Since I can’t seem to get enough of archaic and often out of print books on Korea at the turn of the last century, I have another few that I have pulled from Google Books. I had mentioned this before, but if you love books but perhaps didn’t take to Google Books in its first few instances, I urge you to give it another try. It is much more user-friendly and powerful. The functionality alone is a game changer. Since a lot of this will be read on portable devices anyways, users don’t have to sit in front of a computer screen trying to read a 300 page book. You can now download the full-text as a PDF and read it on whatever mobile device you have around. Perfect for the train, subway, or long commute.
I am starting to realize, however, that the functionality changes the dynamic of reading in general. At least reading as research, as meandering, of following path to path. Rather than see the book as 300 pages of uninterrupted text, Google Books lets you copy/paste segments and link to these copied segments. It lets you extrapolate the photos that have been embedded in these books deep on library shelves unused for years. It regenerates all this lost research and lost observations. It basically unleashes a whole mess of primary sources at once, a real boon to anyone with even an amateurish interest in Korean history (ie mine). It lets you break all of this down into measurable units of measure, of increments of research. You can then take these and reassemble these at will. This process had already occurred in music (albums disembodied in favor of the individual units, songs).
The first book is Village Life by J. Robert Moose, published in 1911. It describes just what the title says, village life in Korea. I have to admit I grow a little weary of seeing A-frames (every one of these books by early Christian missionaries and other travelers seems to include at least one A-frame), but the other images were stunning, including several of women’s ‘fashion’ and others of mourning. Either way, great book for meandering a bit. Home being where we are from, Moose’s descriptions are amusing as invariably everything in Korea is compared to North Carolina and Virginia. Although I like both these two States, I suspect Korea would fare a lot better in direct comparisons today.
The second book is Korea: its history, its people, and its commerce by Angus Hamilton, Herbert Henry Austin, and Masatake Terauchi. Snappy title, eh? This one is interesting not only because it was published in 1910 and co-authored by a Japanese citizen, but rather that the Japanese citizen in question was Masatake Terauchi, otherwise knows as the Resident General of Korea at the time. Not exactly a nuanced perspective of Korea’s ability to self-govern, but fascinating nonetheless.
So do give Google Books a whirl if you get the chance. Look for something archaic and you are certain to find it. You can even download the full-text as a PDF if you prefer to read it on a mobile device. Otherwise, pay special attention to the touches of humanity in all of this, the inscriptions, the library card in the back, the hand covering the digitization scanner by accident. I love all of that.