The Cold war imaginaries of early South Korean geographers

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentationResearch


This study examines the geopolitical narrative inherent in the texts of early Korean geographers in post-colonial South Korea. One of the major geopolitical narratives circulated in contemporary South Korean society is that due to the geographical nature of the peninsula, Korea (or the Korean Peninsula) is exposed to the great powers but at the same time has the possibility of promoting national development by acquiring connectivity with land and sea powers. This study historicizes this narrative. Early Korean geographers learned modern geography in the period of Japanese colonialism and sought to reconstruct the geopolitical imagination suitable for a newly independent country after Korean independence. However, by recycling the naturalized geopolitics that underpinned Western and Japanese imperialism, their academic practices faced an intellectual predicament: under this notion of geopolitics Korea’s geographical size and location made it inferior to neighbouring countries and denied it the possibility of self-determined development in the future. My analysis concentrates on how geographers attempted to resolve the predicament inherited from colonial geographical knowledge by emphasizing the possibility of overcoming this geographical condition but at the cost of reifying its underlying environmental determinism. Using the articles, books, middle and high school textbooks, and columns produced by geographers from 1945 to the 1970s, this archival study seeks to contribute to a better understanding of a geopolitical narrative that remains common in contemporary geographical discourse about Korea.
Period9 Mar 2023
Held atKorean Institute - Harvard University, United States