The special collections of the Richard C. Rudolph East Asian Library at UCLA

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The special collections of the Richard C. Rudolph

East Asian Library at UCLA


Sumin Kim

Korea Foundation Visiting Librarian

UCLA East Asian Library



Located within the Charles E. Young Research Library, the Richard C. Rudolph East Asian Library of the University of California, Los Angeles (EAL) is a research library providing scholars with resources in Korean, Chinese, and Japanese language. Collections in English and other languages are separately managed. Its Korean Studies collection began to be developed in 1985. It currently houses about 70,000 items, mainly focused on history, literature, folklore, Buddhism, and Christianity. The UCLA Library Special Collections also contains a Korean Studies section, which includes the Ho Young Ham Papers and the Hyung-ju Ahn Collection. The former consists of the journals of Ham’s family (who immigrated to Hawaii in 1905), documents related to the Korean independence movement, receipts, photographs, and books. The Hyung-ju Ahn Collection contains Ahn’s research materials on the immigration history of Korean Americans. The EAL is working to build a standalone Korean Studies collection by separately storing valuable materials.

The UCLA Korean Studies collection recently received a donation from Rex G. Fisher (1932-2015), who was born in Indiana and joined the army after graduating from university. He served in South Korea from 1955 to 1956. Upon returning to the US, Fisher studied History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and wrote his master’s thesis on Korea’s independence movement. He eventually donated the Korean Studies materials that he collected over the course of his lifetime to our library. As the donated materials are mostly travel journals on Korea published in Western countries between the 1800s and 1900s, Fisher’s collection is an excellent window for viewing Korea through the eyes of Westerners before it opened its doors to the outside world. The 72 donated items have completed the process for archiving as a special collection. In this paper, I would like to introduce two books from this donation.

The first is Voyage to Corea (Account of a Voyage of Discovery to the West Coast of Corea, and the Great Loo-Choo Island) written by Basil Hall (1788-1844), a British naval officer and explorer. Hall grew up in an upper-class family in Scotland. His father, Sir James Hall (1761-1832), was a scientist who contributed greatly to the development of modern geology. It is said that Hall learned his scientific thinking, observation, and description skills from his father.1) As an outstanding naval officer, Hall commanded the brig Lyra that explored the west coast of Korea along with HMS Alceste in 1816. Voyage to Corea is a compilation of his records that was published in 1818 in London.


The Rex G. Fisher Collection of Korean Materials Box 1, Item 1


Featuring a detailed description of his exploration, Hall’s book is of great value as one of the first Western books to describe the west coast of Korea and for its role as a base material for further exploration and research. Hall attempted to accurately measure the topography, geological structures, and seaway characteristics of the area. These efforts made the journal a record of great oceanographic value.

Hall described in detail the appearance of the Koreans that he encountered in the Baengyeong Islands. He wrote that people who appear to be of high status wear painted hats of woven horsehair tied under the chin using strings with large beads (p. 3). He also described the size and shape of the hats.

According to this book, the Koreans he met seem to have been deeply wary of outsiders. He wrote that when his group disembarked the locals showed some interest in their clothing, but they tried to expeditiously remove them from the island. Judging from the description of the Koreans making gestures of cutting their throats, it seems that Westerners were unfamiliar and fearful to Koreans. Nevertheless, the author continued exploring the island, eventually arriving at Maryangjin Port on the mainland and meeting a group of officials. Based on his records and on the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty, the officials that he met were Cho Dae-bok, a military officer at Maryangjin Port, and Lee Seung-ryeol, the head of the local district.2) Although they did not speak the same language, they still made efforts to get to know each other and shared drinks.

Below is an illustration created by William Havell based on a sketch by Hall. It is interesting to see how the appearance of Koreans was interpreted through Western eyes.


