LIGHTS, CAMERA, KOREA: IMAGES FROM THE JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF COLLECTION AT THE WOLFSONIAN-FIU LIBRARY

For today’s blog post, I am turning over the reins to Associate Librarian Rochelle Pienn, who has decided to write on a timely news subject. Korea is very much on people’s minds today as the Communist government in Pyongyang has once again reverted to saber-rattling—or would that be missile pointing in the nuclear age! Thanks to the generosity of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf, the Wolfsonian library now holds an important collection of materials dealing with Korea’s earlier history. What follows is her report.

Earlier this month, Supreme Leader of North Korea Kim Jong-un declared his intent to restart nuclear facilities. He also decided to withdraw his cooperation from decades-old anti-aggression agreements. Finally, Kim Jong-un adhered to anti-American sentiment in spite of his new friendship with former Chicago Bulls basketball player Dennis Rodman.

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Photo courtesy of Jason Mojica, AP Photo/ VICE Media

On the other side of the border, a South Korean figure skater, Kim Yu-na, won the 2013 World’s Figure Skating Championship. She remains the sole Korean to ever earn gold medals in the sport.

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Photo courtesy of Darron Cummings, AP Photo.

The whole of North and South Korea lies in-between Japan and China, one of the most sought after strategic locations on Earth. Recent events have brought these deeply divided areas to the forefront of national and global attention. What used to be called “The Land of the Morning Calm” now exists as two countries, moving missiles into position against one another.

The turn of the nineteenth century also proved to be one of constant unrest for Korea. The Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection in the Wolfsonian-FIU library contains rare books that focus on the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars, in which the settlement and possession of Korea was contested among the superpowers.

W. R. Carles’s Life in Corea, published in 1888, has a gilt-stamped illustration of a band of Korean musicians on its front cover. The book emphasizes the bucolic nature of the country and the unique character of its people.

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GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

In the 1895 British imprint, Advance Japan: A Nation Thoroughly in Earnest, author J. Morris discusses the immediate impact of the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, and Japan’s imperative to reform Korea after the defeat of China.

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GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

Japan and Korea were portrayed as countries with potential to modernize and industrialize in a manner palatable to the West, unlike China.

The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 came about as a result of Russia’s desire to invade Korea and Manchuria for the purpose of taking over critical trade routes. Japan once again ousted its aggressor and surprised the Western powers with its ability to win wars over much larger and seemingly more resourceful enemies.

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GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

From Tokyo to Tiflis: Uncensored letters from the War, written by Daily Mail reporter Frederick Arthur McKenzie and published in 1905, contains a detailed map of Yalu. This Korean-Chinese border river is where the first major battle of the Russo-Japanese War took place. It ended with a decisive Japanese victory.

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GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

In 1907, George Heber Jones, president of the Biblical Institute of Korea, wrote Korea: the Land, People, and Customs. The slim volume was meant to be a basic guide to the foreign culture for Methodist Episcopal missionaries intent on converting Koreans to Christianity.

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GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

Missionary activity in the Far East peaked during the colonial era. From the 1880s through the early 1900s, Christians from the United States and Great Britain traveled to Korea in order to bring the New Testament to natives. The description and travel narratives produced by missionaries provide overviews of Korean history, culture, dress, and religious practices.

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GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

A general fascination with the Orient became amplified as imperial colonialism and regional warfare continued. Those with means would voyage to Korea and publish their experiences for popular consumption. This Korea entry of the book series Peeps at Many Lands by Constance J. D. Coulson gives an educated, independent British woman’s opinion of life in Korea. The author expresses pity for what she sees as the endless drudgery and perceived slave-like role of the Korean female. Edward H. Fitchew, a prolific nineteenth century British painter, contributed color illustrations.

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GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

In contrast to what would have been possible in Ms. Coulson’s lifetime, now in the 21st century a young Korean woman has risen to the top of her sport, making history.

~ by "The Chief" on April 9, 2013.

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