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Public Memorials in Seoul

This project seeks to transform existing Euro-centric international scholarship on memorials and collective memory, by demonstrating how the form, meaning and function of public memorials in a democratic Asian capital city can re-center and re-think the study of public commemoration and national identity. The research will inform policymakers and administrators responsible for planning and managing memorials and other cultural heritage in South Korea, and broader public stakeholders who seek to enhance South Korea’s further democratic development and representation through memorial projects.

The project uses an innovative combination of methods for data collection and analysis to develop a fully-rounded account of changes in the forms, meanings and roles of memorials in South Korea. It advances current knowledge in four main ways:

It examines a wide range of commemorative forms and structures. Going beyond the usual focus on major government-sponsored monuments to soldiers and political leaders, it will identify and examine memorials to civilians, foreigners, and other social themes, ‘unofficial’ memorials, proposed memorials that were never built, and memorials that have been removed or changed.

It analyzes the spatial, thematic and chronological relationships among various memorials over time, and how these relationships have been shaped by government policies, wider city planning processes, and the rapid urban development of Seoul.

The research has an innovative critical focus on how democratic ideals and collective values are enacted and developed in the process of memorial development, by identifying how strategic plans and policies shape the location, form and theme of individual memorials, what regulations and processes shape memorial outcomes, what government and civic actors are involved in these decisions, and how democratic, accountable and contested those processes are.

It compares the forms, subjects and locations of Seoul’s memorials, and the planning process that shape them, to those a range of other democratic countries in East Asia and the West. This involves a particular focus on the commemoration of ‘difficult’ themes of interest in contemporary international memorial research, including trauma, oppression, and political conflict, change, and reconciliation.

Quentin Stevens
Research Collaborators
Yoonai Han
Industry Partners
Academy of Korean Studies
Date: 2016-2017