and Japanese immigration to the peninsula. Notably, public health measures – “prevention of infectious diseases, sanitation improvements, vaccinations, regulation of public space, and enforcement of sanitary regulations” – did ultimately result in a growing population. During the 1920s, death rates also declined by significant margins. However, as historian Todd Henry argues, the new public health regime put into place discriminatory policies toward most Koreans such that Japanese residents in Seoul were better equipped to fight off infectious disease than their Korean counterparts. Moreover, Koreans resisted police enforcement of public health policies, which stunted the system’s effectiveness and delayed the emergence of a viable and effective infrastructure until the 1920s.[5]

Japanese immigration accounted for over 350,000 new arrivals to the peninsula between 1910 and 1921, but in the years after, improved sanitation and public health also helped boost the city’s population from 250,000 in 1910 to 677,241 in 1936.[6]

Street scene showing government buildings, Seoul, Korea, between 1890 and 1923, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Unsurprisingly, Japan viewed Seoul as little more than a market for its manufactured goods and as a source of raw materials. As industrialization took hold, Japanese zaibatsus (Japanese industrial and financial conglomerates) dominated business at the expense of local entrepreneurs. As war often does, Japan’s 1937 military efforts in Asia and later in WWII boosted economic opportunity even for local Koreans, as the number of factories and Korean owners increased. “In 1939, 42 percent of the gross value of factory production was attributed to Korean-owned establishments, compared to 14 percent in 1924,” writes Jeong.[7]

The legacy of Japanese occupation manifested itself in the built environment. “[M]any spatial features of urban development during Korea’s industrialization, such as radiating and gridded street patterns, reflect those implemented during the Meiji Restoration and Taisho periods,” writes Sanghoon Jung, and “land readjustment adopted by the Japanese remained as the main means of urban development in Korea.”[8] Though Japanese land policy implemented a “modern private landowning system,” it subordinated all residents to the colonial state bureaucracy and established a trend of state control over development that would expand well past occupation as a political culture of centralization and authoritarianism became ensconced in national politics.[9]

Temple of Heaven, Seoul, Korea, 1925, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

During its occupation of the peninsula, Japan attempted to regulate public space, utilizing it as a means to “assimilate” Korean subjects into the Japanese empire. City infrastructure, public health initiatives, the construction of Shinto shrines, and other efforts served as Japan’s means of transforming Korean nationals into “reliable subjects of self government.” However, this did not always go as planned. Public spaces might carry the strong whiff of Japanese imperialism, but Koreans used them for their own ends and purposes “many of which did not converge with the state,” writes Henry.[10]


Japan’s defeat in World War II removed it from the peninsula, but did not spare Korea from military conflict. The Korean War erupted in the early 1950s and devastated Seoul. Still, as Anderson reflected decades later, the legacy of imperial rule complicated Korean existence; it undoubtedly subjugated Koreans under a totalitarian, racist regional power but one that at least built transportation networks and raised literacy above the regional average while reparations required of Japan for the occupation enabled the expansion of national and municipal finances. “The toll of empire was huge,” Anderson noted, “but privileges perversely went with it.” To be fair, Anderson included U.S. influence in this metric—noting that after the Korean War, America imposed needed land reforms and “bank rolled reconstruction.” The Vietnam War did not hurt the Korean economy either, as U.S. allies helped Korean firms establish industrial contracts in Southeast Asia; firms later harnessed this experience to strike similar deals in the oil-rich Middle East during the 1970s.[11]

Street in Seoul totally destroyed by North Korean communist forces, 1950s, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Post-Korean War Politics

After the Korean War “[m]ost of Seoul lay in ruins,” Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent Malcolm W. Browne wrote in his memoir. “The poverty was ubiquitous and obtrusive, and there was a constant danger of losing a wallet or camera to thieves.”[12] Under the rule of Syngman Rhee, who Browne described as an “autocratic old Methodist who brooked no dissent from any quarter,” Koreans enjoyed few freedoms. “During my year in Korea I could see the seeds of rebellion sprouting, as my student friends grew ever more angry at the repressions they suffered at the hands of the police, university administrators, and military authorities,” Browne remembered years later. Add to this “the demeaning aspects of American military occupation” and the student uprisings that came in 1960, sometimes referred to as the April Revolution, hardly seem unexpected. Student protests ousted Rhee in 1960, but the government quickly lapsed once again into authoritarianism under Park Chung Hi in 1961.[13]

