Yongusil 54: Northern Parallelisms at the British Association of Korean Studies
The British Association of Korean Studies is one of a handful of European organizations dedicated to the production and exchange of knowledge about both Koreas over a massive time scale. Populated with historians of the Imjin War, of colonial and post-colonial northern Korea, of art and film, of Korean culture, and even of geography, BAKS is a hub of discussion and debate within and beyond the United Kingdom. This variety was on display at the organization’s annual conference, held on November 21-23 in the northern English city of Sheffield.
North Korean topics were raised at various points in the conference. Anna Noh of the University of Warwick stimulated one of the most productive debates over the depth and role of Christianity in the actions of the Northwest Youth, while Robert Winstanley-Chesters rounded out the event with a paper on the connectivity of contemporary trans-Korean issues of sustainability and development with distinctive global and deeply historical connections. In between, James Grayson, professor Emeritus at the University of Sheffield and a world authority on the history of Korean religion, presented a fascinating paper on a millenarian group whose history spanned the colonial and contemporary eras further south in North Gyeongsang Province.
Just as Winstanley-Chesters sought to bridge no fewer than 8 millennia and a number of different cultural and national origins, developments and deaths, so BAKS’ focus on the different themes and contexts of the Korean peninsula was equally expansive. Thomas Quatermain’s masterful recounting of a previous moment of historical crisis for the Korean nation, the Manchu invasions of 1627 and 1636-1637, and Jean Hyun’s (both of Oxford University) examination of the place of the Malgal in the conflagration between Sui China and the state of Kogyuryo both served to contextualize the current state of the Peninsula as just one of a number of historical ruptures that make and mark the Korea of today.
Playful encounters with Globalized Korean identity came courtesy of food culture in Berlin by Byeong Yu-kyeong (of Freie Universität Berlin); there were also contemporary K-Pop ruptures brought about by Gangnam (S)tyle as analysed by Professor Keith Howard (of SOAS), and the visual and commodified representations of an aspirationally ancient but functionally modern spiritual response to South Korean modernity from Victoria Ten of Leiden University. All worked to bring replacements, revisions and parallels out from the constrained topography of the Korean Peninsula and onto more contemporary terrain.
Commenting from the gallery were a rotating cast of characters, including Dr. Kim Seung-yeong, Korea Foundation Senior Lecturer at Sheffield University, as well as faculty from PUST, SOAS, Oxford University and the University of Leeds. The British Association of Korean Studies publication series, now edited by Sino-NK Chief Editor Adam Cathcart, also made several appearances and interjections. Moreover, through the digital dissemination of the Papers of the British Association of Korean Studies (BAKS Papers), the outputs, parallels, connections and disruptions of this conference will surely live on.