Center for Asian American Studies
Center for Asian American Studies

Robert M Oppenheim

Associate ProfessorPh.D., University of Chicago


  • Phone: 512-471-7279
  • Office: WCH 5.134
  • Office Hours: Fall 2012: Tu 3:30-4:30, Th 1-2
  • Campus Mail Code: G9300


Korean anthropology and history; science/tech/society; heritage; objects/materiality; history of anthropology


Courses taught:

Undergraduate: Introduction to Korean Culture and History; Two Koreas and the US; Ritual and Religion in Korea; Science, Technology, and Society in Contemporary Asia; Capitalism, Consumption, and Civil Society in Korea; Korean Anthropologies; Self and Culture in North Korea; Big Asian Histories; Transnational Korea

Graduate: Space-/Place-Making in East Asia; Anthropology of East Asia; Colonialism and Korea; Proseminar in Asian Studies; Frames of Korean Studies


AAS 330 • Transnational Korea

36355 • Fall 2013
Meets TTH 330pm-500pm PAR 101
(also listed as ANS 379, ANT 324L)

The focus of this course is on various recent and contemporary manifestations of “the Koreas in the world, and the world in the Koreas.”  We begin with various historical formations of Korean out- and return migration, notably encompassing both Koreas.  From there, we go on to look at various movements of people, products, ideas, and institutions in the last twenty years.  These include labor and marriage migration from and to the Koreas, educational sojourning (and so-called “kirogi” families split by the practice), transnational adoption, tourism, international sport, corporate expatriation, and media flows (e.g., the “Korean Wave”).

AAS 325 • The Two Koreas And The Us

35725 • Spring 2010
Meets TTH 930-1100 GAR 0.120
(also listed as ANS 361, ANT 324L)

ANS 361



Uniques #30975/30365/35725/39835

Spring 2010


Meets:              TuTh 9:30-11, GAR 0.120

Instructor:         Robert Oppenheim

Office:              WCH 5.134

Tel.:                  471-7279


Office Hours:    Tu 1-3, Th 11-12



Overview: Drawing on history, anthropology, and political science, this course will focus on the relationship between North and South Korea, and between the Koreas and the United States, since 1945.  It aims to conceptualize the Korean War and Korean division as possessing political, social, and cultural dynamics that have had complex ramifications across space and time.  This is thus also a course in thinking about, and across, borders.  It finally seeks to understand the historical development of North Korea and, through doing this, aims to contextualize present political crises relating to human rights and nuclear security.


Course Activities:


BRING PAPER TO CLASS EVERY DAY.  I may sometimes ask you to write in class.  You also will be writing response papers and posting them online throughout the term, and these should help form the basis for class discussion.  Read not mainly for information—there are no information-based pop quizzes in this class—but for the argument, how it is constructed, and of course what perspective it brings on the triangular relationship between the Koreas and the U.S.

            I will occasionally lecture, when I need to explain historical background or the like, but I hope to have discussion as the basis for the class.  As a result, there will not typically be notes or outlines that I will provide to you.


Assignments/Grading:  Plus/minus grading will be used for this class.  Your grade will be based on:


A) 10 (of 11) online response paragraphs on ERes (10%)

B) 1 short (4-5) page research report assigned and due on set dates early in the course (20%) (first paper)

C) 1 short (one paragraph) précis of your second paper, due before spring break.  This is mostly designed to get you thinking about the book you will use for paper 2 early in the course (5%).

D) 1 slightly-longer (6-8) page critical review paper, based upon a book you read independently, due approximately 2/3 through the course (20%) (second paper)

E) 1 6-8 page policy-oriented paper, on one of a flexible menu of topics assigned during the last part of the course, due at the end of classes (25%) (third paper)

F) Attendance (10%)

G) Participation (10%)


A) Online response paragraphs: At irregular intervals, you will have the opportunity to submit an informal paragraph on class readings to the Discussion Board for this class on ERes – for full credit, you should do at least 10 (TEN) (out of a total of only 11) of these over the course of the term.  Submissions are due by MIDNIGHT on the night before class meets (midnight Monday-Tuesday for a Tuesday class, midnight Wednesday-Thursday for a Thursday class); try to post them even earlier so that other students have a chance to read what you write.  I may ask you to expand on what you have written in class. 

