I would like to submit this as Evidence #1000 that YouTube is the greatest treasure trove of gobbledygook the world has ever known. Despite the slightly melodramatic soundtrack, this is by far the earliest video I have seen taken of the city I called home for quite some time. Immediately I want to cast this video onto the current city, a walking augmented reality tour through past and present.


Seoul in 1938 was many things, many of which they are no longer.

  • They were in the later, most repressive, stages of Japanese colonialism (only to be fully shed at the end of World War II in 1945).
  • Most people spoke Japanese as well as Korean.
  • They were mostly agrarian (Korea as a whole-not any longer).
  • The population of Seoul was well under a million (currently >10 million).
  • Attire is very old Joseon

By 1938, Seoul and all of Korea was well within the mobilization stages of the Japanese military buildup (invasions of China in full swing) and Korea was the foodstore for that effort. By 1945, all was lost for Japan and Korea was no longer Japanese.

American and the Soviet Union staked their claims, lines were drawn, and the country was split. The Korean War beginning in 1950 wiped away the last few remnants of the old ways of things, the Korean way. It certainly destroyed the vast majority of these buildings you see in this video.

History is the the study of events in place and in time. In this modern world, where ephemera is the standard rather than the exception, we often forget that it is possible to maintain a stable thing. That slowness of purpose, a precision of purpose, is often a good attribute.

I don’t think Korea was better off then; quite the opposite. South Korea is in more control of its own destiny than at any time in the past. It is just remarkable to see a place like Seoul destroyed and reconstructed, built and leveled time and time again. And yet there it is. A shift in importance over time, but a relative stability in space. A deliberate plodding into an uncertain future.

By Michael Gallagher

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

One thought on “Old Seoul in color (1938): rare video footage”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.