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Imagining Disaster: Korea and the Apocalyptic Modern, Spring/Winter 2021

Times: Wednesday, 10:30 AM - 1:30 PM CT, 11:30 AM - 2:30 PM ET

Instructor: Jae Won Chung (

Hosting University: Rutgers University

The apocalypse, narrowly defined, refers to God’s destruction of the world in the book of Revelation. Today the term is often used secularly to point to wide-scale devastation. Global warming and the environmental crisis have brought the apocalyptic imagination front and center in our consciousness, aided by the recent proliferation of disaster narratives — from popular novels to Netflix — about epidemics, zombie outbreaks, tsunamis, alien invasions, and earthquakes. 

This course traces the apocalyptic imagination in Korea from the 1930s to the 2010s. We will see that far from being a new phenomenon, the apocalyptic aesthetic has been an intrinsic part of Korea’s encounter with modernity. In the first part of the course, we will approach familiar topics of modern Korean history (such as Japanese colonial occupation, the unending Korean War, postwar industrial development, virtualization of consumer culture) through the apocalyptic lens, in order to consider the moral, socio-political, and philosophical questions that follow. The second half of the course focuses more on different genres of storytelling, involving monsters, aliens, zombies, earthquakes, and the state of quarantine and societal collapse. We will consider how representations of calamity can function as powerful allegories for re-mapping our past, present, and future. In lecture, students will also learn about issues of importance to contemporary Korea, such as the IMF financial crisis, mad cow disease scare, famine in DPRK (The Arduous March), pollution (e.g. fine dust, or “misemŏnji”), population decline, “Hell Joseon,” North Korean nuclear crisis, and the Sewol Ferry tragedy. 

Participating Universities: University of Michigan & University of Wisconsin