[KS] KSR 2000-01:_Korea: A Historical and Cultural Dictionary_, by

Stephen Epstein Stephen.Epstein at vuw.ac.nz
Fri Mar 24 19:17:25 EST 2000

_Korea: A Historical and Cultural Dictionary_, by Keith Pratt and Richard Rutt
with additional material by James Hoare. Durham East Asia Series.
Richmond:  Curzon, 1999. (ISBN 0-7007-0464-7, cloth; ISBN 0-7007-0463-9 paper).

Reviewed by Dennis Hart
Kent State University

	Keith Pratt and Richard Rutt provide readers with "a quick
handbook" that provides "factual information about events, people, and
topics in the history and culture of Korea." (vi) It is as advertised - an
extensive reference work meant to be used by scholars and students of
Korean studies. The dictionary also provides readers with five pages on
the McCune-Reishauer romanization system (xiii-xvii), four maps (a map
of ancient Korean kingdoms, two maps of modern provinces, and one
map of the beacon system in Chos™n Korea), a chart of East Asian
dynasties (xx), a general bibliography (542-543), an index of personal
names (544-560), another index of literary and musical titles (561-568),
and innumerable charts, tables, and drawings throughout the book.

	Included in this dictionary were entries on historical events from
ancient Korea all the way up to today, an extensive list of persons (both
Koreans and non-Koreans who lived and worked on the peninsula),
politics, literature, language, philosophy, religion, and art. The
dictionary also went beyond the high culture of the royal courts and
aristocracy.  Often, there were references to folk tales, horoscopes, and
even such commonplace items as pets, games and kimch'i.

	I found the book to be, in general, well organized, easy to use,
and filled with an impressive list of information on historical Korea and
Korean culture. All entry headings were capitalized, in bold font, and
listed alphabetically, using the English alphabet. (A, B, C, etc.) The
entries appeared sometimes in English ("MANCHU INVASIONS," 276) and other
times in romanized Korean ("KUNHAP, union of palaces" 249-250.) Note that
in the case of the latter, an English translation of the term also appeared
in the entry heading. Still other entries were in romanized Chinese ("ZHU
XI," 538-539.) Many of the entry headings included Chinese characters,
which was often useful. However, the authors chose to not use hangul in the
entry headings and instead employed the McCune-Reishauer system of
romanization. I found this choice to NOT use hangul to be both unnecessary
and distracting, as may other readers.

	The entries varied greatly in length. A number of them were a
paragraph in length (2 to 10 lines of text) such as CHIGONG (46),
KOREAN PEOPLE'S PARTY (237) or KI, EMPRESS (206.) The majority
of them were two or more paragraphs long (10 to 20 lines) such as
CONCUBINES (89), RICE (382), or SAMGUK SAGI (400.) However, it
was not uncommon for other entries, such as the DEMOCRATIC
(115-119) to be given one or more pages. One of the longest entries was
KAPCHA CHARACTERS (the Sixty-fold Cycle.) This entry traversed five pages
and allowed readers to find the Chinese Zodiac sign of anyone born from
1384 to 1983. (I discovered I am a "black dragon.")

	An important and very useful feature was the frequent use of
cross-references indicated by bold face. Thus, as you read about one topic,
you were immediately referred to related topics. Here is one example, from
page 326, of a full entry that includes a pair of cross-references, though
the Chinese characters are not included here:

"OM-BI (1854-1911)
Lady Om entered the palace to serve on the queen's staff, but after the
queen was murdered in 1895 her status as the king's consort was
gradually enhanced until after the birth of her son Yi Un in 1897 she was
named Sunhon Hwang-guibi, 'imperial concubine Sunhon'. She made
generous contributions to the establishment of several modern schools
for girls."

	I conducted my review of the dictionary by using it as it was
intended to be used - to find quick information on a person, place, event,
or idea. First, I tested the dictionary on what I thought would be easy
facts. The dictionary refused to be stumped and not only provided the
requested information ("SILLA? Yes." 418-419) it regularly gave me more
than I asked for. ("SILLA KINGLY TITLES," 419; "SILLA, QUEENS OF," 419-420;
and, "UNIFIED SILLA" including every king's name, reign, and clan, 498-499.)

	Obviously, I realized, the dictionary needed a greater challenge.
So I checked my memory for lesser known facts about Korea and then
checked the dictionary for the same information. On most occasions, the
dictionary matched my memory. ("HONG-GILTONG? Yes!" 168.) Occasionally,
certain facts I expected to be there were missing. ("RED PEPPER? No.") But
more often, the simple act of searching for one item allowed me to uncover a
wealth of entries that I had not expected to find, but proved to be
enormously interesting nonetheless. ("CATS! Ooooo...." 37, "RATS!
Eeeee...." 377.) I found that I enjoyed simply "flipping" through pages and
finding a variety of names and facts about Korea that I simply had not
known, which may be as much a comment on my own status as a dusty academic
as it is on the dictionary's content.

	Finally for this review, I am compelled to address the question of
who would find this dictionary useful. After all is said and read, the key
question for this book is exactly that - how useful will it be and for
whom? My research focuses upon politics and identity in the contemporary
Koreas. For me, the dictionary's entries on history were informative. In
one place I now have a listing of the places, kings, queens, places,
literature, et cetera of pre-colonial Korea, should I ever need them. For
someone who is not an expert on Korean history this book was informative
and provided quick and concise information. But I am not so sure that a
historian would say the same thing. I often found the entries that dealt
with my era of expertise (post-colonial Korean politics) to be too brief
and overly simple. Experts on Korea will probably find the information that
deals with their area of expertise to be thin and unsatisfactory.  However,
I believe that this shortcoming would be inevitable with any cultural or
historical dictionary. The range of topics
covered in this book are so wide that virtually anyone interested in Korea
will be able to find useful facts or information.

	Next, we should consider this book within our role as teachers. I
reviewed the paperback version, which was listed at £16.99. The
hardback was listed at £60. As a teacher, I have to ask if it is fair have
my freshman to pay either of these amounts when the majority of them will,
probably, not continue on in Korean studies. However, the dictionary is
likely to be a valuable asset for someone who has more than a passing
interest in Korea and plans to keep learning about it.

	In brief, as a scholar of Korean studies, I would urge my library
to purchase the hardcover, while I, myself, would buy the paperback.

Hart, Dennis  2000
Review of Keith Pratt and Richard Rutt, _Korea: A Historical and Cultural
Dictionary_ (1999)
_Korean Studies Review_ 2000, no. 1
Electronic file:


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