- Introduction to Special Section Digital Korean Studies
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, academic research on Korea was able to continue in large part due to the extraordinary collection of online repositories and virtual meeting platforms. This heightened awareness prompts us to consider the relationship between digital technology and our desire to deepen our understanding of Korea's history, society, and culture. The origins of digital Korean studies can be traced back to the launch of the Munkwa Project in the 1960s, making Edward Wagner and Song June-ho [Song Chunho] two of the earliest practitioners of humanities computing. Today, Koreanists are among the most privileged users of digital resources. Thanks to the trailblazing work of Kim Hyeon [Kim Hyŏn], Yi Unggŭn, and others in the 1980s and 1990s, as well as the post-1998 creation of large-scale digitized collections, our research typically begins with online queries rather than trips to physical libraries and archives. Furthermore, the Korean Open Government License legislation mandates unrestricted access to raw data sets created with public funds. While premodern Korea specialists have been the primary beneficiaries thus far, the digital transformation of modern Korean studies is well underway, starting with materials that are no longer under copyright protection. [End Page 1]
This special section showcases the diverse ways of leveraging digital or computational methods in Korean studies and provides glimpses of how the digital turn may unfold in the coming decades. To prepare for this, the guest editors organized a two-part event at Seoul National University and the University of Copenhagen in May and June 2022, respectively.1 The May incubation program gathered the next generation of digital Koreanists to serve as a venue for idea exchange, hands-on training, and networking opportunities. A selective group of early-career and senior academics developed their own digital projects with the mentoring of some of the leading digital humanities experts from South Korea and around the world. The follow-up event in June held the publication workshop for this special section and invited the participants in the May incubation program to share the results of their pilot research in order to receive feedback and foster the growth of digital Korean studies in a cooperative and collaborative manner.
Korean studies and digital technologies may intersect in two major ways. The first and most common approach involves data-driven or machine-assisted analytic methods enabled by the digitization of source materials. Depending on the level of digitization, the researcher may need to begin with document scanning and creating digital editions. Because digitized and open-access materials are widely available, digital Koreanists rarely have to deal with optical character recognition or the licensing of commercial databases. For this reason, the majority of contributors to this special section use data modeling, visualization, and analysis to advance knowledge in their respective domain. The other path entails a radical reimagining of the scholarly activities in Korean studies in and for an age of digital technologies, big data, and artificial intelligence. The digital transformation of society presents an opportunity to reconsider the definitions and boundaries of Korea as our object of research as well as how we conduct research and teach about Korea.
In Korean studies, there is a wide range of opinions regarding the uses of digital tools and computational methods. One distinguished peer in Korean literature at a prestigious East Asian institution has expressed some reservations about whether data visualizations truly enhance our comprehension or insights into the subject matter. One of the aims of this special section is to present examples of Korea-related digital studies, demonstrating how the application of digital methods has made the results possible. By doing so, we hope to illuminate how various academic disciplines in Korean studies can benefit from digital solutions.
The use of data-driven techniques should always be approached with prudence and discernment. We would also like to invite our fellow [End Page 2] Koreanists to consider digital humanities from a bibliographic perspective. Many scholars of premodern Korea prefer online resources such as the Annals of the Chosŏn Dynasty (Chosŏn wangjo sillok 朝鮮王朝實錄) and A Compendium of Korean Collected Works (Han...