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By: Muziah Kargbo

I had the chance to interview the newest addition to the department, Professor Jonathan Kief, who teaches within the Korean program on the relationship between South and North Korea through literature and culture. Talking to him led to some stimulating conversation on how he became interested in North and South Korea specifically. He began with that his interest in North and South Korea just happened randomly in fact. Back at Columbia University he needed a summer job and only the East Asian department accepted him. During his time there he grew interested in taking East Asian-focused courses further growing his interest in East Asia, specifically South Korea.

Yet, he noticed the lack of literature courses pertaining to South Korea. This sparked an interest in pursuing a degree in South Korean literature. During his research, he noticed a lot of North Korean sources cropped up allowing him to delve more into researching the other Korea as well.  Professor Kief explains how he feels North Korea has been left out of a lot of courses relating to Korea despite the shared history and culture the nation had with South Korea before the Korean War. He feels it’s necessary to look at both Koreas to understand the interactions between the two while also adding more depth to the one dimensional view we typically have on North Korea (e.g. nuclear weapons, crazy Kim Jong-Un, backwards civilization).

Currently, he is looking at the interactions between North and South Korean culture in the late 1940s through the 1960s. He explained that though we may look at the countries as two separate literary spheres, they emerged at the same time and act in competition with each other though they are interrelated. He also added that Japan mediated literature between the two Koreas during this time. Professor Kief’s future research involves looking more deeply into this relationship through the use of radio during this time.

As for how this research will be incorporated into future courses at UNC, Professor Kief has proposed a number of courses including ones like “Cold War Culture in East Asia” which would look at not only the Koreas, but China, Japan, Taiwan, and even Hong Kong and another course titled “Imagining the City in Modern Korea” which would be about how urban space is represented in literature and film within history. He also hopes to include North Korea as much as possible in any and all courses he proposes in the future.

Finally, our discussion ended with a small talk about the future Korean major. With a tentative fall 2019 launch date, we can’t give away too many details, but after my discussion with Professor Kief, it’s a major to look forward to and will be worth the wait!

Once again, we extend a further warm welcome to him here at UNC and eagerly await more of what he will bring to the department and the Korean program for the future.


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