[KS] The Frederick Starr Collection photos

rmo at mail.utexas.edu rmo at mail.utexas.edu
Tue Dec 28 12:09:39 EST 2010

Dear Brother Anthony and all,

I've been working on Starr intermittantly for some time (as you may  
know), and first wrote about his Korean career and reproduced a couple  
of his more ethnographic and ethnological (that is,  
racial-typological) photos -- or more precisely, those of his two  
primary photographers in Korea, Manuel Gonzales and Maebashi Hambei --  
in 2005 (""The West" and the Anthropology of Other People's  
Colonialism: Frederick Starr in Korea, 1911-1930," Journal of Asian  
Studies).  I also have an article that I wrote a few years ago on his  
visit to Sokkuram/Sokpulsa coming out eventually (in the journal  
_positions_, which has a long backlog), in which there will be a few  
of the 39 photos he had taken of the site on November 27, 1911, along  
with a treatment of his interpretation of the ethnographic  
significance of the site (which was based centrally on the colors of  
the paint then still visible to him on the temple's wall figures).   
The latter article being as yet unpublished, I don't want to send it  
around willy-nilly, but please contact me individually if you're  

So the short answer is yes, some of Starr's photos in the Chicago  
collection are of potential relevance to those interested in Buddhism  
in the period.  In addition to the Sokkuram set, there are individual  
photos, looking at some old notes, from Yuchomsa, Tongdosa, Haeinsa,  
Pomosa, and perhaps other temples.  (There are also other photos of  
people and of other religious sites - the Chondogyo headquarters, a  
(the?) Kija shrine, etc.).  The bad news is that what exists at  
Chicago are medium-sized prints (3x5", 6x8" - that range), rather than  
the glass plate originals, which are lost (or at least I haven't found  
them).  The motion picture film Starr shot in Korea also seems gone.   
(Final, more minor issue: Chicago re-boxed the collection a few years  
ago.  Most of the old box locations map onto the new in a fairly  
straightforward manner, but I had to hunt around for some when I  
re-visited in 2007).

I made the claim when I first wrote about Starr that the Chicago  
register for 1922-23 listed "what was probably the first course on  
'Korean ethnography' to be offered at an American university."   
Besides "probably," key words include "American" - which, of course,  
is not the same as "Western" (as Ross notes).  But also "ethnography,"  
because a course locating Korea with respect to the explicit concerns  
of what was then a nascent, barely institutionalized discipline  
(American-flavor anthropology) is not the same as a "Korean studies"  
course more generally.  About the latter I'm agnostic, though I can't  
off the top of my head name who was teaching Korean studies (in this  
broader sense) in the US before then.  (Incidentally, one can also  
look at this from the other direction.  There was a lot of interest in  
Korea on the part of U.S. anthropologists going back to the 1880s, but  
in this phase of the discipline, most tended to be based in museums  
rather than universities and thus didn't offer courses.)

Anyway, please let me know if I can help you further.

Rob Oppenheim
Department of Asian Studies
University of Texas at Austin

Quoting Brother Anthony <ansonjae at sogang.ac.kr>:

> I was (naturally) struck by a phrase in the Introduction to   
> Frederick Starr's "Korean Buddhism" (1918) where he says: "The   
> author has hundreds of negatives illustrating Korean Buddhism." He   
> goes on to say of the 37 illustrations included in his book, "many   
> pictures have been rejected, which are more beautiful or interesting  
>  than some of those that have been included." This (equally   
> naturally) leads to the very large collection of photos (and other   
> materials) held in the University of Chicago Library's Frederick   
> Starr papers, where there are clearly a considerable number of   
> photos of Korea, Buddhist and otherwise (Boxes 37a / 38a etc) . I   
> would be grateful if someone could tell me whether any collections   
> of these photos have been published? They clearly offer a very   
> precious glimpse of the state of Korean temples in the early decades  
>  of the 20th century. The complete summary list of the collection is  
>  at   
> http://ead.lib.uchicago.edu/learn_on3.php?eadid=ICU.SPCL.STARR&format=raw-xml&collection=project/SCRC
> A good PDF file of "Korean Buddhism" can be downloaded from   
> http://www.archive.org/download/koreanbuddhismhi00star/koreanbuddhismhi00star.pdf  but although I have an original, even there the quality of the photos is not always as good as one would   
> wish.
> Is it true that Starr's 1922-3 course on "Korean ethnography" at   
> Chicago can be considered the first Korean Studies course to be   
> taught in the western world?
> Brother Anthony
> Sogang University / Dankook University
> http://hompi.sogang.ac.kr/anthony/

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