Published: Oct. 9, 2017

On Friday, September 22, from 4 pm to 6 pm, CU hosted two speakers on the topic of North Korea. The event was co-sponsored by the Center for Asian Studies and the Department of History. The invited speakers are two of the very few humanists who work on North Korea related topics in the U.S. Reflecting the hightened political and military tensions between U.S. and North Korea, the event was attended by over 40 people, despite the fact that it was held on a Friday afternoon.

First talk, entitlted, “Making Science Moral: The Story of Data in Postwar North Korea” was given by Dr. Dafna Zur. Zur’s talk was on the topics of science and science education in the early years of North Korean history. Through close-readings and analyses of the rich source material drawn from several children’s magazines, Zur argued how science and science education were coached in a moralistic language in the 1950s, and provided for North Korea a useful language and framework to write its narrative towards progress and future.

The second talk, entitled, “Politics of Difference: Are There Femninists in North Korea?” was delivered by Dr. Suzy Kim. Challenging the wide-spread denial of the existence of feminism on “the other side” of the Cold War, Kim’s talk explored the history of feminism in North Korea. First part of her talk was devoted to the Women’s International Democratic Federation’s report on its pilgrimage to a massacre site in 1951 during the Korean War. Through analyses of the report, Kim presented on how women and their grief were portrayed in the photos and how world-wide feminist coalition and solidarity can be seen from the material. She then traced the emergence of “maternal feminism” in North Korea through analyses of several propaganda posters and women’s magazine covers.

The talks were followed by a question and answer session, which was quite lively. Despite the highly specialized content, the talks drew questions both from faculty and students, many of them being undergraduates. The most interesting moment during the Q &A session was when Dr. Kim and Dr. Zur were asking questions to each other, in which the audience was treated to a moment of intellectual exploration about projects-in-progress. All in all, the talks were very informative and provided in-depth and serious exploration of North Korea that is a rarety in the current media depictions of North Korea. Yet, at the same time, the talks also adequately represented current developments in the field of Korean Studies. In this sense, the event was a happy medium between answering both public and academic interests.

Written by Sungyun Lim, Assistant Professor of the Department of History, CU Boulder