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The Korean Context of the Discussion of Public History and the Public Historians

Hana Lee
Published: 31 August 2021

Abstract: This article explores the discussion of “public history”, which has been heating up the history academia recently, in the reality of Korea, not in the theoretical dimension. The historical background behind Korean society’s acceptance of the concept of “public history” is three contexts: popularization of history, paradigm shift in historical research, and the “crisis of history” discourse. In particular, regarding the “crisis of history”, there were two factors that emphasized “the greatness” of ancient history and “the glory” of contemporary history, the “history consumption” problem in the public sphere, which had little to do with historical research, and the employment of historians. This situation was the reason why the introduction of the concept of “public history” was delayed, and at the same time the background that the discussion of public history began in Korea. The concepts of “popularization of history”, “consumption of history”, and “history/cultural content” have served as alternatives to “public history” in Korean society. Public history shows a clear distinction, although there are aspects that share a significant sense of problem with these concepts. This is because it contains concerns and philosophies about the pursuit of “historical publicness” that cannot be found in other concepts. Roughly speaking, public history refers to “practicing and reproducing various history outside of academia”, and public historians are understood as “historical experts and non-professional history lovers who participate in public history.” From this perspective, public history exists in abundance throughout Korean society. The existence and activities of public historians who describe/represent/practice history with their own expertise in the field of public history such as museums, memorial halls, media, schools, communities, and internet spaces where criticism and discourse take place are public history. In the future, discussions on public history should take a step further with specific and critical analyses of various sites that are closely attached to the reality of Korea.
Keywords: public history / historical / Korean society / public historians / discourse / Discussion of Public

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