Don’t summarize – expand on a point or points in the readings for that class that you find interesting or questionable.  Don’t tell me reading X was good or was boring.  In general, I will grade these submissions on a credit/no credit basis, but I reserve the right to give partial credit if a given response is less than adequately engaged with the material.


B) First paper/research report: The first short paper/report will ask you to do a minor amount of outside research using a newspaper article or articles, website(s), or other texts.  Details will be given later; the general topic will be “legacies of the Korean War,” if you want to start thinking about it early.


C & D) Second (critical review) paper and précis: The second paper is to be a critical review essay on one book beyond the assigned class readings drawn from a list I will give you early in the course.  With prior permission, you might also write on a book (single-argument, not a collection of essays) not on the list, provided it is either topically or conceptually relevant to what we are talking about.  Please do not write on a book you are currently reading for another class. 

By a critical review I mean the sort of book reviews you might find at the back of an academic journal, in the New York Times Review of Books, etc.  You should certainly summarize the main points the author is making, his/her field of concern, his/her own positioning (who is the author and why does he/she write), and his/her argument.  But you should also evaluate.  Does the argument make sense?  What is the author leaving out?  Is this the best kind of book that might be written on a given topic?  Might the topic be conceptualized differently?  How does it compare to other works on related issues?  You should to some degree tie the book back to other issues we discuss in class and make specific reference to class materials.  More will be said about this assignment as it approaches, but early in the course you should try to choose and obtain the book you will write on.  My list will be placed on long-term reserve at PCL, giving you several days with the book after you check it out, but you might also consider purchasing it – remember that your fellow classmates will be in competition for the same books.

To help facilitate the process, I will ask you to hand in a précis on the book for your second paper early in the course; please tell me at that point if you have acquired it already.  By a précis, I mean a paragraph in which you give me a citation for the book you will use, tell me what it is about or what it seems to be about if you haven’t read it yet, and discuss why it is relevant or interesting.  If you do this, you will get full credit on the précis.

Do not tell me at the last minute that you couldn’t get a book – that just shows that you waited until the last minute.  I will not be sympathetic.


E) Third (policy-oriented) paper:  The third paper, assigned near the end of the course and due during after the end of classes, will ask you to make a policy argument.  You will be asked to spell out your assumptions and objectives and to engage with other competing arguments.  There should be some choice of topics; more will be said about this as the assignment approaches.


F) Attendance: I take attendance on random dates, and arrive at an attendance grade based upon that sample.  Yes, it is theoretically possible that you might be absent the days I take attendance, and only those days.  If this happens, you should play the lottery.  I will excuse absences for good reasons given to me in advance or (in emergencies) as soon as practical.  Lateness, if habitual or excessive, can count against you in the attendance column.


G) Class participation grade:  The general participation grade will be based on the quality and quantity of your participation in discussion.  In class writing, productive participation in group work, and the like also count here.  Active participation will help you, while less active participation will probably be neutral to your final grade. 


On reading drafts: I will happily read and comment on short sections of your papers (e.g. a thesis paragraph, or another paragraph where you have a specific problem) if you submit them to me by email sufficiently in advance of the due date (a week= good, 4-5 days=OK, 1 day=bad).  I will not read full drafts if you simply send them to me—too often, students who do this are simply looking for a step-by-step guide to what will get an A, rather than actively trying to figure out what will make a better paper.  If you have questions about the whole of a paper, you should instead come to talk to me during office hours, bringing what you’ve written, and I’ll work with you on it.  Let me also remind you of the existence of the Undergraduate Writing Center, which can be very helpful in putting papers together.


Academic Dishonesty/Cheating/Plagiarism can result in automatic course failure and a report to the appropriate Dean.  Your work on papers should be your own.  Also, I expect you to cite sources that you use, whether class texts or not—I will explain this early on.  A quotation or reference to a specific claim of an author merits a page citation, while for a more general reference to an author’s topic or point of view a general citation of the work as a whole will suffice.  You may use any style of citation you wish.  I do not care how you cite, I care that you cite.


Email:  I usually check email once or more a day, but not always, particularly on weekends.  Do not rely on me reading emails you send the night before a paper is due.


Cellphones/computers: Cellphones and other communication devices should be turned off or (if you truly need to be in contact) set for silent/vibration mode.  If you need to make or receive a call, please leave the room before you begin talking.  Don’t ask, just go.  Likewise if you need to use the bathroom.  Please do not abuse this policy.

