2023 WINTER (Vol. 71)


Hashtags for History

Memories from cameras that witnessed Korean modern and contemporary history

Korean modern and contemporary history as seen through documentary videos

Research on modern history and archiving of video materials

The 20th century has been characterized through ‘visual media,’ which has been a key source of information. Documentary video production has been one of the basic tools of historical research. A documentary video mainly refers to the ‘newsreel,’ in which important events that occurred at the time are recorded on film. In Korea, <Daehan News> and <Liberty News> were also recorded in the same manner. A documentary video that has not been edited before turning it into a newsreel is called footage video, and is recognized as an important documentary video in the study of modern history because it is raw, unedited material.

‘Archiving work’ is also very important because it can be provided to people who want to collect, store, and use video materials covering various aspects of a certain period. In Korea, organizations, including the National Archives of Korea and the Korean Film Archive, play an important role in archiving video materials.

Documentary videos collected in <Modern History in Motion: A Vivid History>

The National Museum of Korean Contemporary History has been establishing and servicing the documentary video archive platform, <Modern History in Motion: A Vivid History>, with KBS since March 2023. The National Museum of Korean Contemporary History organizes and categorizes information from archival footage collected by KBS, and makes available it online. More than 800 recorded videos of important events in modern and contemporary Korean history, from the 1920s to the 1970s, can be viewed on the website, <Modern History in Motion: A Vivid History>.

Things to think about when watching documentary videos

A documentary video presents vivid historical figures and scenery. However, it is important to note that the nature of the medium forces us to look at the contemporary situation from the perspective of the photographer, editor, or director. This means that the perspectives of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, which filmed the documentary video, and the United States, which edited the footage into a newsreel, were reflected in the video.

Meanwhile, the aspect containing many images of the people in written records cannot be overlooked. Unedited footage reveals the lives of different people, which may uncover cracks in the existing elite-centered historical narrative.

The history we all create together through video

In the past, cameras and film were very valuable items. These days, anyone in the world can easily shoot a video and share it. If future generations study the 21st century, videos made today could soon become important historical data. Wouldn't it be possible to say that recording people’s daily lives and the events around us is itself a work of creating history?


Looking back at the 2023 exhibitions at the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History

An exhibition commemorating the 70th anniversary of the ROK-US alliance

The hottest issues of the year covered by the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History were ‘the museum’s opening in 2012’ and ‘the President and the Prime Minister's 10th-anniversary visit to the museum.’ The year 2023 marks the 70th anniversary of the ROK-US alliance, and the President and the Prime Minister visited the museum to view the ROK-US alliance exhibition and attend events related to the Korean War

<We Go Together>, which opened on April 24, became the first domestic exhibition to mark the 70th anniversary of the ROK-US alliance. New data were discovered, and existing data were newly interpreted and presented. The main features of the exhibition include: The beginning of ROK-US relations presented as the “United States–Korea Treaty of 1882,” which was signed 141 years ago; the first legation and first minister (Lucius Harwood Foote)’s offices in the capitals of both countries after the United States-Korea Treaty; and a list of construction projects in both countries during the Joseon Dynasty and the Korean Empire before the formal establishment of the government.

Main activities of the exhibition operations department related to the ROK-US alliance in 2023

Special exhibitions from the pandemic to the ROK-US alliance

The 2023 special exhibition was held under the themes of the pandemic (<RE-CONNECT: until everyone is safe>), investment techniques (<Dream of Big Savings: Household Finance in Korean Contemporary History>), and Korean Wave (<The Pop Culture We Loved, and the Rise of the Korean Wave>), together with the special exhibition on the ROK-US alliance.

Although many other museums have held exhibitions with similar themes, the pandemic special exhibition utilized the unique strengths of the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History in publicizing the importance of solidarity in the global ecosystem from an international, comparative historical perspective. The special exhibition on investment techniques emphasized that the ordinary people were dreaming of hitting the jackpot based on finance, real estate, and securities, and became the foundation of the national economy from a macroeconomic perspective. <We Go Together> was a comprehensive exhibition on the ROK-US alliance, and was held after special exhibitions on topics of national interest, such as the pandemic, investment techniques, and the Korean Wave, while the Korean Wave was also directly related to the ROK-US alliance. American-centric pop songs, movies, and the club culture of the US forces in Korea (USFK) greatly influenced the rise of the Korean Wave.

Reorganization of permanent exhibitions and other activities

In 2023, certain corners of the permanent exhibition hall were reorganized, including those recognizing the overseas expansion of both workers and companies, economic development, participation in the Vietnam War, expansion of enthusiasm for education and culture, and the development of semiconductors.

In collaboration with surrounding museums, the stamp tour event was promoted for three consecutive years. In commemoration of International Museum Day, a stamp tour was held for about a month with five national and public museums near Gwanghwamun. The National Museum of Korean Contemporary History also participated in <Dream of Big Savings: Household Finance in Korean Contemporary History>.

In April 2024, a joint exhibition on 『Nostalgic Energy Source: Coal』 will be held with three local governments that operate coal museums. It is a pilot project for a traveling exhibition of co-prosperity between Seoul and other provinces, and will be held in culturally underprivileged areas.

