Chosŏn Entering the International Arena: Three Witnesses
The last decades of the Chosŏn dynasty (1392‑1910) are remembered as a period of inner turbulences and competition between foreign powers over their dominance of the Korean peninsula. Yet, during the crucial period from the mid-1880s to the early 1900s, Chosŏn was considered ready to independently enter the international arena. In the roughly twenty-five years between the first treaties with the USA and European countries and 1905, when Japan took charge of Korea’s foreign affairs, it sparked the interests of Western diplomats, adventurers, and travelers. The texts and images of three visitors during this period, Isabella Bird, Burton Holmes, and Jack London, present very different perspectives on Korea. Rather than seeking historical information, this study attempts to highlight these different views within their personal background and intentions. In addition to their publications, collections of unpublished photographs reveal a wider spectrum of experience and allow for a closer comparison between textual and visual representation.
Keywords: Documentary film • Isabella Bird Bishop • Jack London • Late Chosŏn • Queen Myŏngsŏng • Photography of Korea • Burton Holmes • Travelogue • Russo-Japanese War • King/Emperor Kojong • Travel photography