Lecture Video: James Scarth Gale, Korean Literature in hanmun, and Allo-metropolitan Missionary Orientalism

 

In this lecture, I give an overview of my forthcoming book by the same title. Based largely on the James Scarth Gale papers held by the Fisher Rare Book Library (University of Toronto), this project examines and contextualizes James Scarth Gale’s forty-year career as a missionary scholar in Korea (1888-1927) and argues that Gale is a foundational but largely forgotten and underappreciated figure in the history of modern Korean Studies, particularly as concerns traditional Korean literary culture and literary history—topics that remain underexplored in English-language scholarship to this day. The Gale Papers force a reevaluation of our image of Gale and his legacy: from that of missionary, lexicographer, historian, and occasional translator of premodern fiction, to dedicated bibliophile, and champion, prolific translator and interpreter of Korean literature and literary culture in Literary Sinitic.
The project approaches Gale’s scholarly legacy by focusing on his Korean bibliomania, and is divided into two parts. Part One analyzes Gale’s collecting of old Korean books, his study and translation of them in collaboration with his Korean ‘pundits’, and the relationship of his literary and scholarly work to broader questions of ‘Orientalism’ in general and missionary orientalism, in particular. One key argument is that for Gale, ‘Korean literature’ existed almost exclusively in the cosmopolitan code of Literary Sinitic (‘Classical Chinese’); modern Korean literature was barely getting off the ground in the 1920s when Gale retired, and he was dismissive of vernacular literary production, both premodern and modern. A second key argument is that Gale strove through all of his activities to demonstrate that Korea was a ‘civilized nation’ and a ‘nation of scholars and books’, whose deep historical engagement with Chinese civilization and thought had prepared it for Christianity and its one Great Book. A third key argument is that Gale’s literary and bibliophilic project amounted to a major intervention into defining—in a contested and transnational intellectual field in colonial Korea in the 19teens and 1920s—the premodern Korean literary tradition and canon; a full accounting of his book collecting and translation projects sheds new light on the process by which the modern notion of the ‘Korean Classics’ was constructed. A final question the book poses concerns the relative oblivion into which Gale’s work fell: why is he largely forgotten today, even in Korea, and why was the bulk of his work never published?

Ross King earned his BA in Linguistics and Political Science from Yale College and his MA and PhD from Harvard in Linguistics. Currently he serves as Professor of Korean and Head of Department in the Department of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. His main research interests are Korean historical linguistics, Korean dialectology (esp. the dialect(s) preserved by the ethnic Korean minority in Russia and the former USSR), the history of Korean linguistics (including the history of Korean linguistic thought in Korea and Korean linguistic and script nationalism), and the history of language, writing and literary culture in the ‘Sinographic Cosmopolis’ (漢字文化圈).

 

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