The Rex G. Fisher Collection of Korean Materials Box 1, Item 1


While Hall was accompanied by a Chinese interpreter, he apparently did not speak Korean. The apparent fact that Hall did not know that different languages were spoken in China and Korea reflects the relatively low level of awareness of the distinct East Asian countries among Europeans at the time. Hall also mentioned that Korean women’s feet looked different from those of Chinese women, which were often misshapen by the foot-binding tradition. Based on his exposure to Korea, which was linguistically and culturally distinct from China, it is assumed that Hall was able to describe it to Europeans as a unique nation.

The second book is Choson: Land of Morning Calm written by the American astronomer Percival Lawrence Lowell (1855-1916). This book detailing Lowell’s travels in Korea was published in 1885 in Boston. While staying in Japan, Lowell was asked to accompany the Bobingsa, the first official Korean delegation to the United States that took place in 1883. In recognition of the successful accomplishment of his mission, King Gojong officially invited him to Korea. This book was a result of his three-month stay in the country.3) It describes Korea during the port-opening period and its early interactions with the outside world.


The Rex G. Fisher Collection of Korean Materials Box 1, Item 3


Lowell’s book, focused mainly on Seoul, is particularly valuable as it was written based on his direct experience of Korea. It contains black and white photos, helping readers to visualize life in Korea in the period. Among the photos is one of King Gojong that is currently considered to be the oldest known photo of the king. It is believed that this book served as a valuable introductory resource to researchers who were visiting Korea in the years after it was published.4)


The Rex G. Fisher Collection of Korean Materials Box 1, Item 3


The book thoroughly depicts the everyday lives of ordinary people of the period, including clothing, street scenes, women’s status, architecture, and climate. He seems to have been particularly interested in Korean hats. He classified gat, a traditional hat worn by Korean men, by type and described their differences in detail. He also observed that the changes in the styles of topknot were an important part of the culture. A few years ago, I read a news article about the international attention received by gat when a Netflix series named Kingdom was showing. It is interesting that Lowell pioneered this attention.


The Rex G. Fisher Collection of Korean Materials’ Box 1, Item 3


These two books provide us with a glimpse of Korea in the 19th century. They are relatively early foreign records of Korea that became a basis for research on the country. Old documents arouse our interest, but also poignant emotions. It is important to apply critical thinking when comparing older and more recent research in order to identify and correct any mistakes. Early Korean Studies publications can serve as a foundation for subsequent research. For the sake of future research, therefore, it is important to take a careful look at early materials. Especially for overseas Korean Studies scholars, the importance of high-quality books on Korea written in languages other than Korean is paramount. I hope that the Rex G. Fisher Collection serves as a such a resource for Korean Studies researchers.


References

Grayson H. James. (2006). Basil Hall’s Account of a Voyage of Discovery: The Value of a British Naval Officer’s Account of Travels in the Seas of Eastern Asia in 1816. The Daedong Institute for Korean Studies 56, pp. 109-132.

The National Institute of Korean History. (2009). Koreans Viewed Through the Eyes of Foreigners. The National Institute of Korean History.

Basil Hall. Edited by Kim Seok-jung . (2003). Ten Days of a Voyage to Korea. Life and Dream Publishing. Seoul.

Lee Su-ki. (2019). The Bibliographic Characteristics of Books Written by Westers on Korea during the Port-opening Period, The Korean Journal of Archival, Information, and Cultural Studies Issue 8, pp. 187-254.



1) Grayson H. James. (2006). Basil Hall’s Account of a Voyage of Discovery: The Value of a British Naval Officer’s Account of Travels in the Seas of Eastern Asia in 1816. The Daedong Institute for Korean Studies 56, p. 120.

2) The National Institute of Korean History. (2009). Koreans Viewed Through the Eyes of Foreigners, p. 207.

3) The National Institute of Korean History. (2009). Koreans Viewed Through the Eyes of Foreigners, p. 322.

4) Lee Su-ki. (2019). The Bibliographic Characteristics of Books on Korea during the Port-opening Period Written by Westerners, The Korean Journal of Archival, Information and Cultural Studies Issue 8, p. 204.

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