On November 3, 2017, the event “Transnational Domesticity in the Making of Modern Korea” happened at North House in Munk School of Global Affairs. The Asian Institute of the Munk School of Global Affairs introduced professor Hyaeweol Choi from Australian National University, whose research is focused on gender history, religion, and transnational studies. In the event, she discussed how the home in Korea was influenced by missionaries from the United States and how it evolved with a mixture of nationalism and colonization from Japan.
The talk began by introducing how houses in Korea used to look like before the colonization from Japan. Before missionaries came to Korea, there was no concept of home; although Koreans used the word “House”, it retained negative connotations such as something that was dirty, cold, and unattractive. The concept was brought by missionaries from the United States. They built missionary houses by renovating authentic Korean houses into a Western-style architecture which incorporated big windows, for instance. Open to all, these houses became a source of collaborative experience of Western culture and Christianity for local Koreans.
Professor Choi introduced Ara Milan, Professor of Home Economics at Oregon Agriculture College. She visited China, Korea, and Japan to collect data about local homes in each country. After the trip, she set a scholarship for women in Asia to learn home economics at the College. The Korean students who attended learned how to take care of children and how to clean the house and brought back these ideas to Korea. As a result, one of the students became the first professor of home economics in Korea. Korea had also invited people from the United States to teach the subject and in 1929, home economics was established officially as an academic discipline in the nation. Professor Choi said that the subject of home economics is about how to build a healthy family, which makes the nation stronger.
Following the annexation of Korea, Japan came to be known as a source of the “modern home”. For example, “Home Exhibition” was held in Korea, which exhibits homes in Japan. However, there were many differences between the definition of home in Japan and that of Korea. For example, one characteristic of a home in Korea was to have one big room which was used for everything, compared to a home in Japan with several rooms for different purposes.
Considering the introduction of a new concept of home as an attractive place to interact with people, the new status of women such as the first professor of home economics, and the transformation of the Korean home, the modernization of homes in Korea changed the way people perceived “home” and how women lived not just in the home but in Korean society overall.
Yurie Kaku is a third-year student at the University of Toronto, and she is currently serving as an Editor in Synergy.