The Great Enterprise

Sovereignty and Historiography in Modern Korea

The Great Enterprise

Asia-Pacific: Culture, Politics, and Society

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Book Pages: 280 Illustrations: Published: March 2013

Author: Henry Em

Asian Studies > East Asia, History > Asian History, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

In The Great Enterprise, Henry H. Em examines how the project of national sovereignty shaped the work of Korean historians and their representations of Korea's past. The goal of Korea attaining validity and equal standing among sovereign nations, Em shows, was foundational to modern Korean politics in that it served a pedagogical function for Japanese and Western imperialisms, as well as for Korean nationalism. Sovereignty thus functioned as police power and political power in shaping Korea's modernity, including anticolonial and postcolonial movements toward a radically democratic politics.

Surveying historical works written over the course of the twentieth century, Em elucidates the influence of Christian missionaries, as well as the role that Japan's colonial policy played in determining the narrative framework for defining Korea's national past. Em goes on to analyze postcolonial works in which South Korean historians promoted national narratives appropriate for South Korea's place in the U.S.-led Cold War system. Throughout, Em highlights equal sovereignty's creative and productive potential to generate oppositional subjectivities and vital political alternatives.


"The book is studded with references to studies by Western scholars... showing Em’s mastery of the subject. His detailed analysis of the interaction between Korean sovereignty and imperialism/colonialism is convincing, and his overall genealogy of modern Korean historians is plausible. In sum, Em’s book is an important addition to the study of modern Korea and Korean historiography." — Chizuko T. Allen, Pacific Affairs

“[A] valuable meta-history of Korean historiography that should appeal to Koreanists and East Asianists alike.” — John DiMoia, New Books Asia

"A comprehensive examination of the nature and development of historiography and the process of history writing in modern Korea." — Howard Kahm, Situations

"A much-needed contribution to the intertwined history of nationalism and historiography in Korea, with the distinctive ability to unsettle many of our received wisdoms."  — Namhee Lee, Korea Journal

"In this clear, concise, and fascinating book, Henry H. Em addresses key issues in Korean history and historiography, especially the writing of nationalist history. His emphasis on what might be called the redemptive potential of the nation for a democratic politics is highly original. It will interest students of nationalism, regardless of their area of study." — Andre Schmid, author of Korea between Empires, 1895–1919

"In this deeply researched book, Henry H. Em ranges across the entirety of Korean history to illumine how a unique civilization defined its own sovereignty and particularity, first for itself and vis-à-vis its neighbors, China and Japan, and then for its place in the world as a modern nation. Learned, subtle, and theoretically informed, The Great Enterprise is a major achievement." — Bruce Cumings, Chair, Department of History, University of Chicago


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Henry H. Em is Associate Professor of Asian Studies, Underwood International College, Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea. He is coeditor of the Korean-language volume Entangled Modernities: Crossings between Korean and Japanese Studies.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

Part I. Sovereignty

1. Sovereignty and Imperialism 21

2. Imperialism and Nationalism 53

Part II. History Writing

3. Nationalizing Korea's Past 87

4. Universalizing Korea's Past 114

5. Divided Sovereignty and South Korean Historiography 138

Appendix 1. Names and Vital Dates 161

Appendix 2. Character List 165

Notes 171

Bibliography 229

Index 247
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5372-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5357-7
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