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June 27, 2023

I interviewed Dr. I Jonathan Kief, an assistant professor in our Korean program, about his research endeavors during his recent academic leave, his classes here at UNC, and so much more! Read on, but here, have a spoiler: there are magpies ahead!

1) Hi Dr. Kief! First off, for those who may not yet be acquainted with your awesomeness, can you tell me a little about yourself and what you teach and research here in DAMES?

I am a scholar of modern Korean and comparative literature, and my research focuses on interactions between writers in North Korea, South Korea, and the Korean diaspora in Japan during the early Cold War era. Literature from these three locations and communities is often studied separately, but my research emphasizes the links between them, showing how they took shape in dialogue with each other. I am finishing a book project on this topic, and pieces of this research have appeared recently in the Journal of Asian Studies, the Journal of Korean Studies, and the Routledge Companion to Korean Literature.

At DAMES, I teach courses in Korean literature, film, and popular culture at a range of levels, from first-year seminars to advanced undergraduate courses. I also teach courses in transnational Asian studies. In particular, I teach a 400-level course called “Cold War Culture in East Asia” [ASIA 427], and I will be teaching a new graduate seminar [ASIA 731] this coming fall that focuses on new scholarly approaches to studying the relationship between art/literature and science/technology. Finally, I also serve as the coordinator for the DAMES Korean program and the advisor for the Korean major, the Korean minor, and study abroad in Korea. In this capacity, I am always thrilled to talk to students who are interested in pursuing Korean studies or going abroad to Korea.


2) I know you were recently on leave. Did you travel? Any cool adventures you can share?

Yes, I was on leave during the 2021-2022 academic year, and I spent the spring of 2022 abroad at the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS). AKS is at the foot of a mountain in the outskirts of the Seoul metropolitan area, so it was an ideal place to be for research during the pandemic. I can’t say that I had any particularly cool adventures, but I did get to explore my natural surroundings much more than I had been able to do in other Seoul-area research locations. The magpies were amazing!


3) Can you tell us about how your ongoing research impacts the courses you teach here at UNC?

Informed by my research on interactions across geographic and ideological boundaries during the early Cold War era, my approach to Korean studies emphasizes the diverse, dynamic, and dialogic nature of Korean culture and history. In the classroom, this means that I introduce students to the wide variety of imaginations and identities that Korean cultural producers have formulated over time, and it also means that I emphasize the importance of listening to voices from across different communities and different segments of society so that we can understand how they interacted with each other, how they engaged in debate, and how they produced creative and critical transformations. On a more practical level, my teaching follows my research by looking beyond the South Korea-focused canon and incorporating North Korean works as well as select works from the Korean diaspora.

Finally, the new graduate course that I will be teaching in the fall of 2023 is partially inspired by the new research project that I have recently begun. My new research project looks at crossborder radio broadcasts and crossborder radio-technology transfers in and around Korea in the Cold War era, so the seminar’s focus on scholarship that interrogates the relationship between cultural production and technology is very much in line with developments in my research program.


4) For students who may be interested in your field of study, do you have any advice or words of wisdom?

My suggestion would be to follow your interest and see where it leads you. When I was in college, I enrolled in my first course on Korean literature because I saw a poster advertising a new course and it sparked my curiosity. I had no idea that my decision to take that course would have such a large impact on my life, but it ended up taking me on a journey that led to many wonderful places — including UNC and DAMES.

More practically, I would reiterate that I would be more than happy to discuss anything Korea or Korean studies related with students. Please feel free to contact me!

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