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Underdevelopment of American Studies in South Korea: Power and Ignorance

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This article asks why the disciplines of American Studies and U.S. history are so markedly underdeveloped in South Korea (Republic of Korea) and what this underdevelopment implies about U.S.-South Korean relations. Under Japanese colonial rule, the study of English in Korea was important for studying abroad, but few students studied America itself. Under American occupation and the following military rule in South Korea, American studies were not attractive to nationalist youth even though the English language remained useful. American cultural diplomacy fostered a small group of Americanists, but university enrollments were small. In the 1980s, Americans were blamed for their support of authoritarian rule. Japanese-trained historians saw American history as too short to be significant, and Japanese institutional legacies were an obstacle. Americans have also been too constricted in imagining who Koreans were, where Korean ambitions lay, and how Korean society worked. In a sense, the very differences between the two nations hindered them from realizing what those differences were.


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