In 2024, the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History will hold a total of five special exhibitions in two exhibition halls: a special exhibition room and a theme hall. It will begin with the 'Photo Exhibition Commemorating the 140th Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Ties between Korea and Italy’ at the end of February, followed by ‘Special Exhibition on Coal’ in April, ‘Special Exhibition: UN Forces Participation’ in June, ‘Special Exhibition: My Modern History Treasures’ in September, and ‘Special Exhibition: Patriot An Jung-geun’ in October. Furthermore, the ‘Special Exhibition: Korean Wave and Popular Culture,’ which was successfully held in 2023, is scheduled to become a traveling exhibition in two regions.

Looking at Our History in a Strange View

A class on modern Korean history through experiential learning

Permanent exhibition experience center

The permanent exhibition experience center, which is located on the 4th floor of the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History, allows visitors to experience events as someone from a different generation. How do foreigners view an experience center that is full of our modern history? We can get a glimpse of it through the writings of Britain’s Paul Carver.

The experience of becoming a person from a different generation and looking at history from a different perspective.

For someone like me, who is lacking in knowledge of Korean history, the experience center exhibition embodied the experiences of different generations in modern Korean history under the theme of ‘generational communication.’ The exhibition hall is divided into a total of 16 areas, which are designed to show various aspects of daily life by theme and period, starting from 1950.

Upon entering the experience center, an ID card is issued by pressing the button on the machine provided at the information desk. The card grants you one of 10 characters born in different eras. The card I received was from 1968.

The ‘Mottos of the Times’ section lists slogans encouraged by citizens of each era. The message of being wary of Communists and spies is the same now as it was 70 years ago. But in the case of family planning, it is the exact opposite.

In the ‘Yesterday’s Table’ section, there is a digital puzzle that matches foods according to an era or a situation. I learned about foods that Koreans enjoyed in different eras and situations, such as cheap but simple and delicious food eaten right after the Korean War, makgeolli and green onion

pancakes eaten during rainy days, and pork cutlets on special days.

The ‘Health is Best’ section introduces public health campaigns carried out over the past era. The stool sample envelope proved to be the most interesting. There is a scene related to the stool sample envelope in the movie <Classic>. If I have not seen this exhibition, I would never have understood the social and cultural background of the stool sample envelope.

The last section that captured my imagination was ‘Emergency Calls.’ I dialed a phone number on an old-fashioned rotary phone, which may seem novel to most visitors who have only used smartphones.

If you want to understand modern Korean history through experience exhibitions

Such digital experiential exhibition halls are rare in the UK. Still, there are the Eden Camp Modern History Museum, where you can experience living in England during World War II, and the Beamish, the Living Museum of the North, which recreates mining villages, coal mines, British farms, and 1950s British villages, as well as the Black Country Living Museum, which has an experience hall like that of the National Museum of Korean History.

If you want to know what kind of life your grandparents lived, want to relive old memories, or want to improve your understanding of modern Korean history, I highly recommend visiting the experience center.

Museum Story

Holding a regional traveling exhibition of Special Exhibition: Korean Wave and Popular Culture

The National Museum of Korean Contemporary History, in cooperation with the Mungyeong Coal Museum, will hold the special exhibition, < The Pop Culture We Loved, and the Rise of the Korean Wave > at Mungyeong Eco World from November 4 to January 15, 2024. This special exhibition, which features the Korean Wave and pop culture that is popular around the world, was successfully held from July 19 to September 3 at the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History. Visitors to Mungyeong Eco World can view this exhibition for free. The National Museum of Korean Contemporary History plans to hold a Korean Wave exhibition twice a year in collaboration with local organizations, and will be held as a traveling exhibition of co-prosperity between Seoul and other provinces in 2024.

Workshop held by 11 organizations through a modern and contemporary history cooperation network

The National Museum of Korean Contemporary History collaborated with local modern and contemporary history museums to support museum academic projects that strengthen the mutual capabilities of the museums. The project consists of various approaches, such as exhibition, publication, preservation, education, and improvement of the viewing environment. Representative projects include the archiving exhibition, <This Story is My Last Mission>, at the Historic Park of Geoje POW Camp, the publication of the academic data collection, 『Memories in Daegu』, by the Daegu Modern History Museum, and the ‘Conservation of Catholic liturgical clothing of the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres’ of the History Museum of the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres. The National Museum of Korean Contemporary History held a workshop on December 8 for institutions that were selected in April. At present, 134 institutions have joined the modern and contemporary history cooperation network.

National Museum of Korean Contemporary History Newsletter 2023 WINTER (Vol. 71) / ISSN 2384-230X
198 Sejong-daero, Jongro-gu, Seoul, 03141, Republic of Korea / 82-2-3703-9200 / www.much.go.kr
Editor: Lee SeungJae, Ahn SeongIn, Kim YangJeong, Shin JungSoo
/ Design: plus81studios

Copyright. National Museum of Korean Contemporary History all rights reserved.