[KS] Percival Lowell

Robert M Oppenheim rmo at austin.utexas.edu
Fri Apr 17 10:00:14 EDT 2015

Dear Frank,

I did in fact misread your question as purely historical - smiley was lost on me.  Anyway, I certainly agree that a study of Choson hats, now, would have the potential to be very interesting in the right hands, bringing in art history, social history, material culture (also necessarily being a history of fabric and technique), gender studies, etc., and maybe making some telling points.



From: Koreanstudies <koreanstudies-bounces at koreanstudies.com> on behalf of Frank Hoffmann <hoffmann at koreanstudies.com>
Sent: Thursday, April 16, 2015 4:18 PM
To: koreanstudies at koreanstudies.com
Subject: Re: [KS] Percival Lowell

To Dr. Oppenheim, and All:

I would put a very big smiley here, if I could. Your reply again brings
us back to the early 1900s, while I would really wish to see a 2015
reply to the question itself -- not an explanation why there is no
answer. To me the explanation given for the lack of an answer, for
explaining why we do not seem to know, is not really convincing either.
The center for ethnological research was then in Europe, much less so
in the United States. But there was nothing done in Europe either,
although the history of ethnology there is quite different to that in
the United States. (However, there were publications on e.g. Korean
tools in agriculture, and that sort of thing.) Still, the reference to
the early 1900s -- therefore my imagined smiley -- has little to do
with 2015, to explain why we have no true research knowledge on Korean
hats. There are now Korean studies programs at many universities, and I
see a hundreds of PhDs and M.A. theses, so many of them on just a tiny
area of themes, rotating the same approaches, terms, and questions. The
"visual studies" approaches, for example, have found their way into
fields they might better not have found. While this swarm research is
to a certain degree entertaining, I find it still amazing that the
Korean hat theme (and some other themes) disappeared with Japanese
colonialism just like that, and that those themes have not been
reconsidered in the decades after liberation. It was not Percival
Lowell who "formed" that theme somehow, but the these hats *are* a
topic that should have a much higher "trade value" among researchers.

What would we see in 1885 in Korea, in the late Chosŏn period? What we
call the "fine arts" (court art, but also Buddhist 'art' at temples and
monasteries, porcelain manufacturing) had all been in a downward spiral
during the entire 19th century, and that had been obvious to anyone
visiting the country. When we look at "art" being produced in the
period from 1876 to say 1915, we deal with the worst of the worst, a
"dark period" (to re-assign the term Korean historians otherwise use
for the early colonial 1910-1919 period). There is hardly anything,
other than maybe calligraphy, if one includes that, that gets us
excited as representing KOREAN culture at the age of early
modernization. At the same time, though, the hat-making handicraft
seems to continue as ever before, with no decline in aesthetics or
material or creativity -- and how about the "rules" applied to that?
Who wears which hats at what occasions, etc.? Percival Lowell tells us
that he received a Western-shaped hat (from the court) as a present,
made of horse hair in the Korean manner. That story tells us how open
even this most Korean of all Korean handicrafts was to social and
political change! If Korean guys had a 65 styles or more for their hats
(and the ladies around 20 only), and if they kept that up all the way
into the early 1900s, and if the hat stores were pretty much the only
impressive stores in all Korea (we have many similar observations by
travelers from other countries in Europe), it will be very interesting
and promising to have a far closer look at the entire subject --
especially if combining that with depictions from painting, sketches,
and early photography (such as the photo of Lowell and the group of
Koreans). We cannot "generalize" the outcome of such research before it
is done, but I have no doubt there will be some very concrete cases
were  we would gather new insights. What does it exactly mean that
these Korean yangban in that photo wear these transparent (rather than
translucent) hats (that was new to me)? Is that, for example, a fashion
of that time, or does it relate to status (I mean within the yangban)?

These Korean hats (and cloth) were a purely KOREAN fashion! -- and
other than today's or yesterday's touristy publications with some nice
photos and references (again and again) to those late 19th century
Western publications nobody seems to look into that. Or what are your
grad students writing about? Can you imagine Japanologists would have
ignored and the Japan Society would not have pushed for research on
kimono and flip flops culture? Little magazine articles and summarizing
19th century Bostonian essays will not et us new insights, I fear.
There are some essays on the far less sophisticated and socially
important female clothing -- obviously because women were allowed to
keep their dresses, as those were not made an obstacle to
modernization, not until the 1920s at least. But hats?


On Thu, 16 Apr 2015 18:14:47 +0000, Robert M Oppenheim wrote:
> Hi Frank and others,
> It is always hard to figure out why a research focus DIDN'T have
> legs, but, there are perhaps a couple of local answers for the USNM:
> 1) Jenings, who was the one to run with hats at the Smithsonian, dies
> before the publication of his hats article in 1903.
> 2) Despite the focus of the 1889 exhibition - which may or may not
> have accorded with the curators' aims, it may just have been Mason
> playing to the crowd - hats or clothing more generally was never
> really theoretically productive for Mason or Hough.  Both were
> interested in telling grand evolutionary stories; Hough's obsession
> was the dialectic of the "taming of fire by man" and the "taming of
> man by fire."  Hats didn't help.
> 3) So Pyonggyu comes to Washington in the mid-1890s and spurs a new
> wave of Korean publication on Hough's part, but after that, as far as
> I know, the string of Korean helpers there ends for a bit.
> 4) The leading candidate: Mason, Hough, et al. simply became
> distracted by other things.  A decade or so later, around 1910, you
> can find a letter from Hough to Frederick Starr happily passing on
> the torch of interest in Korea and expressing regret that he never
> was able to do more with it.  He had moved on.
> Rob

Frank Hoffmann

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