Breasts, Cancer, and Women in Korea, 1800–1930s


Monday, November 19, 2018, 4:15pm to 6:00pm


B10, Science Center, 1 Oxford Street, Cambridge

Harvard Asia Center Science and Technology Seminar Series; co-sponsored by the Korea Institute
Event poster
Professor Soyoung Suh
Department of History and the Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Program, Dartmouth College

Soyoung Suh graduated from the University of California in Los Angeles in 2007 with a thesis entitled “Korean Medicine between the Local and the Universal: 1600-1945.” Her dissertation examines the rise of an indigenous identity in medicine, which was intertwined with regionalism, nationalism and colonialism. After spending one year at Harvard University as a Post Doctoral Fellow in the “history of modern science and technology in East Asia,” she was affiliated with the University of Westminster in London collaborating in a research project entitled “Treating the Liver: Towards A Transnational History of Medicine in East Asia, 1500-2000” funded by the Wellcome Trust. Her articles are published in Asian Medicine: Tradition and Modernity, Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry, Asia Pacific Perspectives, and Korean Journal of Medical History. She revised her dissertation into a book titled Naming the Local: Medicine, Language, and Identity in Korea since the Fifteenth Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2017). She is now interested in the transnational history of breast cancer, which will explore the origins of gendered medical culture in post-World War II Korea.

Chaired by Victor Seow, Professor of the History of Science, Harvard University

This presentation explores how Koreans defined and experienced breast ailments, including cancer, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. When Eastern and Western knowledge began to intertwine and the new and the old practitioners of medicine competed for authority, how were deadly breast tumors understood and treated? Analyzing both scholarly and popular writings, this talk examines the origins and modification of centuries-old terminologies, preferred prescriptions, and diverse therapeutic solutions of what we may now call breast cancer. In particular, this presentation focuses on sudden transitions as a framework through which we consider the possibilities and limitations of female agency as patients and healers. Manifested in the intellectual and material conditions of experiencing breast cancer, this suddenness enables us to contemplate the gendered medical culture of modern Korea.