Current Institutional Affiliation
Lecturer, Japanese and Korean Studies, University of Edinburgh

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2014
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, University of Pennsylvania
Agriculture and Development in an Age of Empire: Institutions, Associations, and Market Networks in Modern Korea, 1876-1945

My project studies the economic and social changes to agricultural production in Korea from 1876-1945. In particular, it examines changes to the institutions affecting agriculture, such as tenancy laws, reforms to the tax system and property rights, as well as the introduction of new organizations that altered the distribution of essential agricultural inputs such as credit and water. In studying reforms to agriculture, this project highlights the perspective of individual producers who negotiated a changing institutional environment and came to rely on new organizational networks and agricultural practices amid a turbulent political period in Korean history. The colonization of Korea by Japan (1910-1945) often appears as a sharp break in histories of Korea, while narratives of exploitation dominate colonial economic histories. By studying economic reforms over a longer time frame and from the perspective of individual producers, I will argue that, far from being a period of rural stagnation, the agricultural economy underwent crucial changes in this period. Moreover, the colonial government's attempts to promote agricultural production shared many characteristics with earlier Korean-led reform efforts. In this way, I reject the prevailing image of an isolated, tradition-bound, rural Korea, showing instead a rural society that was intimately connected to the pressing transnational political and economic concerns of the day. I examine the extension of international credit networks, legal innovations, and technologies into the rural economy to uncover the significance of reforms to local populations. Viewed from the local level, I highlight the ways in which the population responded to both Korean and Japanese-led reforms. I argue that successful reforms incorporated existing social networks even as they transformed methods of production. My project thus challenges existing conceptions of Korean modernity and narratives of Korean economic development.