Under Park, the state undertook massive economic development, an approach that persisted until the early 1990s. This sort of state centered development required draconian levels of repression; security forces known as the KCIA numbered over 350,000. Yet, as has proven consistent throughout Korea’s history, students refused to fully relent. They overthrew Rhee in 1960 and revolted again in 1979-1980, leading to Park’s assassination by his intelligence chief. Chun Doo Hwan took over for Park but encountered student resistance less than a decade later, in 1987, after a student activist at the University of Seoul was tortured and killed under police custody. After three weeks of unrest and some 350,000 canisters of tear gas, Chun had to concede free elections.[14]

Seoul at night, June 2016

Planning for Postwar Seoul

From the end of World War II through the 1980s, urban planning in Seoul drew from two primary influences: Japanese policies established under occupation, in terms of “planning culture, system and legislation,” remained influential. Moreover, numerous bureaucrats from occupation held over through independence. A second influence arose from Western planners like American Oswald Nagler.

After the war, the dearth of planning experts and the persistence of the Japanese model throttled attempts at redevelopment. However, foreign technical aid brought planners like Nagler to the fore. Working for the Asia foundation, later renamed as the Housing, Urban and Regional Planning Institute (HURPI), Nagler “introduced, applied and localized Western planning principles to Korea in an earnest manner,” argues Jung. Nagler also recruited numerous individuals such as Kyu Sung Woo, Hongbin Kang, Jinkyun Kim, Wan Yu and others; all would spread HURPI’s influence further in Seoul planning circles. Several HURPI members were chosen from the architecture department at Seoul National University.[15]

From Japanese occupation forward, housing in Seoul remained a problematic issue. Seeing the city and peninsula as a market for its goods and a source of raw materials, little attention was paid to building housing for residents. However, mobilization for war forced Japan to build homes for its soldiers and workers. Yet, even with this burst of construction, by 1944 housing shortage rates rested at 44 percent.

A South Korean youngster carries a sack of rice on her head after receiving it from the newly established government in Seoul during the week of May 2, 1961, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

By the mid-1950s, Seoul’s population had expanded to over 1.5 million and would continue to increase—surpassing 10 million by 2000—thereby furthering housing’s importance. Recognizing housing’s centrality to the city’s fortunes, Nagler believed in approaching urban planning from the household level and even inserted “Housing” into HURPI’s official title, which had previously excluded the term.[16] Nagler utilized an interdisciplinary approach to design and planning that emphasized architecture and civil engineering. This more comprehensive method broke from trends at that the time that focused exclusively on infrastructure development and eschewed architectural considerations.[17]


Due to the centralized business friendly approach to development, a growing population needing housing, and rapid urbanization, developers increasingly turned to higher density apartment complexes. High rise apartments, anything more than five stories, accounted for over 20 percent of construction permits issued by the central government in 1975. Fifteen years later, the percentage had more than tripled to 66 percent. A significant portion of the new housing created from the early 1970s and after arose from large-scale redevelopment projects, particularly urban renewal efforts directed at the ad-hoc communities and housing that cropped up in the 1960s. From 1973 to 1995, notes Hyun Bang Shin, about 17 percent “of all dwellings … were the result of the redevelopment of urban slums and dilapidated neighborhoods.” Unsurprisingly, these new units were subject to rampant speculation, which further victimized poor and working class residents and persisted for nearly three decades. [18]

Street Market at night, Seoul, June 2016

With democratic government emerging in the late 1980s and early 1990s, so too did organized opposition to unfettered real estate construction. This led to vocal civil society. For example, in 1990 the National Coalition for Housing Rights (NCHR), an umbrella organization consisting of various social organizations, progressive religious groups, housing activists, and evictees, formed to organize growing dissent. “Rapidly disappearing affordable housing stocks and the sharp increase in housing rents due to megadisplacement of poor tenants led to a growing awareness of housing as a basic right,” writes Shin.[19]