            Don’t text in class. 

            I would prefer that you DO NOT use a computer during class, because most of this course should be about thinking about and discussing ideas, rather than taking notes on information.  What notes you must take you can take by hand.  If you require an exception to this policy, please talk to me early in the course.


Special Needs:  The University of Texas at Austin provides upon request academic accommodations for qualified students with disabilities.  To determine if you qualify, please contact the Dean of Students at 471-6259, 471-4641 TTY.  If your needs are certified, I will work with you to make appropriate arrangements.


Religious Holy Day Observance:  If an assignment or exam falls due on a day when you are observing a religious holy day, I will work with you to find an acceptable alternative time to complete the assignment.


Readings:  The following books have been ordered and are available at the Coop:


Cho, Grace, Haunting the Korean Diaspora

Ryang, Sonia (ed), North Korea: Toward a Better Understanding

Armstrong, Charles, The North Korean Revolution

Cha, Victor and David Kang, Nuclear North Korea: A Debate on Engagement Strategies

Kang Ch’ol-hwan, Aquariums of P’yongyang.


            Other readings will be placed on E-reserve (NOT Blackboard) as (mostly) .pdf files that you can read on screen or (my recommendation) print and mark up.  E-reserve can be accessed from any computer connected to the UT system.  Go to and search by the course number (ANS 361) or my name.  The required password to access materials for this class is TwoKor (capital letters matter).  This is for the use of students of this class only; please do not share the password with others.  The listing should be alphabetical by the author’s last name or (when there is no listed author) by the document title.

            Major readings (books) will also be placed on reserve at PCL (not UGL).  You should be able to take them out, use (copy) them for two hours, and return them.





1/19  Introduction – GO HOME AND READ THE SYLLABUS!


Debating the Korean War




Bruce Cumings, Origins of the Korean War Vol. 1 (1981), Preface and Ch. 1.  {On E-reserve}




Cumings, Origins, Vol. 1, Chs. 3-5, 12.




Online response paper 1 on Cumings to date


Cumings, Origins, Vol. 2 (1990), ch. 18

Henry H. Em, “‘Overcoming’ Korea’s Division: Narrative Strategies in Recent South Korean Historiography,” positions 1(2), 1993, pp. 450-485.




&&& First paper assigned &&&


Goncharov, Sergei N., John W. Lewis, and Xue Litai, Uncertain Partners: Stalin, Mao, and the Korean War (1993), Preface and Chs. 5 and 7.

Gaddis, John Lewis, We Know Now: Rethinking Cold War History (1997), pp. 70-75.

Weathersby, Kathryn, “Korea 1949-50: To Attack, or Not to Attack?  Stalin, Kim Il Sung, and the Prelude to War,” Cold War International History Project Bulletin 5: 1-9.

Cumings, Bruce and Kathryn Weathersby, “An Exchange on Korean War Origins,” Cold War International History Project Bulletin 6/7: 120-122.


Assumptions In and Out: From Policy to Narrative to Political Identity in the US and South Korea




Films: Rio Grande, High Noon.




Online reaction 2 on Slotkin/Englehardt, or their relation to films


Slotkin, Richard, Gunfighter Nation, Chs. 11-12 (pp. 347-404).

Englehardt, Tom, The End of Victory Culture, Ch. 1.4 (pp. 54-65).





Online response paper 3 on Milliken or NSC-68


Cumings, Origins vol. 2, ch.1, pp. 24-32 only.

NSC-68, sections I-V, IX.  Can be found at {also linked on ERes}

Milliken, Jennifer, “Interaction and Identity: Reconstructing the West in Korea,” in Cultures of Insecurity, Jutta Weldes et al. eds., (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1997), pp. 91-117.




&&& First paper due (in class) &&&


Gi-Wook Shin, Ethnic Nationalism in Korea (Stanford, 2006), chapter 5 on “Ilminjuûi and Modernization of the Fatherland”

Chong Myong Im, Ph.D. dissertation sections to be posted


The Making of Cold War Knowledge: POWs and Leaflets




Online reaction 4 on Robin chs. 7-8


Robin, Ron, The Making of the Cold War Enemy: Culture and Politics in the Military-Intellectual Complex (2001), Introduction and chs. 7-8.




