New Korean research network seeks to unite Korean academics

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A new interdisciplinary UI organization called the Korean Research Network held its inaugural Zoom conference on November 5-6. The network is a hub for professors pursuing Korean-related research in the Midwest.


Intellectual interest in Korean culture is growing at the University of Iowa, due to Oscar-winning film “Parasite” and the popularity of K-pop, said Hyaeweol Choi, president of the Stanley Family and Korea Foundation in Korean Studies.

Choi, also a professor of religious studies and gender, women and sexuality studies at IU, said the interest prompted a new Korean research network to connect Korean culture scholars in Iowa and the Midwest.

Choi, who helped establish the Korean Research Network, said she approached the Korea Foundation, a South Korean nonprofit, with the idea in 2019 after noticing that professors from Korea-related studies did not have a central network to share their research.

The network would play that role, and since 2019 it has done so, Choi said.

“The Korean Research Network could be a useful platform for students and early career researchers to present work in progress [and] get feedback, but also be connected with other academics in Iowa and the Midwest, ”she said.

The Korean Foundation was eager to support the project, donating $ 10,000 per year, while IU’s international programs gave $ 12,000 as seed funding to get things going, Choi said.

The network held its inaugural conference Nov. 5-6 on Zoom and served as a platform for its keynote speaker David Kang, professor of international relations and business at the University of Southern California, who spoke about the nuclear program. from North Korea.

Choi said the network also has interdisciplinary aspects.

“Korean studies are very interdisciplinary, covering a large number of academic fields, such as history, genre, religion, communication, film and media studies, anthropology, sociology and political science, among others. “she said.

Russell Ganim, vice-rector of the IU and dean of international programs, also helped set up the network.

When he arrived at UI in 2011 as director of the World Languages, Literatures and Cultures division, Ganim said he believed there was a need to expand Korean studies as a result of the explosion of Korean pop culture across the United States.

He said the cause of this explosion can be attributed to the funding of arts and culture by the South Korean government.

In addition to the humanities, Ganim said researchers involved in the network are looking at the business environment and economic growth in Korea as well as the military tensions that exist in Korea.

Additionally, Choi said the network goes beyond providing a cursory glimpse into Korean society and culture.

“There is a lot of amateur and misinformed talk about Korea based on unsubstantiated knowledge or misinformation,” she said. “So we academics have to try to provide a much deeper understanding of history. “

One such in-depth scholarship is former IU sociology student Ji Hye Kim, who presented her thesis at a Korean Research Network conference.

She said her research focused on what she called the younger “sample generation” in South Korea, who are known to largely forgo dating, marriage and childbirth.

“There is a big trend, economic insecurity has increased, so the marriage rate and birth rate have dropped significantly in Korea recently,” she said. “So we want to know more about the reasons why people don’t get married and why they don’t have children and so on. “

Ganim said the importance of Korea’s pop culture was not the only reason for the creation of the new network.

“Korea has really become a player on the world stage,” he said. “Its emergence from the Korean War or really from colonization during WWII and before is simply astounding. “

Due to its modernization and importance after World War II, Choi said Americans can learn a lot about themselves through studying Korean society.

“Korea, as a case, could be very relevant to our understanding of American society in general,” Choi said. “I think this comparison might give us new ideas, new perspectives, but also nowadays we are literally interconnected on a global scale. Any kind of regional specification no longer makes sense.

Choi said the Korean research network will hold public lecture series and seminars in the spring of 2022, and she hopes next year’s fall conference will be held in person. Spring semester events, including a seminar on the #MeToo movement in February, will be posted on the Korean Research Network website.


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