The efforts of civil society, and its increasing use of the “right to the city” concept, coincided with the expansion of democratization in Seoul and across South Korea; reforms included the establishment of local assemblies (1991), the election of Korea’s first civilian president (1993) and the direct election of mayors and provincial governors (1995). This opened up more space for public protest and organization, but democratization also fueled speculation and gentrification as localized government fell victim to “growth politics.” The few concessions accorded by the municipal government to displaced citizens functioned to legitimize the city’s redevelopment plans.[20] Korea’s growing civil society remains committed to enacting reforms, but change comes slowly.

Seoul at night, June 2016

Still, regardless of the odds, if there is one thing that the people of Seoul have demonstrated, it is the ability to enact major change and resist in ways large and small. We hope our bibliography captures that aspect of the city. As always, it is not comprehensive—far from it. Think of it more as a jumping off point. On Monday, Stanford PhD candidate Russell Burge is going to provide an addendum with ten annotated selections of his own.

Judging from correspondence with historians working in the field, there has yet to be a definitive history of Seoul written in or translated into English (@UrbanHistoryA if I am wrong, we’d love to add it to the list). That being said, be sure to check out work on Seoul by Elle Choi, Russell Burge, Jini Kim Watson, Hyun Bang Shin, Nan Kim and Jieheerah Yun all who have helped us with the Metropolis of the Month.

Featured image at top: Seoul – street scene toward East Gate, lantern slide, William Henry Jackson photographer, 1895, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Bird’s-eye view of Seoul, Korea, 1901, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress


——–, Seoul, Twentieth Century: Growth and Change of the Last 100 Years, Ed. Kwang-Joong Kim (Seoul Developmental Institute, 2003).

Isabella Bird Bishop, Korea and Her Neighbors (Revell, 1898).

Russell Burge, “The Prison and the Postcolony: Contested Memory and the Museumification of Sŏdaemun Hyŏngmuso,” Journal of Korean Studies (Spring 2017): 33 – 67.

Im Sik Cho and Blaz Kriznik, Community-based Urban Development: Evolving Urban Paradigms in Singapore and Seoul (Springer, 2017).

Elle Choi, “Yi Kwangsu and the Post-World War I Reconstruction Debate in Korea,” The Journal of Korean Studies (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2015).

Bruce Cummings, The Korean War: A History (Modern Library Chronicles, 2011).

David Fedman, “The Ondol Problem and the Politics of Forest Conservation in Colonial Korea,” Journal of Korean Studies, forthcoming (Spring 2018).

Tristen R. Grunow, “Western Urban Planning and Imperial Space from the Streets of Meiji Tokyo to Colonial Seoul,” Journal of Urban History 42.3 (May 2016): 506-556.

Todd Henry, Assimilating Seoul: Japanese Rule and the Politics of Space in Colonial Korea (University of California Press, 2016).

Shelia Miyoshi Jager, Brothers at War: The Unending Conflict in Korea (W.W. Norton, 2017)

Sanghoon Jung, “Oswald Nagler, HURPI, and the Formation of Urban Planning and Design in South Korea,” Journal of Urban History 40.3 (May 2014): 585-605.

Richard Child Hill and June Woo Kim, “Global Cities and Developmental States: New York, Tokyo, and Seoul” in The Global Cities Reader, Eds. Neil Brenner and Roger Keil (Routledge, 2006): 170 – 178.

Nan Kim, Memory, Reconciliation, and Reunions of Separated Families in South Korea: Crossing the Divide (Lexington, 2017).

Keith Pratt, Old Seoul: Images of Asia (Oxford University Press, 2002)

Hyun Bang Shin, “Urban Movements and the Genealogy of Urban Rights Discourses: the Case of Urban Protesters against Redevelopment and Displacement in Seoul, South Korea,” Annals of American Geographers 0.0 (2018): 1-14.

Hyun Bang Shin, “Living on the Edge: Financing Post-displacement Housing in Urban Redevelopment Projects in Seoul,” Environment and Urbanization 20.2 (2008): 411 – 426.