Robin, ch. 5

Chung Yong Wook, “Leaflets, and the Nature of the Korean War as Psychological Warfare,” The Review of Korean Studies 7(3): 91-116 (2004).

KOREAN WAR LEAFLETS (group work in class)


Meanwhile: The Formation of North Korea




Suh, Dae-sook, Kim Il Sung: The North Korean Leader (New York: Columbia, 1988), ch. 1 (pp. 1-14).

Armstrong, Charles, The North Korean Revolution 1945-1950 (Ithaca: Cornell, 2003), Introduction and chs. 1-2.

Foreign Languages Publishing House, Kim Il Sung: Short Biography, vol. 1 (P’yongyang: FLPH, 1973), ch. 1 (pp. 1-17).




Online reaction 5 on Suh, Kim Il Sung’s biography, or Armstrong so far


Armstrong, The North Korean Revolution, chs. 3-5.




            &&& Précis for Second Paper Due &&&


Armstrong, The North Korean Revolution, chs. 6-8 and Conclusion.


North Korea: Stalinist Totali(tariat)




Online reaction 6 on Kang/Rigoulot


Kang Chol-hwan and Pierre Rigoulot, Aquariums of Pyongyang (New York: Basic Books, 2002).


…Or What?: Versions of How Ideology, Spectacle, and Culture Work




Sonia Ryang, “Introduction” (pp. 1-22) and Ch. 3 “Biopolitics”, in Ryang ed., North Korea.


!!!!! SPRING BREAK!  WOO-HOO! !!!!!




Shin, Eun-hee, “The Socio-Political Organism: Religious Dimension of Juche Philosophy,” in Buswell, ed., Religions of Korea in Practice.

Carol Medlicott, “Symbol and Sovereignty in North Korea,” SAIS Review 25(2): 69-79.




Film: State of Mind




            Online reaction 7 on Chung or Wedeen


Steven Chung, “The Split Screen,” Ch 4 in Ryang ed., North Korea

Wedeen, Lisa, “Acting ‘As If’: Symbolic Politics and Social Control in Syria,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 40(3)[1998]: 503-523.



Memory and Identity in South Korea and the US




Yoon Taek-Lim, “The Politics of Memory in the Ethnographic History of a ‘Red’ Village in South Korea,” Korea Journal 32(4): 65-79, 1992.

Jager, Sheila Miyoshi, “Monumental Histories: Manliness, the Military, and the War Memorial.”  Public Culture 14(2): 387-409, 2002.




            &&& Second paper due &&&


Grace Cho, Haunting the Korean Diaspora, Intro and Ch. 1




            Online reaction 8 on Cho so far


Cho, Haunting, Chs. 2-3




            Cho, Haunting, Chs. 4-5 and Postscript


 “Anti-Americanism” in South Korea: History or Ontology




Online reaction 9 on Shin/Hoffman


Gi-Wook Shin, “Marxism, Anti-Americanism, and Democracy in South Korea: An Examination of Nationalist Intellectual Discourse,” positions 3(2)[1995]: 508-534.

Hoffman, Diane M., “Culture, Self, and ‘Uri’: Anti-Americanism in Contemporary South Korea,” Journal of Northeast Asian Studies 12(2)[1993]: 3-20.


The 1994 Agreed Framework and since




&&&& Third paper assigned &&&&


Oberdorfer, Don, The Two Koreas,  Chs. 11-14 (pp. 249-368). {Eres}

The 1994 Agreed Framework Between the U.S. and the DPRK.  {found at; also linked via E-Reserve}




Online reaction 10 on Armstrong and/or McCormack


Gavan McCormack, “North Korea and the Birth Pangs of a New Northeast Asian Order,” Ch. 1 in Ryang ed., North Korea

Charles Armstrong, “Socialism, Sovereignty, and the North Korea Exception,” Ch. 2 in Ryang, ed., North Korea


Human Rights Week




Seymour, James D., “The Exodus: North Korea’s Out-Migration,” from The Future of U.S.-Korean Relations: The Imbalance of Power {forthcoming May 2006, Routledge}.

Lee, Karin and Adam Miles “North Korea on Capitol Hill,” from ibid.

House Resolution 4011, 108th Congress, The North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 {on EReserve}.




