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With the help of the GWIKS summer grant, I conducted dissertation research this
summer in Seoul, South Korea that focused on North Korea’s ties to the Third World.
During the Cold War era, North Korea establish relations with many newly independent
countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America as a way to undermine South Korean
legitimacy and gain power in international forums. This diplomatic offensive expanded
North Korean influence in the Third World and popularized North Korean leader Kim Il
Sung’s role as a global revolutionary figure. Using the concept of North Korea as a
“guerilla state,” that is a nation that applies guerilla warfare tactics and principles to its
foreign policy, my research in Seoul explored the multiple ways in which North Korean
became involved in the Third World and saw it as a powerful ideological force in the
Cold War world.
In South Korea, I conducted research at the National Assembly Library, the ROK Foreign
Ministry archives, the University of North Korean Studies Library, and the National
Institute of Korean History. The National Assembly Library (NAL) is an excellent site
for writing and secondary source research. It contains master’s theses and PhD
dissertations from several Korean universities, which can be difficult to find elsewhere,
and they also have a plethora of unique secondary sources. For example, I found a
fascinating book at the NAL detailing the involvement of North Korean students in the
1956 Hungarian Revolution. I most likely would not have found this book, which was
published by a South Korean press, in the United States.
The ROK Foreign Ministry archive, which is not a typical physical archive but
rather a collection of microfilm and DVDs, contains thousands of documents related to
the foreign affairs of the ROK and the DPRK from the end of the Korean War to the mid-
1980s. This proved to be the most useful resource for my dissertation research on North
Korea’s foreign policy. However, the microfilm from pre-1979 was often poor in quality
and extremely difficult to read. The library at the University of North Korean Studies
(UNKS) was also very useful. Located near Gwanghwamun, this graduate school has a
small library that houses both secondary sources related to North Korea and North
Korean propaganda materials. At this library, I found a wide range of North Korean
propaganda materials here, from recent architectural magazines to old newspapers.
Although the National Institute of Korean History (NIKH) is located an hour
away from downtown Seoul, it was well worth the trip. This institute is collecting
archival materials from all around the world related to North and South Korea and is truly
a one-stop shop for researching international histories of postcolonial Korea. The NIKH
possesses copies of archival documents from Germany, France, the U.S, the U.K,
Canada, Russia, India, Canada, Japan, China, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan.
Outcome and Building for the Future
I was able to gather thousands of documents related to my dissertation and came away
from this experience ready to write my dissertation. My archival research in South Korea
also taught me about the unique bureaucratic rules of South Korean research institutions
and the importance of establishing network-based ties in Seoul with other academics.
This research will help me build a career as an expert on North Korea foreign policy as I
will use these documents for the rest of my career. Thank you for providing me with this