Hyun Bang Shin and Soo-Hyun Kim, “The Developmental State, Speculative Urbanisation and the politics of displacement in gentrifying Seoul,” Urban Studies 53.3 (2016): 540-559.

Jini Kim Watson, The New Asian City: Three Dimensional Fictions of Space and Urban Form (University of Minnesota Press, 2011).

Jeong Wonsik, “The Urban Development Politics of Seoul as a Colonial City,” Journal of Urban History 27.2 (January 2001): 158-177.

Jieheerah Yun, Globalizing Seoul: The City’s Cultural and Urban Change (Routledge, 2017).


Seoul at night from rooftop, June 2016


——, Postwar Korean Short Stories, trans. Kim Chong-un, 2nd ed. (Seoul: Seoul National University Press, 1983).

Se-hui Cho, The Dwarf, trans. Ju-Chan Fulton and Bruce Fulton,(University of Hawaii Press, 2006).

Ch’oe Inho, “Another Man’s Room,” in Ten Korean Short Stories, trans. by Kevin O’Rourke (Yonsei University Press, 1981).

David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas, (Random House, 2004).

Yoojin Grace Wuertz, Everything Belongs to US, (Random House, 2017).

[1] John Burton, “Seoul tries to throw open the doors”, Financial Times, June 23, 1994, Anthony Lewis Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

[2] Perry Anderson, “Diary”, London Review of Books, October 17, 1996, Anthony Lewis Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

[3] Wonsik Jeong, “The Urban Development Politics of Seoul as a Colonial City”, Journal of Urban History 27.2 (January 2001): 158.

[4] Wonsik Jeong, “The Urban Development Politics of Seoul as a Colonial City”, Journal of Urban History 27.2 (January 2001): 159-160.

[5] Todd Henry, Assimilating Seoul: Japanese and the Politics of Public Space in Colonial Korea, 1910-1945, (University of California Press, 2016), 19-20.

[6] Jeong, “The Urban Development Politics of Seoul as a Colonial City”, 160-161.

[7] Jeong, “The Urban Development Politics of Seoul as a Colonial City”, 164.

[8] Sanghoon Jung, “Oswald Nagler, HURPI and the Formation of Urban Planning an Design in South Korea: The South Seoul Plan by HURPI and the Mok-dong Plan”, Journal of Urban History 40.3 (May 2014): 587.

[9] Jeong, “The Urban Development Politics of Seoul as a Colonial City”, 171.

[10] Henry, Assimilating Seoul, 4.

[11] Perry Anderson, “Diary”, London Review of Books, October 17, 1996, Anthony Lewis Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

[12] Malcolm W. Browne, Muddy Boots and Red Socks: A Reporter’s Life, (Times Books, 1993), 53-54.

[13] Browne, Muddy Boots and Red Socks, 55.

[14] Perry Anderson, “Diary”, London Review of Books, October 17, 1996, Anthony Lewis Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

[15] Jung, “Oswald Nagler, HURPI and the Formation of Urban Planning an Design in South Korea”, 586-587, 589.

[16] Jeong, “The Urban Development Politics of Seoul as a Colonial City”, 166; Jung, “Oswald Nagler, HURPI and the Formation of Urban Planning an Design in South Korea”, 589.

[17] Jung, “Oswald Nagler, HURPI and the Formation of Urban Planning an Design in South Korea”, 590.

[18] Hyun Bang Shin, “Living on the edge: financing post-development housing in urban redevelopment projects in Seoul”, Environment and Urbanization 20.2 (2008): 411, 422; Hyun Bang Shin and Soo-Hyun Kim, “The developmental state, speculative urbanization, and the politics of displacement in gentrifying Seoul”, 546-547.

[19] Shin, “Urban Movements and the Genealogy of Urban Rights Discourses: The Case of Urban Protesters and against Redevelopment and Displacement in Seoul, South Korea, 8.

[20] Hyun Bang Shin, “Living on the edge: financing post-development housing in urban redevelopment projects in Seoul”, 553; Hyun Bang Shin and Soo-Hyun Kim, “The developmental state, speculative urbanization, and the politics of displacement in gentrifying Seoul”, 544