Online reaction 11 on Park/Morris-Suzuki (last reaction paper)


Park, Hyun Ok, “The Poltics of Unification and Neoliberal Democracy,” Ch. 5 in Ryang, North Korea

Morris-Suzuki, Tessa, “Refugees, Abductees, ‘Returnees,’” Ch. 6 in Ryang




What is To Be Done?: Nuclear Weapons and the Present Security Crisis




Victor Cha and David Kang, Nuclear North Korea: A Debate on Engagement Strategies (New York: Columbia, 2003), Intro and chs. 1-4.




Cha and Kang, chs. 5-6.

The Nautilus Institute, “North Korea and Nuclear Weapons—Policy Options,” {Linked on E-Reserve}

Selig Harrison, “Did North Korea Cheat?” Foreign Affairs Jan/Feb 2005.  {ERes}

ACT Interview with Undersecretary of State John Bolton, {Eres}


5/7 Friday of last week of class – Final papers due, my office, 5 pm


Oppenheim, R.M. (2016) An Asian Frontier: American Anthropology and Korea, 1882-1945.  Critical Studies in the History of Anthropology Series.  Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Oppenheim, R.M. (2015) "Asia, Sociocultural Overviews: Korea."  In International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 2nd edition, vol. 2, James D. Wright editor-in-chief, pp. 71-75.  Oxford: Elsevier.

Hindman, H., and R.M. Oppenheim (2014) "Lines of Labor and Desire: 'Korean Quality' in Contemporary Kathmandu."  Anthropological Quarterly 87(2):465-96.

Oppenheim, R.M. (2014) "Current Trends in the Anthropology and Cultural Studies of Korea in North America."  In Intellectual and Institutional Trends of Korean Studies in North America 2013, Center for International Affairs ed., pp. 97-112.  Seongnam: Academy of Korean Studies.

Oppenheim, R.M. (2013) "Thinking Through Place and Late Actor-Network-Theory Spatialities."  In Objects and Materials: A Routledge Companion, Penny Harvey, Eleanor Conlin Casella, Gillian Evans, Hannah Knox, Christine McLean, Elisabeth B. Silva, Nicholas Thoburn, and Kath Woodward eds., pp. 391-98.  London: Routledge.

Oppenheim, R.M. (2013) "Writing Sokkuram: An Archaeology of Inscription around 1911." positions: asia critique 21(3), 547-577.

Oppenheim, R.M. (2011) "Fictional Displacements: Stewart Culin's Heaven and Earth."  Anthropology and Humanism, 36(2), 164-177.

Oppenheim, R.M. (2011) "Introduction to the JAS Mini-Forum 'Regarding North Korea.'"  Journal of Asian Studies, 70(2), 333-335.

Oppenheim, R.M. (2011) "Crafting the Consumability of Place: Tapsa and Paenang Yohaeng as Travel Goods."  In L. Kendall (ed.), Consuming Korean Tradition in Early and Late Modernity: Commodification, Tourism, and Performance (pp. 105-126).  Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Oppenheim, R.M. (2010) "Revisiting Hrdlicka and Boas: Asymmetries of Race and Anti-Imperialism in Interwar Anthropology."  American Anthropologist, 112(1), 92-103.

Oppenheim, R.M. (2008) Kyongju Things: Assembling Place. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Oppenheim, R.M. (2008) "On the Locations of Korean War and Cold War Anthropology." Histories of Anthropology Annual, 4, 220-259.

Oppenheim, R.M. (2008) "Kyongju Namsan: Heterotopia, Place-Agency, and Historiographic Leverage." In T.R. Tangherlini & S. Yea (Eds.), Sitings: Critical Approaches to Korean Geography (pp.141-156). Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Oppenheim, R.M. (2007) "Actor-network Theory and Anthropology after Science, Technology, and Society." Anthropological Theory, 7(4), 471-493.

Oppenheim, R.M. (2005) "Consistencies and Contradictions: Anthropological Anti-Imperialism and Frederick Starr's Letter to Baron Ishii." Histories of Anthropology Annual, 1, 1-26.

Oppenheim, R.M. (2005) "'The West' and the Anthropology of Other People's Colonialism: Frederick Starr in Korea, 1911-1930." Journal of Asian Studies, 64(3), 677-703.

Oppenheim, R.M. (2005) "Legitimating Rhetorics and Factual Economies in a South Korean Development Dispute." In L.T. White (Ed.), Legitimacy: Ambiguities of Political Success and Failure in East and Southeast Asia (pp.215-252). Singapore: World Scientific.

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