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He moved to the US at the age of 7 and lived there for 45 years. He studied European History in college. And he found a job soon after graduating from his PhD program, which he attributes to “sheer dumb luck”, and after 22 years in that position he has now moved to Canberra.
Professor Kyung Moon Hwang has a prolific and unique background and portfolio, and one that would perhaps not instantly associate him with his specialisation—Korean history. Kyung Moon’s foundations are in the port city of Busan, his original home town, and it continues to be his base for research. His areas of focus are the larger structures of modern change, especially social hierarchies and institutional or political authority. Questions of modernity, comparative history, and historical memory interest him in particular, and he has published both research monographs and books for the general audience.
His published books include Past Forward: Essays in Korean History (Anthem Press, 2019); Rationalizing Korea: The Rise of the Modern State, 1894-1945 (University of California Press, 2015); A History of Korea: An Episodic Narrative (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, 2016, 2021) (Third Edition forthcoming); Beyond Birth: Social Status in the Emergence of Modern Korea (Harvard University Asia Center, 2004); and Contentious Kwangju: The May 18th Uprising in Korea's Past and Present (Co-edited with Gi-Wook Shin. Rowman & Littleﬁeld, 2003). Kyung Moon’s most recent in-progress book is titled Authenticating the Past: Modern History and Contentious Public Memory in South Korea.
Kyung Moon’s teaching spans from language courses and general surveys of Korean history and culture to specialised upper-level courses focusing on specific themes, such as the Korean War. He will also teach courses occasionally in Asian and world history. Hailing from the University of Southern California (USC) and a PhD from Harvard University, Kyung Moon recently joined CHL at ANU as Professor, Korea Foundation Chair. In moving to Canberra he endured multiple flight cancellations and restrictions brought on by—well, what else— COVID-19. Nevertheless, better late than never we say—welcome to the CHL family, Professor! Among his research plans here are a foray into something yet unexplored by him—the modern development of economic conditions and material life in Korea, through a case study of Busan.
Beyond academia, what makes Kyung Moon tick? He’s a keen music enthusiast with eclectic taste, from 1960s popular music to especially western classical music. His current favourite is Schubert, and Kyung Moon dabbles a bit with Schubert tunes on the piano too. The scholar is also a sports aficionado, enjoying tennis and basketball in particular. And when asked if he has a passion or favourite related to Korean language, he shared a couple of very interesting Korean words. The first one is bbaeng-soni, which means running away after causing an accident. Perhaps the closest expression to that one is hit and run! Another favourite Korean word of Kyung Moon’s is gyau-ddung, which refers to the slight cocking of the head to the side in wonderment or suspicion! Thanks for sharing, Professor, and we look forward to more such interesting aspects of the Korean language and of Korean studies overall from you in the near future.
To get to know Kyung Moon and his perspectives more, you can also listen to his recent audio interview, about his book Past Forward, with online platform Faculti.