East Asia, Centre for the Study of Korea, Asian Institute

A Q&A with Centre for the Study of Korea Visiting Scholar, Professor Taewoo Ko

The Centre for the Study of Korea welcomed a new visiting scholar this term. Tae-woo Ko (고태우高泰雨) is an assistant professor in the Department of Korean History at Seoul National University in South Korea, and is studying modern Korean history and environmental history of the 20th century. Please enjoy our Q&A with Professor Ko below. Read his full bio here.

Tell us about your current research interests. For example, what are the big questions you’re interested in studying/what are you reading these days?

I am an assistant professor in the Department of History at Seoul National University in South Korea, and studying modern Korean history and environmental history of the 20th century.

My research focuses on three main areas. First, it is about how “colonial development” in Korea progressed, its characteristics, and how that development continues and changes in liberated Korea. About this topic, I have recently been interested in how land expropriation laws were created and applied in colonial and post-liberation Korea.

Second, it is about how to describe Korea's environmental history in the 20th century from an East Asian perspective. There is still a lack of environmental history research in Korean historical academia. I aim to publish a book on the subject of “Environmental History of Korea in the 20th Century” in the future, so I historically examine environmental pollution, human responses to disasters, and the destruction and restoration of ecosystems in Korea from a critical perspective on capitalism.

Third, I am also interested in current issues such as climate change and biodiversity collapse. Regarding issues such as the climate crisis and ecosystem destruction, I think a lot of research in the humanities is needed on how humanity can coexist and live well with other creatures in the future, and how to build such a planet. In that sense, I am also interested in research to historically combine the Anthropocene/Capitalocene discussion and post-humanism.


Why did you choose to come to the Centre for the Study of Korea/Asian Institute?

The University of Toronto is one of the world’s most prestigious universities, and Korean Studies have been conducted in Canada for a long time. The Centre for the Study of Korea at the University of Toronto has several prominent professors who study Korean studies in various fields. I expect that my interactions with them will be of great help to my research. Of course, I think it will be a useful experience for me to interact with graduate students who study Korean studies and professors who conduct other Asian studies. I hope to expand the breadth and depth of my research by interacting with them.


How long will you be here, and what do you hope to accomplish during this time?

I will be at the Asian Institute until early February 2024. Until then, I plan to conduct a study on the subject of, "Pollution Disaster and Anti-Pollution Movement of South Korea in the 1970s," which I submitted to the Centre for the Study of Korea. This study focuses on complaints and litigation activities centered on residents in areas with high levels of pollution during the 1970s, when environmental pollution became a serious problem in South Korea. These residents campaigned for the right to live as victims, who had been hidden behind economic development, exports, and growth at the time and until now. This study can be said to be a kind of “people's history of pollution.” It is also part of my long-term plan to publish a book called “The History of Environmental Pollution in Korea in the 20th Century.”

Second, I plan to work on a manuscript to publish my doctoral dissertation, "The construction industry and Development in Korea under Japanese colonial rule" as a book. My doctoral thesis explored the meaning of “colonial development” by focusing on the relationship between the colonial state that monopolized the supply of social overhead capital and the contractors who led development at construction sites. In the book to be published, I plan to address the post-liberation issue of colonial development by adding the situation of the civil engineering industry in liberated Korea.

Third, as a researcher of environmental history in Korea, I want to broaden the horizons of my research. For this purpose, I plan to read several books and articles written from the perspectives of East Asian environmental history and global environmental history.