Main content

Workshop in the History of Material Texts

Dahye Kim (Northwestern University): "The Hangul Machines and the Curious Disappearance of Chinese Characters"

Placeholder image with assorted books and manuscripts

Monday, February 7, 2022, 5:15pm, via Zoom*

*For Zoom information, please contact Aylin Malcolm.

Our speaker writes:

What role did communication and information technologies such as the typewriter and digital keyboard play in the ascendancy of hangul (the Korean alphabet) as the national script of Korea and the slow disappearance of Chinese characters from the Korean written system? During a talk given in Seoul in 1960, Edwin O. Reischauer, a Harvard Orientalist and the United States’ Ambassador to Japan (1961-1966), emphasized the importance of mechanizing the Korean writing system for the modernization of the country as he echoed a larger US effort to encourage the usage of the hangul typewriter within the South Korean military. With the Korean scholar George M. McCune, Reischauer developed the McCune–Reischauer romanization of hangul. He would also describe hangul as “perhaps the most scientific system of writing in general use in any language.” Drawing upon my book project that focuses on the mechanization and digitization of the modern Korean writing system, this talk focuses on the Cold War history of the hangul typewriter and keyboard. I will argue that these technologies played a crucial role in what I call the hangulization of written Korean language and in the configuration of everyday writing practice for the Korean people. 

About our speaker:

Dahye Kim is Assistant Professor of Asian Languages and Cultures at Northwestern University. Her research and teaching interests include modern Korean literature and culture, critical approaches to media history, and the cultural dimensions of communication technologies in East Asia. Currently, she is at work on her manuscript that is tentatively titled Techno-fiction: Science Fictional Dreams of Linguistic Metamorphosis and Informatization of Korean Language. This project situates the cultural phenomenon of online literature and writing as a contentious site where the older axioms undergirding the institution of modern literature come under criticism. To do so, she draws what German media theorists call the technik of writing—which includes both the technological mediation and the compositional technique of writing—to critique the writings of Korean science-fiction fans in the 1980s and 1990s.

This talk will be held via Zoom (please contact us for details). All are welcome. If you would like to receive information about future talks, please sign up for our listserv using this link or visit the Workshop website.

The Workshop in the History of Material Texts is supported by the School of Arts and Sciences through the Department of English and hosted by the Penn Libraries. The co-directors of the seminar are Professor Zachary Lesser (English), Jerry Singerman (Penn Press, Emeritus), and John Pollack (Kislak Center, Penn Libraries).

Associated with the workshop is the book series in Material Texts published by the University of Pennsylvania Press, which includes many monographs that have emerged from presentations given at the workshop over the years.

For more information, please contact Aylin Malcolm.