Dealing with Empires: A Comparison of Mongol Era Koryŏ and 20th Century Colonial Period Intellectuals


Thursday, October 22, 2015, 4:30pm


Belfer Case Study Room (S020), CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

Wagner Memorial Lecture

John B. Duncan, Professor, Departments of Asian Languages & Cultures, University of California, Los Angeles

John B. Duncan has been at UCLA since 1989 where he has been teaching Korean history and has been serving as director of UCLA’s Center for Korean Studies since 2001. Duncan’s primary teaching and research interests are in pre-modern Korea, although he also has several publications on modern Korea. His work focuses on intellectual and cultural history, exploring such questions as the extent and nature of Confucian orthodoxy in pre-modern Korea, pre-modern and modern Korean identities, and the role of Confucianism in modern Korea. He has been active in the internationalization of Korean Studies, serving as the chair of the Worldwide Consortium of Centers of Korean Studies from 2008 to 2013, as the chair of the Korean Studies in the Americas project from 2006 to 2011, as the director of the Korea Foundation Latin American e-School project from 2012-2014, and as the co-director (with Renato Balderrama of the Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon) of the Korea Foundation Intensive Courses in Korean Studies project from 2015-2017.  

Chaired by Sun Joo Kim, Harvard-Yenching Professor of Korean History; Director, Korea Institute, Harvard University

As an historian of pre-modern Korea, I have long been disturbed by the way in which recent theoretical trends have posited a profound epistemic break between the pre-modern and the modern and have, by implication, rendered the pre-modern irrelevant. In this talk, I will engage in a preliminary exploration of the similar stresses experienced by mid-14th century and early 20th century intellectuals and the similar strategies they deployed to deal with those problems. I will borrow Frederick Cooper’s argument that empires old and new had to behave in similar fashions, to which I will add the corollary that semi-colonized and colonized subjects old and new also had to devise similar strategies to survive and to enhance their prospects within empires.

Supported by the Edward Willett Wagner Memorial Fund at the Korea Institute, Harvard University