[KS] Re: Spelling of the name Korea

Kirk Larsen kwlarsen at fas.harvard.edu
Wed Sep 15 08:58:04 EDT 1999

Kristen Bell introduces the idea that the notion that "Corea" became
"Korea" due to a Japanese drive for alphabetical primacy reveals much
"about present and past constructions of Korean history and identity."
This is, of course, right on the mark. Analysis of any story told about a
group of people or an event can reveal much about shared cultural
assumptions and ideas. This is exactly what many cultural historians and
(I presume) anthropologists do. So clearly there are quite different (and
yet equally valid) ways of looking at the same issue. 

However, as far as I can see, this is not what those who originally raised
the issue were after. The original question was "when, why, and how did
'Corea' change to 'Korea?'" That many Koreans now believe that the shift
from "C" to "K" is part of the Japanese colonial project of relegating
Korea to an inferior status tells us much about what today's Koreans think
and believe. It does not tell us, however, how this change actually took

 Some historians, the problematic nature of "truth," "fact," and
"objectivity," notwithstanding, still cling to the old-fashioned notion
that some things happened and others didn't. Leaving the very fruitful and
worthwhile task of considering the implications of long-cherished myths to
the anthropologists (and others), they attempt (within all of the
painfully obvious limitations) to provide the most accurate portrayal of
what happened. 

"both views [should] be considered equally valid and important for what
they reveal about
present and past constructions of Korean history and identity." However,
both views are not an equally valid explanation of what happened. Of
course attempts to portray "what happened" are fraught with bias and
peril, but in the paraphrased words of the soon-to-be-dead-white-male,
Bernard Bailyn, "just because a completely sterile environment is
impossible to achieve doesn't mean that we should do brain surgery in a

Respectfully yours,

Kirk Larsen


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